One of the things that I miss about my dad was his inherent lack of expectations. I know now that this was in part due to the way his brain was wired, and I also suspect it was consequence of the unmet expectations and disappointments in his life. Clearly, this presented a strange paradox for me, because I felt like he truly did not expect anything of me. On the one hand, I never knew if he was proud of me; on the other hand I never felt like I failed him.
Expectations exacerbate my anxiety riddled mind, and have plagued me throughout my life. More specifically, it is the feeling of not meeting expectations that I cannot seem to shake. For most of my life, I’ve felt like a square being forced into a circular peg. I did not feel like I was accepted for who I was…with the exception of my dad (a lot of thought and reflection went into that last declaration). I am sure my behavior and meltdowns were frustrating to him, but I don’t recall him ever trying to change that part of me, of who I was at my core. I never felt like I didn’t measure up with him as I did and do with others in my life. Granted, I wasn’t ever comfortable enough to present the true colors of my spectrum to him, but in retrospect, because of who he was and the diagnosis he was unable to admit or accept, we both held each other at arm’s length. We both danced to the beat of our own drums. And although we were not comfortable dancing together, we did dance side by side; and we were able to forge a small significant connection in our own way, on our own terms.
My perception now of what our relationship was is completely demolished and I am beginning to view it through a fresh set of lenses; wide open and void of the judgment and preconceived conclusions I’ve held in the past. To the observer, our relationship probably exhibited itself as detached, unfeeling and lacking in depth. I enlisted with the Band Wagon in condemnation of our relationship because I had no knowledge of any other normal other than what bombarded my brain daily through societal norms and relationships I witnessed in other families. And because I was trying to assimilate and mimic what was considered to be the proper “normal” relationship between a father and daughter, I resented his failed “dad” attempts and his perceived distaste for parenting. Oh the understanding and grace I am able to bestow upon it now! My internal bulldozer has removed all the dirt and grime of what I thought our relationship was and is replacing it with fresh clean soil to replant my memories. The instances and circumstances that I referenced in previous blogs about my dad’s supposed uncommunicative indifference and callousness to me…all identified and measured against the barometer of what society considers acceptable and “normal” behavior are now measured against my new and ever-expanding knowledge, and what I perceived as negative, upon further deeper reflection is really…not.
We forged a comfortable coexistence, my dad and me. We could go months without communication. He gave me space….probably because he too, needed space. We did not feel the need or urgency to stay connected through phone calls or verbal dialogue; but whenever I did pop in to say hi, he was always thrilled to see me. I never felt pressured to stay in touch with him or felt like I disappointed him when I didn’t. I could always count on him to hold lively discussions on safe inane subjects, and I didn’t even need to participate most times. A welcome relief to the anxiety I experience when feeling coaxed and cajoled into deep intimate conversations. Our conversations rarely delved below the surface, but frankly, I preferred it. I abhor “heart to heart” conversations. They stress me out, and I typically need time to mentally prepare for them. As a woman, I realize that it presents a unique set of complications. Women, in general, are emotional…connect emotionally. I find this ritual to be exhausting and even somewhat annoying. It is another area in my life that required hasty adaptation and creation of coping mechanisms so that I can function in social situations. I still look to others to mimic appropriate behaviors and often will find myself as an observant comfortable wall flower, by choice, if I do not know what is expected of me. Dad never judged. I could sit there, completely shut down and non-communicative and he would natter on blissfully unaware of my nonparticipation, only requiring an occasional grunt in response. As much as his small talk grated on my nerves, I did and do prefer it to the probing, prying conversations I often find myself in.
In these months following his death, I’ve heard intermittent discussion that dad felt he failed as a parent. I am ashamed to admit that I was quick to voice my agreement. Not anymore. Given our diagnosis and the knowledge I am gaining, I am proud of him for adapting and trying to connect with us as much as he did. How exhausting it must have been for him! I will never resent those failed attempts again and am only dismayed that I was unable to grant him pardon while he was still living. My expectations were unrealistic. They did not meet him at his level. They were not indicative of how I truly felt, only of how I felt I must react. As I’ve gained insight into myself and ASD, I’ve also gained tremendous insight into this man, my father. I love him and miss him so much more as consequence. Forgiveness is a constant companion, ready to wash over our relationship at any given moment of recollection and acknowledgement; and it is incredibly liberating and exciting to feel like I am finally truly getting to know him.