Tender father, I watched you this weekend.
I watched you scan every crosswalk for speeding cars.
I watched you eye the people around us, suspicious and wary.
I watched you look at our son, your expression a powerful combination of pride and concern.
All you ever wanted to do was protect him.
If you ask a father what he worries about most when it comes to his children, his mind wanders to the darkest corners of the world itself. Bullies. Scammers. Online predators.
A mother turns inward. She worries about loneliness. A broken heart. Feelings of insecurity or anxiety.
Our son Jack has autism. He is in a supported college program.
The other day a woman at the gym asked how we ever let him go.
Her question was offhand. Nonchalant. I imagine she had no idea how powerful each syllable was—how much weight they carried.
I’m used it. Since Jack was diagnosed eighteen years ago, people have questioned everything we’ve ever done.
His nutrition, his medication, his behavior, his future.
The worst has already happened. That’s what I wanted to tell her. That’s what we tell ourselves, though we know this is not the case. There is much worse things than two men asking our son for money. Worse things than persuading him to get into their car and drive to an ATM. Worse things than a stolen wallet discarded on the pavement.
We tell ourselves this because if we consider more, we’ll likely run into the streets with our breath on fire.
On this weekend visit, with a cake and nineteen candles tucked in the backseat of the car, I see you.
You think you failed him.
I know you heart without words, even without conversation.
Over the course of two days, he dropped more details into our laps like stale crumbs. Perhaps he didn’t know how to share them over the phone. Perhaps he was too afraid to revisit them himself.
In addition to the ATM and the car, an invitation back to an apartment a few towns away. Promises of friendship. More questions about money.
You kept your hand on his shoulder as he talked. I imagine this was to steady yourself as much as him.
Life alongside autism is a trifecta of sorts.
First there is grief.
Grief is like a box of feathers in the back of the closet.
Occasionally, the feathers get out of the box. They float free and wild.
Next there is hope—the bag of rocks strapped to our back as we climb this mountain. It is heavy. It weighs us down sometimes. But we cannot let it go.
Then there is grace.
Grace is the last frontier, the final fan in the stands, the moment before the orchestra packs up its instruments for the night.
It is the note before silence, the setting sun in a dusky sky.
Grace comes after the rocks and the feathers. It is the moment where we lock eyes and see each other.