My son J.R. was diagnosed with autism at age three. On that horrific day I came home and collapsed in bed, crying. I cried myself to sleep, woke the next morning, then repeated the process. For three days. I felt as if I were thrust into The Octogon to face an invisible demon, and Dante was working the bell. Sometime on the third day someone called to me from the other side of the bedroom. He asked, nonchalantly, when I was planning to stop. Stop? I could barely make out the face because my eyes were just about swollen shut. I knew the voice to be a man’s, and that was enough. How dare he ask this of me? I would go round after round and submit when I was good and ready, and not according to anyone else’s timeline. Why?
I abruptly sat up and screamed “BECAUSE I AM THE MOTHER. YOU COULDN’T POSSSSSSIBLY UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH. YOU ARE NOT HIS MOTHERRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” For the record, the poor person to whom I directed this rage did not ask why. A when, probably for scheduling purposes, was all he wanted to know. I fell back into bed, realizing Dante’s closest favorite number was nine. I welcomed it.
I remember that day mostly because of the look on that person’s face I now know to be my husband’s. From what I could see, it was the look of speechlessness. He may have wanted to respond to my rant, but maybe was horrified by my appearance? I did, after all, look like Georges St- Pierre had squeezed my head between his beautiful legs (ooh a girl can dream). In reality, I think my husband pitied me. His maleness was a fact and therefore motherhood an impossibility. He couldn’t speak to my grief if he wanted to.
I have admitted many times before how autism has affected me as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, and citizen. With the subtlety of Bruce Buffer, autism announced itself to into my life loudly and proudly. And tale of the tape will never, ever change. Boy has that been a hard supplement to swallow. The good news is I bet on the wrong fighter that day I screamed my husband into “submission.” The man has proved himself inside and out of the ring. He is my Royce Gracie, a living legend in our home.
Statistics say that husbands tend to tap out early in the autism fight. Some make weight, but can’t keep it long enough for the important matchups. Not mine. That’s not to say that at certain weigh-ins, he hasn’t turned to Dana White and said “I’m committed to this fight, but my training partner and I may part ways.” Yes, my husband has put my son’s welfare ahead of our marriage. And there it respectfully remains, as it should.
Fathering in an autism household requires impeccable grappling skills, both physical and emotional. I can’t imagine the weight my husband must carry on his shoulders. His heavyweight bouts with doctors, snake oil salesmen, insurance companies, and schools and will forever remain legendary in my eyes- even though we knew from the beginning they all were fixed. Luckily, every underdog has his day. Tim taught me that any small victory involving our son would make the sucker punches we endured completely worthwhile. Sticks and stones.
However, every UFC fan knows even the fiercest of competitors is eliminated if he can’t maintain his ground game. Grounded is your middle name, Tim. You. Are. Ever. Present. Never has your much needed job nor outside interests interfered with what is most important: family. And with that, you’ve recognized the fight card our typical child faces. You allow him equal mat time and attention and have never denied him your cauliflower ear. Then there is the literal wrestling. I adore hearing the kids’ screams turn into hysterical giggles as you pin them to land colossal belly zerberts.
Whether it be MMA or boxing, a cut man’s role is vital. And this is what Tim has been to me. Babe, you may have kissed hundreds of boy boo-boos, but you have been my healer. Time after time you grab ahold of my battered body, deliver just the right amount of TLC, then spin me back in the direction of our hateful opponent. Without you in my corner, I would be lost.
I can understand the bruise to one’s pride a father may feel, knowing his son won’t live the life he had once dreamed for him. Not my son’s dad. You won’t find a single mark on him. And to me, any man who spars in his class is to be considered amongst the World’s Strongest.
Looking back on the behavior I displayed on my darkest day, I can’t help feeling a bit ashamed. Simply put, autism hits a mother below the belt. I assumed a father to be incapable of any mental game, and immediately resigned myself to shadowboxing in preparation for a life with autism. I misjudged.
Tim, you are the uncontested love of my and our children’s lives. I marvel at the amount of conditioning I receive, just by the way you look at us. Autism may have muscled its way into our lives, but with you as our greedy promoter we all have more than a fighting chance.
Happy Father’s Day, champ.