Jonathan is daddy to Fox and husband to Sarah. You will see from the picture below that Fox is a very cute 1-year old. Their family is in the process of a move from downtown Manhattan to the suburbs…which, according to Jonathan, his wife has been plotting since their second date!
Jonathan took some time to do an interview with me and I thought I should give you fair warning… You may laugh suddenly and often. God forbid you just took a sip of coffee, because you will probably spit it out of your mouth. Coffee is a precious natural resource, so we must try very hard not to waste it!!!Below the interview is a post Jonathan wrote for his blog that talks about autism. He discusses being the parent of a neurotypical child and his own ignorance about autism. There are some great questions posed at the end of his post, so please take a moment to leave a comment and address those questions. Also, check out Daddy Confidential on Facebook and Twitter (@DadConfidential), and then swing by his blog.
Are we good? Are you ready? All right! Let’s get this show on the road.
CAM: There isn't usually much testosterone around here, so a male perspective is a nice change of pace! Please share with us your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about being a dad.
DC: You’re asking about my favorite things? What am I – Julie Andrews? Jeez, you’re forcing me to talk about feelings. Fine. But it’s under duress.
Dads get to be goofballs. For some reason most moms don’t excel at being silly. Their whole repertoire is “tickle tickle!”
|Jonathan practicing his monkey act with Fox.|
Dads, by contrast, can really channel our natural inclination to be imbeciles. I will literally take off my shirt and act like a monkey because my kid thinks it’s hilarious. You would think I was rehearsing motion capture for Rise of Planet of the Apes. I’m method.
When kids need to be tossed in the air and caught, who do you turn to? Dads. Until my son is tall enough to get on the amusement park attractions, I am the ride. Roughhousing, horseplay, monkeying around… I will play the same repetitive game for as long my son is laughing and squealing. Or until he gets hurt.
As for my least favorite thing? I’m not sure if it’s gender specific, but I usually have to take on the role of Stern Parent. My wife is reluctant to deny our son anything, e.g. pacifier, TV, new toys, sweets. For some reason it always falls to me to be the bad cop.
CAM: What is the one parenting task that you couldn't do (or, perhaps would never do) without your wife?
DC: Oh that’s easy: buy our son clothes. Dads have no idea what size their kids are. Heaven help the dad who makes a solo mission to Old Navy. The shop clerk will ask, “What size is your child?” And dads will try and indicate the child’s height with a hand in the air, usually hovering around the beltline. If we spot another kid in the store – any kid – we’ll point to him and be like, “There! That kid! He’s about that size.”
CAM: What inspired you to write a post about autism?
DC: Ignorance. I knew so little about it. Plus my wife piqued my interest by obsessing over autism for months after our son was born.
(She still does. She’s a natural worrier. While pregnant, she’d fret about the neural tube test. When that came back clear, she moved onto things they can’t test for, like port wine stains.)
Also, I’m inextricably drawn to sensitive topics and tricky conversations. Autism is such a minefield – both within and outside the community. People untouched by it really tiptoe around the subject. And parents in autism circles can be hypersensitive to outsiders.
A recurring fascination is the well-meaning but grating comments made by parents of neurotypical kids. How often do you read on an autism blog a sentence that begins, “If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say…”?
But you can’t have constructive dialogue without the freedom to speak openly, honestly, and even offensively. This invariably leads to disagreements and disgust. But also empathy and enlightenment. Dolts like myself need the latitude to say stupid things – so long as it comes with a sincere invitation to correct and educate.
When I wrote about autism, I asked parents to vent about some rather nuanced frustrations and challenges. Their answers were among the most poignant, erudite, and profound accounts I’ve read anywhere. Months later I’m still both haunted and inspired.
I am not by nature an ass-kisser. And I am stingy with compliments. But parents of children with autism exhibit levels of tenacity and resourcefulness that are a unique testament to human potential. What distinguishes you is that unlike war veterans or Olympians or doctors performing triage, you didn’t choose to be heroes.
CAM: I'm going to give you a lot of latitude with this last question... My readers are (well, there's a 99% chance that they are) sleep-deprived and chronically stressed-out moms of special needs children. As the token male on the blog today (tag, you're it!), is there anything else you'd like to share with all of us?
DC: Wait, you mean it’s just me and a bunch of neglected women? Hi there. My name’s Jonathan. Um, what’re you wearing?
No, I jest. But speaking of token males and neglect: where are the fathers?!? Supporting a family comes with its own stress. But why is the blogosphere dominated by overextended moms? You should encourage your partners to guest blog (or at least leave comments) on a regular basis. Even if it’s just monthly.Fathers have questions, opinions and insight, but it needs to be teased out a bit. And it could pay huge dividends in awareness and involvement.
The internet is an ideal format for this. If you write something that resonates, you can bask in the glory. And if you really screw the pooch, you can slink off in anonymity.
On that note, I’ll take that as my cue to scram. Nice chatting with you Angela!
When it comes to the spectrum, I’m maybe two degrees more enlightened than those who think all people with autism are savants that can count cards and toothpicks. (To be fair, Dustin did give a strong performance.)
My ignorance is no accident. People don’t gain specialized knowledge of hardship unless it’s necessary. Why would we?… to be well rounded? I mean, how much do you know about, say, Legionnaires’ disease?
As the father of a (neuro)typical 18 month-old boy, I am frequently astonished at how depleting and difficult parenting can be. And that’s with my wife doing most of the work. Maybe I’d be better equipped to handle parenthood if I were a 16 year-old Mormon fundamentalist prairie mom. But that comes with its own baggage.
So how do you cope when your child has autism? It’s not a rhetorical question. Parents untouched by autism are terrified yet preoccupied by its prevalence. It is perhaps unfair to show an academic interest when it’s not my kid flinging feces on the wall. But what do you want to me to say? “Better you than me”? (People with more tact than I will usually phrase this sentiment as “There but for the grace of God…”)
Basically, I stand in awe of the impossibly high hurdles that you must clear. Daily. Hourly. This minute. None of us can really fathom the patience and resolve required to raise a child with autism. We don’t know how to start the conversation, mostly owing to awkwardness, ignorance, or superstition. And frankly it’s hard to even tread here without sounding like an emotional tourist.
As you’ve read this far, I’m hoping you’ll address a few burning questions. They are compiled from near-complete ignorance. But there ought to be a way to gain perspective without fear of tripping over taboos.
Your answers will not herald an era of understanding. They will not put an end to people’s silent disapproval or blatant staring. But you’ve long since learned to ignore fools. These are just for me. Accordingly, I’m calling this brief questionnaire:
“Stop Staring and Finish Your F*cking Onion Blossom”
1. What do your non-nuclear family members fail to understand about your child, despite repeated explanations?
2. If you could fire a magic bullet at anything related to autism, where would you aim? E.g. health insurance companies, educators, spouse, legislators, me (although technically I am unrelated). And don’t get too trigger happy, Rambo – you only get one magic bullet.
3. Is there a hierarchy among parents based on where along the spectrum your kids are?
4. What does your peer group commiserate about that you’d never share with outsiders (were it not for the relative anonymity of the internet)?
5. Which parents do you look at and think “Better You Than Me”? E.g. parents of a) paraplegics, b) Siamese twins, c) young republicans, d) albinos, e) kids with Down syndrome, etc. Hmmm… the question, while sincere, could be phrased more sensitively. But you’re an expert at handling inappropriateness.
Use the comments section to answer any or all of the above. Because y’know… you have so much free time on your hands.