How I Answer “How Was Your Father’s Day?”

Last week we published a very powerful post by guest blogger Keith Hammond about how kids who have disabilities will lose out if proposals to cut Medicaid leave American schools unable to get reimbursed for the costs of providing a free and appropriate public education. Sunday was Father’s Day, and Keith is back with a poignant guest blog about celebrating the holiday — or not.

Keith and his kids

Keith and his kids, Hillary (left) and Steven (right)

by Keith Hammond

When you have two children with autism, holidays can like Father’s Day can be hard. Children with autism largely benefit from specific and predictable schedules, and holidays disrupt those routines. Traditional places in the routine (school or various fast food establishments, for example) are often closed. Holidays involve strange expectations — spending time with people who aren’t familiar, visiting new locales, eating unknown foods — and they often involve rituals that can be loud and anxiety-producing (Don’t even get me started on fireworks).

And so, with all the celebrating that took place over the weekend, you might wonder what Father’s Day is like when you have children with autism.

Well, it’s…different.

The best I can do is share a recent example to illustrate. I’m needed at home at night for my son Steven’s evening medicines, his shower, and getting him to bed. Steven also needs me on weekends when his time is unstructured. So, when I want to spend time with my own dad — something most men wouldn’t have to worry about — I need to take a day off work.

So that’s what I did a couple weeks ago. I took a vacation day to take my father out to a movie while my son Steven was at school.

My dad and I share interest in James Bond and Marvel movies, so we ended up at a matinee performance of Guardians of the Galaxy II. We saw the first Guardians movie together back in 2014, and my dad loved Rocket Raccoon. So we were back for the sequel. It did not disappoint.

Part of the plot of the movie involves the leader of the Guardians, Star-Lord, being introduced to a father he has never met. This father, Ego, finds Star-Lord, and they are transported to Ego’s planet where the pair hope to get acquainted. It’s a bit of a rough go at first, but in a tender moment evocative of Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, Star-Lord and Ego play catch with a ball. The scene signifies that the two of them are bonding as father and son.

For many in the audience, this poignant scene evokes memories of playing catch with their fathers and the good times of days past. Since I was there with my father, it did bring back some very fine feelings of nostalgia.

But then, my thoughts turned to myself and my son, Steven. We’ve never tossed a ball like that. We certainly tried, but due to some of his special needs, it’s hard for him to catch, and even harder for him to throw.

So there I am, sitting in a movie theater, watching Star-Lord and his father laughing and playing catch, and it hits me: that will never be me and my son.

The tears began to fall.

Thankfully, the scene eventually switched back to the talking raccoon shooting the place up and making jokes! That broke the mood, and it all became good, clean fun again.

There’s a saying in the autism world: “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” Holidays tend to be large reminders of how it is supposed to be, and for me, Father’s Day in particular never lives up to its expectations. I hear what others are doing that day. I see their smiling father-and-son pictures on Facebook: trips to the ballpark or to nice restaurants. Many of these folks are my friends, and I try to be happy for all of them.

Certainly, I do love my children just how they are. Still, something goes on in the back of my mind that leaves me wondering. Why can’t it be like that for us, for Steven and me? Does there have to be a special day to point out how different we are? Why?

These of course are questions that may never be answered. The holiday is over, and I’m back at work, back to being busy with life, the chores, and my children. Inevitably someone will ask, “Did you enjoy your Father’s Day?”

All I can do is smile and say, “It was just fine, thanks.”

Read more stories from Keith Hammond about being a dad to two kids with autism:

Here’s Who Loses Out if Medicaid Funding is Cut

What a Broken iPad Taught One Dad About Parenting


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