A little late, you say, given that I already had a kid?
No, no, no. Not THAT kind of different. It’s just that I’ve noticed that men have certain…well…qualities.
Most men don’t want to engage in long meaningful conversations. They don’t want to look at each other any more than they have to to get the channel changed or another beer brought from the fridge. Men think that sitting on a couch facing the same way silently watching TV for hours is socializing. When they do get up and move around, men prefer to do something. Build something, throw a ball, run, mow, fix, etc. And most men prefer doing one thing at a time, completely, before moving on to the next thing. Multitasking is unpleasant and to be avoided.
I have seen men I love work side by side for an entire day and not know one darn thing more about each other’s lives at the end of the day than they did when they started that morning.
Me: Thanks for fixing the car. You guys did a great job.
Him: No problem!
Me: Hey, how are he and Karen doing with the new baby? That first week home from the hospital is always rough.
Him: …. They have a new baby?
Me: Yes…. You know…the one that was born two weeks ago after her mother died and he lost his job of 15 years?
Him: …. Oh. He didn’t say.
Does any of this sound kind of familiar? Maybe a little bit…autistic?
There. I said it. Really, I had to say it. Because it explains so much.
From the start, men have always been attracted to CJ. No matter how much his autism was driving his behavior at any moment, men have rarely had a problem having him around. Men usually think he’s funny even when he is acting crazy. When he was a baby, big, tough men would stop me on the street or in stores and tell me how cute he was. Seriously, one day a work van stopped right in the middle of my street when I was crossing with CJ. A tough-looking construction worker leaned out of his window and said, “That is one cute baby.” Fifteen years later, I am still a little shocked.
Even now, it’s no different. Football, basketball, you name it. All the players love him. He’s the kid who gets the shout outs and the “Woot!” when he shows up on the field. It’s something about his energy, I think. Autism or no, he just radiates “BOY!” And men and boys, without comment, without full eye contact, without question…they see it, they know it, they honor it and the door to the man cave opens wide.
Over the years, there have been several boys in our lives who never seem to notice CJ’s autism, or if they do, they just don’t care. I guess if you discount lack of conversation, lack of eye contact, hyperfocus on one thing at a time while excluding everything else, side by side parallel activity and the need to raid the refrigerator every 30 minutes, for a boy there aren’t really any “issues” with CJ.
CJ has never really wanted to play with Legos or action figures. But somehow these boys have gotten him to participate many times. I am always confused when this happens. The boys have all been considerably younger than him, but I’ve realized that CJ is being patient with them while they are being patient with him. Everyone wins. They are having Man Moments. Somehow, the Man Factor can trump autism every now and then.
We were at the beach with close family friends not long ago when one boy got CJ to build a sandcastle with him…for over an hour. He directed CJ to go and get water and told him where to dump it. They built and built and I kept watching, waiting, and thinking that CJ would have had enough any moment or want to leave five minutes later like he usually does. But he was was fine and he kept on being fine, which meant we got to hang out and have a normal beach day. Later that night, looking out of the window of our condo, CJ was concerned to see someone digging on the beach. He wanted to make sure they were not wrecking his “castle”. I asked if he had had fun building it. Instead of the usual “yeah” or “fine,” I got a big “YES!”
He wanted to keep talking about it, too. That day, CJ was just one of the boys.