It is something of a cliche in modern drama to show a father who slowly discovers that his son is not quite what he’d expected. Denial crumbles before mounting evidence, until a dinnertime explosion of pointless injunctions shatters the family forever. Or until someone is about to perish of a fatal but photogenic disorder.
I’ll bet everyone reading this with any exposure to North American television has the scene clearly in mind already.
“But, Dad… I hate driving stock cars! I want to be a tree surgeon!”
“You’re no son of mine! Get out of my house!”
“Arthur, Daniel isn’t going to the prom… with a girl.”
Dinner flies into the air as Arthur flings the table aside to grab Daniel by the front of his shirt, the coveted Thanksgiving drumstick raised like a cudgel.
Yes? We’ve seen plenty of examples, haven’t we?
I’ve recently had to wrestle with such a disappointment inflicted by my own dear son. Because I am not a fictional character, not contrived and only slightly two-dimensional, I have almost come to terms with the problem through introspection and through gentle discussion behind closed doors with my wife, who is equally concerned.
I imagine that there has been an intake of breath by some readers, shocked at the characterization of the situation as “the problem”. If I’m not a two-dimensional caricature of paleolithic fatherhood, how can I think in such terms? Bear with me. This is very like finding myself in a place where gravity and down don’t both point in the same direction, and I am trying to come to terms with it in the best way I can.
I can at least defend my reaction as not springing from on the usual sources. If I’m right about those sudden shocked gasps I imagined, it’s probably because those who did so thought I had suddenly realized that my son was something other than cis-gendered. Put your minds at rest. That’s a possibility which my wife and I discussed back when the pregnancy first manifested, and that discussion was primarily one of hoping that the way for our child would be less rocky when the time of discovery came, if his or her inclinations ran that way, than it had been for those of our generation who were “different”. Because Fate apparently doesn’t want to present a non-issue to the well-prepared, our son appears to be as cisgendered as one might tell from a kid in grade two. He may not be neuro-typical (and we’ve got a diagnosis to lean on there), but in the gender department all appears to be exactly as the most bigoted parent could hope.
Where then the tragedy? Is he not assuming the mantle of my preferred sport? Spurning the great tradition of the men of his line in going out on the athletic field? Denying me the vicarious victories I was never quite a good enough player to achieve, the filthy little brute?
Well… possibly, but in a highly inverted way. Assuming I had two figs, I wouldn’t give either of them for sports. There is a slight danger, as I perceive things, that the lad is becoming interested in using the physical powers the particular blending of my and my wife’s DNA has bequeathed to him. He likes to run. He deadlifts his own weight for fun. He does handstands as a preparation for sleep. It’s unnerving. However, it’s not something I’m strongly enough against to rewrite the will over. As with the other thing, the main concern is that he’ll get hurt as a side-effect.
No, the matter which brings dismay into my heart and my wife’s heart, the baffling proclivity that I struggle to accept is… well, best to get it out and said.
My son doesn’t like Hallowe’en.
I need a moment.
To understand how this affects his parents, you have to realize how much Hallowe’en means to us. The general tone of the fiction I post here probably gives a clue, of course. My Facebook avatar for October is…
…who also provided a middle name for my son. A glance at the sort of junk I watch for entertainment would also give an insight, especially if you make allowances for things I’ve clearly watched because I have a young child under the same roof. My wife is the same way, as a recent Facebook post of hers suggests →
Hallowe’en is to us what I suspect hockey is to many other Canadians– a reason not to put out one’s own lights the moment autumn declares itself, and a source of fond memories to cling to through the cold part of the year. Before the appearance of our son, we would get the house decorated the way we had always hoped to as kids, because in our separate childhoods we appreciated people that went to a little trouble for the night that the vale thins.
Our son won’t have it, though. Even though the household decor is all low-key (some styrofoam grave markers, a relatively comical backpack-sized spider, a fog generator, some plastic skulls), he had gotten very quiet every Hallowe’en night since he was taking in information, and this year he actually came out and said it.
“I don’t like it.”
Parents all know that battles need to be chosen; losses are to be avoided, and pyrrhic victories are worse than a loss. When autism enters the scene– we are aware that we are faced with a very minor manifestation of the spectrum and daily give thanks for that– one has to emulate Sun Tzu in the battle-choosing department. There is little to be gained from fighting the Battle of Pumpkin Hollow but despair. That being the case, let all the despair fall on us, while he can have a happy night of pitching chocolate at his peers.
There is a potential of a silver lining. Casting my memory back, I find a portion of my own childhood in which the whole Horror genre was an unwelcome element of reality to me, even though dressing up for trick-or-treating was a joyful punctuation to autumn. I don’t know exactly when or how the change came over me; there was definitely a patch of fleeing the room when ads for Jaws came on TV, but it was not long thereafter I was avid to get to showings of old Universal monsters at the public library. There is hope. Hallowe’en is an acquired taste, and as it has gotten a little spicy since I was a kid– movie-grade props now available at grocery stores!– I’m not entirely mystified at my son’s current reaction.
Until hope bears fruit, I have the consolation of knowing that this sensitivity to the mock horrors of Hallowe’en also manifests as a more general sensitivity to less-fictional unpleasantness. He wept during a recent bedtime reading of The Adventures of Tintin at the prospect of a rickshaw driver being thrashed by a portly racist (even though Tintin thwarted him), and wept also at being given a vague, brief and heavily bowdlerised explanation of what the recent Orange Shirt Day at school had as a historical foundation. He embarrassed his parents slightly over the summer, explaining to the guy in the car next to us at a red light that smoking is unhealthy. He avoids stepping on bugs.
He’s becoming a decent, caring human being. That forgives a lot, and certainly outweighs foolish parental expectations.