The husband and I celebrated our 14th anniversary last week. We continue to (Alhamdulillah) defy the odds of marriages that break up under the stress of dealing with special needs, and is because of compromises we’ve made, respect and support we give each other, how we own various duties and roles in our lives and because we have tremendous family support.
Our family works, in large part, because of him and what he’s given up/taken on/gained/lost/learned/unlearned/adapted/loved/changed and everything in between.
This Sunday there will be the rash of Happy Father’s Day messages on social media. Many BBQs will be had, ties will be given, and adult kids will call their fathers and send cards and engage in all sorts of perfunctory forms of celebration.
I want to take some time here and send some appreciation to my kids’ Baba – the guy who goes to the mat for them – by highlighting some of why he’s not just a great autism dad, is an all-rounder blue-ribbon dad.
He rolls with the punches: We live by a motto of risk assessment, escape routes, and getting things done fast when we are out with the kids. He is a master at sticking to the game plan – we all sit in the car to run errands or attempt an activity, and the first thing he’ll say is “What do we need to do first? What’s the order of business?” And that’s what we’ll do.
He has helped me realize some practical, hard-learned parenting lessons: We need to push Lil D when he needs pushing and respect his need to retreat when necessary.
Four years back we took Lil D to the last family wedding. Up until then we would take turns doing “Lil D duty” at our big Indian-Muslim weddings, or we would hire a therapist/baby sitter to come with us, or hire an on-site babysitter to help. It all resulted in loads of money spent and still a large amount of stress – and for what? So we could be together at weddings or functions where Lil D faced sensory overload and a very difficult break from his routine?
Four years ago was the last time the seven of us (husband, kids and I and my in-laws) went on a long trip where we all drove together in our van. After that last trip, when we reached our destination and I showed my husband my bruise-filled arms from all of Lil D’s pinches at being stuck in such a small space – we decided no more. We take two cars, or we don’t do it at all.
My husband made those executive decisions when I still harbored the notion that we could do it. That we should do it – go to every family function or event or party and social engagement as a whole family. He was the one who made it clear to me that being a fractured family, as hurtful as it feels at times, is something we must do to ensure the wellbeing of Lil D and the wellbeing and enjoyment of our other children (and ourselves).
He gets down and dirty with no qualms: We come from a Desi (Indian-Pakistani-South Asian) culture, where gender roles still come into play often. My mother-in-law tells us stories of how her father-in-law ruled their family (with fairness and love, but still ruled the family) and how her whole-soul job was to care for kids and husband. No one does “khatar” (caring for others) like her. My husband is her only son, her pride and joy, and she always envisioned him living a life as a well-respected doctor and the head of his house as well (You know, house is clean and children with their hair neatly combed, dinner table set and everything nice when he comes home.)
Well, he is a well-respected doctor, but we head this household together. I respect him and all the hard work he does, everything he does for our family, and he does the same for me. But let’s face it – we are a special needs family. We are parents to three children with very individual needs and learning curves. We have a nearly 13-year-old son, autistic, non-verbal with a myriad of issues. When he has a bowel movement, you have to clean him (I’ll spare you the details) or else he will come downstairs with poop on his fingers and clothes, and our other kids will report, “Bhai (Lil D) is stinky!”
Their Baba comes home from a tough day at the hospital seeing patients, performing procedures and making life-altering decisions, and he automatically switches gears when he enters the house – he will clean Lil D up after a BM, or he will help him bathe. He will supervise Lil D at dinnertime so I can get the other kids fed. He’ll throw the garbage out because it’s the one household chore I told him at the start of our marriage that I hated doing. When we are following special diets for the kids, he’ll eat whatever they eat because I have no time and energy to cook different meals.
The point is that we all want respect, and we all want to be cared for. I try to do that for him, but we both realize ours is a life where we both need to get down and dirty. There are things we do for Lil D that our friends who don’t deal with autism or special needs would never believe. But that’s what you have to do. And he does it.
He is a firm believer in that we are all important: Not just Lil D, not just him, not just my in-laws. All of us. He sees when I am drowning and encourages me to take breaks. And I do that for him. We travel together. We travel apart, we do things individually with one of our children, we do things all together and we do things alone.
I know very few fathers in our Desi community who say to their wives: “Go by yourself. You need a break from all this. Several times I have taken the younger kids and traveled to Texas to visit my brother, and he stayed back with Lil D. (And they both love spending that one-on-one time together) Or, this weekend I want to visit a dear friend who has flown in from the West coast and is visiting her family two hours away from where we live. As I’ve been plotting various ways I can do this (take all the kids, take one kid), he said to me – go alone and have fun. The kids and I will party here.
So yeah, we’ll BBQ, and we’ll give him some gifts on Sunday, but my real wish is for his children to realize how good they’ve got it with him. My wish is that he should always be blessed by Allah (swt) and rewarded for all the goodness he does, all the goodness he is.
My wish is for Lil D to look at him in the eyes and say with meaning, “Baba.