Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad. ~Author Unknown

You may be an individual on the spectrum. Or you may not.

Either way, becoming a father can be a daunting task. Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA - image by Michael "Mike" L. Baird I remember when our son was born. There were some complications, so we spent some extra days in the hospital.

During that time, there were nurses and other caregivers everywhere. They knew exactly what to do! How to hold my son, how to change him, how to help him go to sleep.

Then came the day when we were to be released to go home with our new son. I wanted to bring the whole nursing staff home with us!

But, eventually I learned, and now, almost 12 years later, I can say that I'm on my way to becoming a better and better dad.

It Isn't Easy To Be A Dad

There are so many expectations placed on men.  There are many caricatures, stereotypes, and unwritten expectations.  It's no wonder we men are often bewildered and confused as to what's really expected of a Dad.

Becoming a Dad is not easy, but it's the most worthwhile job you will have in your lifetime and beyond. I hope to share some tips to help you along the way.

Let Go Of Expectations

To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves - there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. ~Joan Didion

What does this quote mean? Well, each of us grows up with a specific background, caregivers of our own, and experiences of our own. Out of that backdrop, we form our own ideas of what a child should or should not be like.

If you are not an individual on the autism spectrum, my guess is that you did not wake up one day and say, "I think I want to be a dad to a child with autism." Yet, one day, you received that diagnosis for your son or daughter.

I don't know where you are in the process of finding out about your child's diagnosis, but finding out about it for the first time can come as a shock. And it can be especially hard if, like most people, you have your own stereotypes of what autism is. A million questions may be going through your mind.

Take time to grieve what you thought your son or daughter should or should not be like. Be honest with yourself about some of the real feelings of grief: anger, sadness, even rage. Notice and honor those feelings, but don't give into them.

But Have Expectations

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy. ~Robert A. Heinlein

This may seem confusing. First, I'm telling you to let go of expectations; then I'm telling you to have expectations?

Here's the clarification:

Let go of any selfish expectations you have for your child based on who you think s/he should be. This is akin to a father letting go of making his son go into sports because he himself was in sports growing up.

Or insisting that your child pursue a certain career because you think that's what is best for her/him.

But remember, after you have let go of those expectations, it's time to have some reasonable expectations:  

You are responsible for helping your child begin to become an adult from day one!

You are responsible to help your child learn that you have expectations of her or him in terms of character and responsibility.

You are responsible to help each child become the best s/he can be in terms of her/his own strengths, talents, and even weaknesses.

Don't let your child use her/his autism as a label or excuse to avoid stretching to meet challenges.

This takes a lot of wisdom on your part. There are times to back off as a parent, and there are times to push. I myself struggle with knowing the difference on a daily basis. But over time, I am learning, with the help of my wife and others.

I think these two quotes sum up the reward of being an advocate of pushing your children to be the best they can be within their own personal strengths and weaknesses:

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth." ~Dan Rather

The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. ~K. Patricia Cross

Work On Yourself

I challenge you, right now, to be an active father in terms of learning more and more about the autism spectrum. Read autobiographies of other individuals on the autism spectrum.

Watch the Temple Grandin movie.

Read Look Me In the Eye, by John Robison.

Read the great blogs of Aspie writers John Robison, Rudy Simone, Penelope Trunk, and Lynne Soraya.

You may also want to consider getting some mentoring. I personally promote Brian King, a licensed clinical social worker with almost 40 years of experience, and himself a Aspie, and a parent of children who are on the autism spectrum. He offers one on one mentoring, as well as a Parenting with Purpose program.

Consider going to a professional counselor to talk through your own challenges with being a parent. When you gain insight into your own issues and work through them, you are giving your child the gift of a parent who knows his own strengths and weaknesses, and is humble enough to admit when he is wrong.

Enjoy Your Child!

Father and daughter

As you spend time with your child, learn to appreciate and love him for who he is.

Spend time with her. Build your father child bond with special outings. They don't have to be elaborate. Just a walk in the park. Or at the playground.

Study your child. Learn to know his interests. Participate, where possible, in those interests.

In Conclusion

These are just a few guidelines I have learned from my own experience.  I'm sure you have many more.  Just remember: any man can be a father.  It takes work to become your child's dad.  Is it worth it?  You bet!

photo credit 1st picture: mikebaird

photo credit 2nd picture: apdk

About the Author

Stephen Borgman

Stephen Borgman is a psychotherapist who frequently works with neurodiverse children and adults.

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