Day Nine: For All the Times You Didn’t Hold Me (Undiagnosed Father with Aspergers)
I first wrote this excerpt several years ago, when I was not yet diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and had no reason to look for traits in my father. The short vignette shows remarkably well the earmarks of Aspergers: the lack of affection, emotional distance, need for order, obsessive hobbies, and self-interest. I am thankful I documented my personal experience with an innocent perception. In rereading and sharing this truth, I am further healed and graced with a deep understanding of my father navigating through life the best he knew how.
For all the times you couldn’t say it: I love you, Dad.
And for all the times you wouldn’t t hold me: I forgive you.
Though I was deemed a full-fledged adult by all societal standards, the late summer day I strolled into my father’s house hauling a large plastic sack of weathered stuffed animals and my plastic piggybanks, I was still very much a child. In the previous years, had I been afforded ample time with my father, I might very well have exuded a glowing aura of self-confidence and formidable strength, instead of the bubble of palpable vulnerability I steadily emanated.
Then again, unless Father had somehow discovered his capacity to face his own inner demons, than regardless of the time Father and I had spent together, the inherent benefits I hoped to gain from a fatherly presence most likely would never have materialized.
Entering Father’s house, with only a frail shell of adulthood covering a far greater mass of an innocence, I’d had had as much chance of maturing in fortitude as an unborn chick beyond the protection of an incubator. Had the heat of a father’s love warmed me, certainly I would have hatched; but with Father’s adoration absent, seemingly lost and unaccounted for, I was exposed and out in the open, incapable of breaking out of the shell that both entrapped and protected me.
Wishing now, this present day that my father would have been different serves me no purpose. Father was who he was. Besides, back then, I hadn’t the notion or know-how to change him. Even if I had, if I’d been capable of repositioning the circumstances surrounding my relations with Father, like one changes the place of one domino in the long line of others, what other outcomes would I have ultimately altered?
Back then, walking blindly into Father’s home, I had known no difference. I hadn’t yet realized what I wanted from Father was an impossibility. Though vulnerable, I was still hopeful. And never one to give up easily, I would keep trying. Until there would come a time where trying hurt more than not trying. Then I would stop. Then I would mourn, weeping more for something that never existed than anything tangible.
Certainly Father wasn’t all bad; in fact, he wasn’t bad at all. He was absent—missing in the sense he so easily slipped into his own world leaving me stranded on the sidelines. Father became wrapped up in his thoughts in the way some people get wrapped up in a project. He could be sitting there, right beside me, and still exist millions of miles away.
And his hobbies, too, were his way of escaping, one interest bleeding into the next. In watching Father interact as he did, I could find no particular blame. Though, it seemed, none of my doings—my good grades, my poems, my dreams—could gain Father’s interest. All conversations usually centered on my father’s accomplishments, as opposed to mine, all compliments sent his direction, and all criticism aimed at me. I suppose, in some ways, my father cut in front of me, stepping up to the plate and swinging the bat, when I’d been waiting patiently in line.
In time, I’d see what before I could not, and finding Father dressed in nothing more than a sheer cloak of heroism, I’d observe his naked flaws with the discerning eyes of a disenchanted child. I’d understand I’d lost my father before I’d ever found him. This would leave me terribly twisted inside, all turned about with the most rawest of my skin on the outside. I would reason, if I was only prettier, or smarter, or noteworthy, Father would change. And in this way, I grew into a woman who believed, if she only tried a little bit harder, she would finally be worthy of love.