Celebrate Yourselves this Father's Day
Updated: Jun 16
Autism Dadvocate invites Dads to celebrate the small and big wins of their amazing kids this Sunday ……….and to celebrate themselves.
As I reflect on Father’s Day this weekend, I am so deeply grateful for the expansion of the Autism Dadvocate community this year. I love the diversity of perspectives these amazing Dads bring, coupled with some common themes that every father of an autistic child experiences. Thank you to all the Dads in the Dadvocate community.
This Sunday, I invite you to celebrate it all……celebrate the small wins, the big wins, how you bring your personal best to every situation, and most importantly………..celebrate yourselves.
I included a photo of my son in this blog post as an indicator of just how quickly your child can progress. If you told me one year ago — on Father’s Day 2020 — that my son would not only participate in a Unified Basketball league, but win the Rhode Island State Championship, I would not have believed you. The attached photo shows the unbridled joy he felt when his team won (by only one point……..a real nail biter!).
And thankfully, my son’s meltdowns have decreased with age, though he is physically much stronger now, which presents me with a whole new challenge. His last notable meltdown required using all my physical strength to restrain him, leaving me with a blow to my Adam’s apple which stunned me for a few hours.
He is still also unintentionally destructive, which I attribute to his clumsy gross and fine motor skills. Lately, ’I've been greeted with large pasta stains at the backsplash of our kitchen sink, as well as food stains on the wall near our kitchen garbage can, requiring constant cleaning. His new quirk is closing every door in our house at a 45 degree angle when he walks by them, leaving me with a puzzled look as I meander through my house.
Nonetheless, these are small items when I compare them to the remarkable progress he’s made in one year – starting high school, his admirably disciplined approach to homework, and a new brand desire for social connection that truly makes my heart sing. Yes! He made some friends this year! Alleluia!
I celebrate all of these small wins. They help counter-balance the frustrations that we as Dads experience. My son recently left his Chromebook power charger at school on a Friday. By Saturday, his Chromebook’s battery completely died and my son’s anxiety spiked like a fever . My Saturday was spent in a frenzy looking for alternate power cords (none of them worked with the Chromebook) and furtive phone calls to any teachers that “knew someone, like….maybe a custodian?” that could let us into his classroom on a Saturday. The situation was ultimately resolved by my artful wife, who found an old HP power cord that somehow was compatible with his Chromebook. (Thank you Jen!).
Once my son’s cortisol levels resumed to a somewhat normal level (Dadvocate Dads - you know exactly what I’m talking about), I collapsed on our couch and allowed myself to decompress. Rather than grabbing a beer, I took 10 deep breaths and started an inner dialogue to myself about self-compassion. “Yes, Paul - you got irritated”. “Yes, Paul - you had a tone when talking to both Vaughn and Jen”. But as Dads, there are days when we absolutely crush it, and there are days where…….mmaaayyyybbbbbeeeee…….we aren’t our best (like I was). So Dads, please practice some self-compassion. We are fallible; we are human.
On this Father’s Day, I also invite Dads of autistic kids to have not only compassion for themselves, but for the Moms as well. My perspective of Moms and their own unique experience raising children on the spectrum was expanded by some amazing Moms I had on my Autism Dadvocate podcast - Holly Robinson Peete, Dr. Celeste Chamberlain, and Shannon Penrod.
Ultimately, what I came away with from these amazing Mom guests is the power of empathy, and the power of listening. Like most Dads, my knee-jerk reaction to anything my wife brings to me is to want to “fix it”, to fast-track to a solution. What I’ve learned is that all Jen wants is a compassionate ear – a safe space for her to share her feelings, fears, concerns, and frustrations. And that I don’t have to have any answers, I just need to lean in and listen.
On this Father’s Day, I’m also reminded of an amazing research study one of my fellow Dads shared with me on a day where I wasn't quite doing so well. (I guess my tone even shows itself in texts?). In short, it comes from a book called “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bonnie Ware. In summary, it’s a longitudinal study over 12 years of a nurse who worked in Hospice care, and asked thousands of dying patients what their life regrets were.
The top five regrets are included below:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
All five of these ring so solidly with me. With items 3 and 4, this is part of the vision of Autism Dadvocate – a safe community where fathers can bring their authentic versions of their experience to other Dads in a safe “Tribe”.
As a call to action, I invite all you amazing Dads to pay it forward. Check in with your fellow Dads - call or text, no agenda, no specific reason. Just check in. There’s nothing more sacred than when you can “hold space” for another Dad and allow him to share his own experience. I’ve started this process myself and I ask that you do the same. As a recovering Alpha male (I gladly tell my friends that I’ve now downgraded to an A-), it can be hard to initiate this type of selfless connection. But trust me, you’ll feel so much better for having it done it. Now pay it forward, you amazing men……….
If you are the father of an autistic child, you are not alone. Autism Dadvocate is here to help. Drop us an email and subscribe to our newsletter. We’d love to have you in our tribe…...