Dearest Rachel –
Twenty-eight years ago today, I came home from work to find you standing in the bathtub, leaking. I think you had expected your water to break with a single large gush, and that wasn’t happening. But regardless, we had to get you over the hospital right away. You insisted on walking – after all, the place was literally across the street from our condominium – and after getting you checked in, I contacted Ellen, as Mom and Dad were on a cruise with the cousins.
Given the proximity of his birthday to our wedding date, most people – including myself, sometimes – assumed he was a honeymoon baby. You always insisted that no, he was conceived some time in October. In fact, I think you actually had determined the date, although if you had written it down somewhere, I have yet to find it. So at this point, it may be an eternal mystery that you have taken with you to the hereafter.
I never know how you came to that conclusion. Is there some way that women know at this time, something clicked? Do you lie there and suddenly realize, “oh my gosh, I’m pregnant now!”?
Well, regardless of how you knew, the fact was that you were convinced of the timing. And as a result, we had been expecting him to show up around the Fourth of July, give or take a day. That he showed up several weeks early caught us both by surprise. It was one of the few times he would ever be early for anything – let’s face it, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
But along with being early as far as the calendar was concerned, he was surprisingly prompt with regard to the clock as well. Certainly, he took the doctors at the hospital by surprise. To be fair, you had warned them that your mom had a very quick delivery, and so you expected the same, and they did not believe you. So that by the time Daniel crowned (in a matter of less than three hours), what personnel were available were all “Stop pushing!” which I’m pretty sure struck you as ridiculous.
In any event, your OB never made it there, and Daniel had to be delivered by an intern. He showed up just a minute or two before 10 at night, and we couldn’t help but joke about how he managed to arrive just in time for us to turn on M*A*S*H, which we’d made a habit of watching on the local syndicated channel.
I can’t remember if I got to hold him at the time; I remember vaguely of the cutting of the cord, and I think he was whisked off briefly to have his vitals checked. I made some lame attempt to say something profound for posterity – and the video tape, which our friend Paul was just wrapping up (and vowing never to do anything like this again) – welcoming our boy to the world.
You two stayed at the hospital for a couple for a day or two, during which time you learned to feed him and bond with him. You came home with him the same way that you’d gone to have him – on foot. It made the hospital’s legal requirement to insist on our having a car seat before they would release him – and you – seem a little silly, but of course we would be driving places with him in the near enough future that it would certainly be an understandable thing.
I’d like to say we managed, and did what we could to bring him to this point. Given the discussions as recently as last week with Jenn, I’ve been getting the impression that we could’ve done better. Much better.
Over time, we realized that he was a ‘special’ child. Not in the way that every parent’s child is special, but rather one of those official designations: in his case, the fact that he was on the autism spectrum. It took him a noticeable while longer to both walk and talk, longer than it should have, and it was at that point we had him looked into… and learned about Asperger’s syndrome. I have since found some books in your nightstand that you must’ve bought at the time to learn how to deal with a child of his type. Compared to Jenn’s level of education, I suspect it wasn’t as much as we could’ve done, had we let her give more of her input.
Some time before your departure, I got myself interested in a website called outlived.com. It basically calculated your age down to the day, and compared you against notable people who you had outlived – exactly as advertised. It’s sometimes freaky to realize how young certain people were that made such a difference in their lifetime: in particular, I had long since passed up the man whose death very nearly coincided with my own birth, that of Martin Luther King, who didn’t make it to forty, let alone fifty years of age.
The musicians and other artists drew my attention in particular. It’s weird to think of the fact, for example, that Elvis has been dead longer than he’s been alive by now for the past two years (despite certain tabloid claims to the contrary). And I recall in particular having passed up Michael Jackson at some point when I first started visiting the site. Now, I never bothered to check on your behalf, so I don’t know if you quite managed that, though.
I bring this up, apropos if little else, to point out that, for whatever shortcomings we had as parents, we did at least bring him far enough that he is officially no longer eligible for the famous – or rather, infamous – 27 Club. Because while I don’t know what their exact ages were, I can say with confidence that he has now officially outlived the likes of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and so many others like them. So, we can at least take credit for that much.
Of course, it can easily be argued that he hasn’t done as much with his life as those individuals had. But for now, it is inarguable that he has had more time on earth than they have, and presumably will have more time yet to come. What he does with it is up to him.
Or maybe, the fact that he hasn’t done much with his life yet is still on us for not pushing him as much as we should have.
I’ve done what I could to patch things up with Jenn, but if I understand her correctly, it looks I have a long road ahead with Daniel to try to ensure that he becomes a productive member of society. It seems that for all these years, we tried too hard to be friends, and not hard enough to be parents. To be honest, I knew right from the start that I wasn’t capable of proper parenting, and it seems that the results have borne me out. However, just as so many other events of my life have simply landed in my lap, so too has my position as father, so I’d best step up and do I what I need to for his sake… whatever that might be.
It’s weird, to be working on this letter in the quiet hours of Father’s Day, musing upon how I apparently really screwed up as a father to Daniel. And so much of this, I was just oblivious to. Did I just think we were this perfect happy family, enjoying life together, while you were busily papering over everything that was wrong with us?
I confess, I haven’t been enjoying uncovering the messes you’d left behind. The literal ones have been painful enough to clear as it is. These metaphorical ones, I don’t know how to deal with.
Worse yet, I don’t feel comfortable making him do anything he doesn’t want to, as I’ve said before. Sure, I can change myself, and I know I need to, in order to move on, but forcing him to do anything he doesn’t want to, even if it’s for his own good, doesn’t seem like something I’m capable of (especially with everything else that’s going on right now). Not to mention, I expect he’ll resent me for making any such attempt at this point. After all, part of his condition is the fact that he’s resistant to change by nature, and things have been changing around him like crazy since – and because – you left. Making him change as well would be just adding to that enormous pile of unwanted changes.
But if I try to wait until he was ‘ready,’ would that day ever even come?
Birthdays are supposed to be celebratory times, a chance to look back and see how far you’ve come. I’m sorry to sound so mournful on such a day as this, but it seems to be our default mood ever since you left. And the recent discussions haven’t really helped with that, to say nothing of Daniel’s own… distracted… mood.
He has been talking with Pastor Joel for a number of these past Thursday evenings, though, and Joel has gotten him to promise to actually get out of the house every day this week. VBS was supposed to be the way that was going to be accomplished, but – and this would please you no end – they actually have more volunteers than they need. Isn’t that wonderful?
But it does mean he’s going to have to get a little creative – and maybe I will have to get creative myself as well – in order to fulfill that promise. I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted.
I was hoping to be able to relate to you about how we will have celebrated his birthday, and how that will go. Hopefully, that letter will take a more…happy… tone – although I admit happiness is a relative concept these days.
For now, I once again apologize for the tone of this letter. There’s been a lot to digest this past week, and indeed these past five months. The future is just not as bright as it used to be, and I don’t know what to do about that. And yet, I’m sure that Daniel has so much future ahead of him. So much promise. And I guess I have to push him in the direction that he will fulfill that promise.
As always, honey, wish me luck.