Sometimes, on very rare occasions, I manage to get a full day and night out away from the family. Having 2 autistic sons means that these days are few and far between, and when they happen you have to make the most of them. Whatever it is you’re doing you need to be able to switch off and forget about your day to day experiences with autism. These days are very important, they’re what give you the energy to be the parents we need to be
A few months ago I had a big day out planned. My team were playing in the FA Cup final, an occasion that made it a lot easier for me to turn off that guilt switch in my head. This usually appears when I think about having a day off from looking after them and actually going to have some fun. This was a chance for me to meet up with old friends, have some lunch, and spend a day in the pub watching my team.
The day was going perfectly. My team won 4-0 (Arsenal if you hadn’t guessed already…..not a reason to unsubscribe!)
The whole pub was singing and bouncing up and down, and there was much alcohol being shared. I had a whole night of freedom to look forward to, a night escaping the pressures of my everyday home life, and a chance to celebrate winning a trophy.
Then, out of nowhere, that old enemy, the green-eyed monster appeared and threatened to disrupt this perfect day I was having.
Or what I like to call autism jealousy.
How I’ve come to hate that feeling.
It’s one I’ve struggled with many times over the last 7 years, and ever time I think I’ve seen the back of it, it tries to sneak back into my life. Autism jealousy, when something happens to make me wish we were able to do things that other families get to take for granted
What was it this time that triggered it off? A small simple, everyday occurrence; just as it usually is.
A few friends came into the pub, fresh from their day out at Wembley, eager to share stories of their triumphant day. With them were their children, in particular, 2 of them around Jude’s age. They proudly wore their Arsenal shirts, carrying flags, scarves, and smiles spread wide across their faces. They were having the best day of their lives, spending the day with their dad’s, watching their heroes cruise to victory and lifting a trophy. They had something to return to school and brag about on Monday. They were doing what millions of children across the world do, sharing their passion for football, watching the big game with their family, living and breathing football.
My mind began to spiral out of control. I started thinking about the first time my dad took me to see a football match, the years of going to matches, watching them in pubs and at friends houses, the laughter, the tears, the priceless memories we shared, a huge part of my childhood. Football was a relationship builder, an eternal bond that joins father and son, our favourite subject of discussion.
So as I watched my friends children enter the pub, that familiar lump in my throat surfaced, the one I try so hard to hide away deep inside of me. That voice whispering inside my head…
“I wish I could watch football with my boys. Why can’t we do that?”
Momentarily I ‘m distracted, I’m off in a dream somewhere imagining what it would be like to be living that simple dream. Obviously this isn’t just about football. If both of my son’s hated football it wouldn’t bother me, it’s just an example of one of the things you take for granted that will be part of your journey as a parent. You know, the typical, regular things that you expect will be part of your father/son relationship, long before you ever heard the word autism.
A while back this could really upset me and even ruin my day. I used to find myself avoiding situations where I’d be around friends children as I could feel tears welling up behind my eyes at any given moment. Every moment of joy I saw them have would cause a feeling of sorrow within me, as I grieved for my boys and the things they couldn’t do. This time, I had a wobbly few minutes, then I pulled myself together and allowed myself to be happy watching them have so much fun.
As I’ve come to accept and understand my children’s autism more and more, these feelings appear less often, and when they do are much easier to deal with.
Then, a few hours later when I was on the train home, I thought about what had happened and had a moment of drunken enlightenment. There I was feeling jealous of the time that these dad’s were having with their son’s when in reality I bet a few of them were looking at me and feeling jealous of me that day. They were probably thinking “I wish my kids were at home right now!” That day I was free. I could watch the game and not worry about having to look after any children. I could celebrate afterwards, drink as much as I liked with no one to look after. I didn’t have to leave early to take my kids home and miss out on any of the celebrations. Whilst I was dealing with my own green eyed demons, they probably had their own internal battles going on!
Seriously, for me, I woke up the next day and thought about what had happened that day. We’re all a bit more emotional when a few drinks have been had, but I feel like I’m getting better at dealing with these feelings. Whenever I got jealous before I’d end up compounding those feelings by judging myself. Feeling guilty about my thoughts and that it makes me a bad dad.
Instead, this time I was proud of how I felt that day. Yes, I’d felt jealous for a little while, and I hope one day I never feel that way. But I think that feeling is only natural. We all want the best for our children, and have a certain pre-conceived image of what raising a child will be like, and the life we will live with them.
This time, I dealt with that feeling and got past it. I was able to look at these kids having fun and be happy for them. Enjoy the moment just like they were instead of focusing on something I didn’t have.
Plus of course my team won 4-0, that always helps!