Editor's Note: I first wrote this post as a Christmas gift last week - I was going to surprise Tony. But when I sent it to my friend to read, she asked a few good questions that led me to realize that I had been thinking about it from my own perspective and not from Tony's. Even if I am telling our story truthfully in these posts, they tend to be a little, er, over the top. Since this is about the gift that Tony received, I want it to be as true to him as I can make it. Thanks, A, for reading it and for making me think about the way that I wanted this to come out.
I'm giving Tony the perfect gift for Christmas this year. It is a 3 pack of Hanes white undershirts, Size 8.
Tony is an amazing father. Attentive, patient, and humorous. He somehow maintains composure when our lives are the most chaotic.
When James was first diagnosed on the autism spectrum and I was spiraling out of control, he was the one who kept me grounded.
He is "our rock". So to watch him be virtually invisible for the past 8 years has been difficult for me.
Don't get me wrong, James loves his Dad. But James was never able to show his love in the way that most parents expect. When Tony came home from work every night hoping for a huge hug from his boy, there was none waiting. If he and James were in the same room and James needed something, he would call for me out in the other room. When James came into our room at night, it was me he was looking for. And if I had to leave to attend to Johnny, James would follow me instead of staying with his Dad.
Autism had changed the way we needed to view our world, and so we adapted to give James what he needed. Still, autism hurt me, so I imagined it tore Tony apart.
But Tony isn't exactly as dramatic as I am. As I obsessed over every behavior or lack of reciprocity, Tony developed a different way to look at it. Instead of letting all those behaviors get to him, he turned it all around. When he got no reaction from his son each night as he walked in the door, Tony would cheerfully yell as loud as he could "Hi Dad! So glad you are home! How was your day?" and James would say "Dad, you're just joking, right?" It wasn't the dialogue most dads get, but it was interaction and it worked for the two of them. For years.
It started a few months back with a simple "no Mom, I'll stay in bed with Dad." when I had to leave to go take care of sick Johnny. I laid awake all night, knowing how huge it was. Wondering if Tony was awake thinking of it too.
Then a few weeks later when Tony was working late and I was getting James a t-shirt for bed, he asked "What does Daddy wear to bed?"
I told him Dad wore a white T-shirt and he immediately wanted one. When Tony came up to give him a kiss goodnight, James said "Look at my shirt Dad. I'm just like you".
I knew then that everything was going to be OK. And even though Tony didn't make a big deal out of it (and is probably not even thinking of it anymore), I knew he did too. Just in his own quiet, thoughtful way.
And I realized something else while re-writing this post to be less, er, dramatic.
I just gave myself a gift too. Reminiscent of days I actually went Christmas shopping in stores - the days before kids, when my shopping rule of thumb was "one for you, one for me". Except this gift is SO MUCH better.
I was able to sit quietly and reflect on the amazing relationship that Tony and James have, the way the Tony is showing James by example how best to react to a world in which things don't often go as expected. The way James found his own way to show his Dad how much he loves him.
It is also when I realized I could never surprise Tony with a post. I can't write a story about our journey without his input. I don't even want to.