Meet Andrew K, an autistic man navigating fatherhood for the first (and second) timeBy Andrew Komarow
This guest blog post is by Andrew Komarow, founder of Planning Across the Spectrum and host of the Autism Speaks Adulting on the Spectrum podcast. Andrew specializes in helping any individual, family or employer of those with autism and other disabilities pursue financial independence. Learn more about Andrew in a recent Q&A.
My first Father’s Day was four years ago, and I’ll be honest—it wasn’t the best. My own father and I had recently severed our relationship, and at the same time, I had just gotten my autism diagnosis. My diagnosis answered so many questions for me but brought up so many more, including “Can I even be a good dad?”
As the years went on and I embraced my diagnosis, I learned that of course I can be and I am. Now, going on to my fifth Father’s Day (and my first with two daughters), things feel very different. My journey into fatherhood has not been without challenges, but it is the greatest part of my life.
I have been told that when new fathers find out they are going to be a dad, their reaction to a pregnancy can be delayed to some extent. They don’t “feel it” until the baby is right in front of them. I think this was especially true for me as an autistic man. Yes, I built the crib and I took the birth classes. I went to the appointments and saw the blinking heartbeat on the screen (I think… I could never really make out what I was looking at). None of it felt “real” to me though.
Instead of picturing the little person who was about to grow my heart 100 times bigger, I was more focused on the upcoming changes. I was obsessively concerned with how my routine would change. Would I still be able to shower first thing in the morning? I had just moved to a new office location and was trying to get my business off the ground—how was that going to
change? I felt completely blind. While my wife was supportive and understanding, she had no idea how frightened I was not knowing what things would look like or what I would be doing.
I found that focusing on what I could control—the things in my life outside of the baby that I could plan for—was very helpful. Maybe it was willful ignorance, but it seemed like a good coping mechanism to me. I focused on my home, my pets, my work, my friends—and my wife really took the lead on baby planning. We quickly learned that if she presented me with choices and talked about more concrete decision making when it came to the baby (or better yet, decisions already made), it was much easier for me to wrap my head around. “Do you want to hire a painter or spend a weekend painting our spare bedroom?” was much easier for me than “Let’s talk about the nursery!”
When my first daughter was just a few months old, I got my autism diagnosis. I questioned how that was going to affect me as a father now that I could put a label on everything that I had experienced for so long. As it turned out, with lots of communication and a very supportive partnership, Jes and I were able to do it.
That little baby came and our lives completely changed. It was challenging, but we were doing it, and honestly, doing it well. We learned to communicate to each other what we needed, give each other breaks and spend time together. Jes learned that giving me clear directions and setting clear expectations was best for both of us.
Yeah, my routine was definitely out of sync for a while, and yeah, that was hard. The thing is—it’s temporary. Now, my routine includes picking up my oldest from school every Friday and bringing her out for ice cream. Who can be mad at that? Father’s Day now includes the tradition of me getting a pair of socks with my kids’ faces on them. Right now they think they’re funny, but I can’t wait to embarrass them both at their sports games, graduations and weddings with my baby face socks!
By the time we found out we were pregnant with our second daughter Lucy, I felt much more confident and much more prepared. I even looked forward to those late nights up with her, watching TV while she fell asleep on my chest. Emma is four now and I can share my interests with her (she loves playing monster trucks). I’m not perfect—but man, she seems to think I am.
I remember one client telling me when my first was born, “Pretty soon they are going to be running your life, just you wait!” And what do you know, I called her last year and said, “You were right.”