My son Zion has Aspergers syndrome. He was diagnosed this year.
How do I begin to write about being a father of a son who has Aspergers? I really don’t feel like writing this. I don’t really know how to enter this with an open heart. I’ve been closed and restricted. I’ve not opened my heart wide to my little boy whose humanity is characterized by deep struggle and weakness.
The impact of my refusal to be openhearted in the middle of Zion’s ordeal puts Karla in a bind. I have been an obstacle to both of their care. I failed as a husband as well as a father. Can I grieve this? I don’t mean can I beat myself up over it (yes I can) or ignore or minimize it (but more like my way of relating). I mean can I enter into my own story, Karla’s story and Zion’s? This I’ve not been able to do. At least not until recently.
What does it look like to fail him?
The bedtime routine has been expanding in the last few months since Zion started the fourth grade.
“God please give Mary very, very, very very good dreams. And please keep away from her tonight any growing pains.” With these words I finished praying for Mary. My evening routine with Mary is closed with the singing of “How Great Is Our God.” While I was praying with and singing to Mary, Zion was suppose to be getting himself ready for bed: brushing teeth, going tinkles one more time, and getting his clothes ready for school the next day.
After I shut the light off in Mary’s room and headed to Zion’s, I discovered he was still folding his clothes for school the next day. In the 20 minutes I was with Mary he had done very little of those tasks. I had expected him to be in bed ready for me to pray and sing to him. I got frustrated. This obsession with folding his clothes with the precision that a brain surgeon would envy needed to stop. It was getting late and he was not close to getting into bed.
I had been away for a number of nights so I was not fully aware of the changes taking place in the evening routine for Zion. Karla had told me he had been adding tasks to his routine that involved careful organization of items in the kitchen and bathroom, the processing of laundry and the folding his clothes for the next day. The routine was taking longer and longer.
I thought I would break the cycle tonight. I walked in his room forcefully and told him that he’d have to stop folding. He protested, “Daddy, I’m almost done!” “No Zion,” I said. “You can finish it tomorrow morning! You are done folding for the night!” He reacted with an emotional outburst and refused to stop. “But daddy I’m almost done! Please let me finish.” “Zion, you’ve been at this for 20 minutes! You should be in bed by now and you’re not even close to it! Let’s go! Brush you teeth now! NO more folding.” Mind you, this was a shirt, a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and under ware. I had no more patience with this obsessive need.
He still wasn’t moving so I nudged him along. “Zion into the bathroom and brush your teeth!” Now Zion had fully melted down. He was loudly sobbing and protesting. I had stopped his folding and I had broken his spirit.
He hobbled to the bathroom sink, climbed up on the stool and in a full sob he brushed his teeth.
A little 63 pound 9-year-old boy sad and tortured by the anxiety of not being prepared for school the next day. And me. Me standing over him with disappointed contempt. I don’t remember the things I was saying to him, but I do remember that they were full of frustration, anger and accusation. “Zion this has got to stop . . . this incessant organizing. I’m going to break this cycle. You will not be doing this every night!”
Somehow amidst the sobbing he was able to brush his teeth and I marched him like a prisoner to his bed.
“How do I pray and sing now?” I thought to myself. Zion was over-tired and undone. I was angry and by now feeling the pangs of my own shame.
My prayer was rote,
My singing of “Silent Night, Holy Night,”
an ironic betrayal.