This post is by Lou Melgarejo, a married father of three whose eldest daughter Bianca has autism. In 2011 he started Lou’s Land, a blog from an Autism Dad’s perspective.
“You are a better man than me.”
“I don’t think I could handle that.”
“I don’t know how you do it.”
”They don’t make guys like you anymore.”
As an involved dad to an autistic child, I hear those phrases often. I have never been certain if it was a compliment, or an indictment of fatherhood as a whole. What I interpret those phrases as saying is basically, “Better you than me”. The truth is, I don’t think those on the outside know what they are capable of until they are confronted with something like having a special needs child. They don’t understand that being the father to an autistic child can be rewarding beyond measure. Sure it is a challenge at times. Yes it can be difficult and things can get stressful, but there are joyful times and moments of celebration as well. Plus, the bond I have with my autistic daughter Bianca is like nothing else. I have a close relationship with all three of my kids, but what Bianca and I share is something I treasure and for which I am extremely grateful.
Every Father’s Day, rather than expect to be showered with an ill-fitting t-shirt, socks, underwear or grilling accessories, I go out of my way to tell my kids how much I have learned from them and how grateful I am for our family. Since I can remember, I always wanted to be a dad. And while our family dynamic isn’t exactly what I had envisioned… it is perfect to me.
Bianca’s diagnosis had a tremendous impact on me. I went through a grieving process and depression only to come out of the other side a better person. I credit her influence with my maturation, becoming more empathetic, teaching me unconditional love, acceptance and a deep appreciation for life. She also inspired me to become an advocate for her and other individuals and families touched by autism.
Without her inspiration, I would have never found myself starting a blog, speaking to and educating others about autism related issues, learning from parents of autistic children and autistic individuals, traveling the country to learn about autism insurance reform, securing meaningful autism benefits from my employer or traveling to Washington DC to speak directly to my representatives about the importance of disability rights and legislation that would aid the autism community. Bianca motivates, inspires and teaches me on a daily basis. She is the one that deserves the credit for who I have become, not me.
So when I hear other dads comment about how they don’t think they could do what I do, or handle having an autistic child, I just smile and think to myself, “It is your loss”.