By John Scott Holman
Sometimes I think my father is a bit autistic. His autistic tendencies are entirely too mild to warrant a diagnosis, but they are noticeable enough to irritate me, and I’m the genuine article! Like any certified aspie, my father’s entire world revolves around his special interest – baseball. I swear, that man has managed to turn every conversation of his adult life into a longwinded monologue about the great American past time…
“You know, Dad, I was reading about that AIDS epidemic in Africa…”
“Son, let me tell you something about AIDS. AIDS is a lot like professional baseball. You see, you don’t realize how physically taxing it is until you have experienced it yourself…”
Conversations like these make me more mindful of my own autistic behavior – I feel your pain, Mom! My obsessions are regarded as symptoms of a disorder, yet when my Dad carries on about baseball, no one thinks anything of it. What gives?!
The Holman family is a baseball dynasty. My father and uncle both played Major League Baseball and my kid brother is now enjoying minor league success. So what happened to me? Genetic research may or may not yield an explanation for my autism (my mother blames the enormous quantities of yogurt she consumed during her pregnancy). Either way, I’m not much of an athlete.
As a bouncy autistic kiddo, my father’s baseball career took me all across the country. Life moved with the urgency and lightning pace of an amphetamine bender. My mother carted me across the country, guided by the distant glow of stadium lights, chasing my father’s career to the next city, the next ball park, one more win, one more loss… Like wise men following a star, we hoped those lights would lead us to our salvation, or at least a place, any place, we might one day call home.
No wonder my father is still obsessed – baseball is a dream that never ends. Spectators are filled with admiration and nostalgia, as their heroes round the bases, chasing the dream all the way home.
Back then, I had no way of knowing that my life was unusual. I was simply along for the ride – I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I’d met few children outside of the insanity of professional sports. Didn’t all fathers wear crisp white uniforms and travel the country playing baseball for thousands of adoring fans? Didn’t all mothers frantically drag their children through airports and locker rooms?
My father recalls being interviewed for national television while standing on the field of the King Dome, struggling both to answer questions and prevent me from wiggling out of his arms. Cocky and playful as always, Ken Griffey Jr. sauntered up to us, snatching the microphone from the reporter. “So little buddy,” he said, grinning my way, “do you think the Mariners will win the game today?” He pushed the microphone into my face and awaited my response.
“Not today,” I sighed. “You won’t win today… so we should just go home.”
My poor father had no idea what to do with me. He often tried to persuade me to go out back and play a game of catch with him, but I was usually too busy watching “Fantasia” or “Alice in Wonderland” – Dad had good reason to suspect his five year-old boy was a homosexual pothead.
In elementary school, my father somehow managed to convince me to join a little league team. He came to regret it. I spent every game spinning around in the outfield, oblivious to the action in the infield. Balls often whizzed by me, thumping onto the grass, and rolling slowly towards my spinning body. “Scotty, you just lost us the game!”
“I did? Does that mean we can go home now?!”
I was no better at batting than I was in the outfield. I rarely swung the bat, and couldn’t seem to hang on to it when I did, hurling it farther than most of my teammates could throw the ball. I may have hit a few nine year-old outfielders in the kneecaps. Once, and only once, I managed to get a hit. I heard a crack and watched the ball soar far into left field. Overjoyed, I turned and skipped back into the dugout… forgetting to run the bases.
When I was particularly uncooperative, my father would tell me that I was adopted from a pack of gypsies. “Akmed!” he would shout. “You do know your real name is Akmed Megelbgy, right? We changed it when we adopted you, but you’d better get used to Akmed again, ’cause I’m sending you straight back to those gypsies if you don’t let the cat out of the refrigerator!”
Was Dad right? Was I adopted from strange, rootless people? Sometimes I wonder… I’ve always felt out of step, and have spent my life searching for a place I might belong. I’ve searched among the privileged, the pious, the decadent, and the depraved. You know what I’ve discovered? We are all looking for the same thing.
Whether hunched over a keyboard writing humorous, self-deprecating blogs about autism, or sliding into home base, we are all searching for love and acceptance. My father now recognizes my passion as the same restless yearning that drove him to success. An electric urgency comes over him when he talks of baseball; he lights up from the inside. This is especially true when he speaks of his minor league career.
Scholarly and uncoordinated as I am, I connect with his stories of traveling the country in a bus crammed with excited and terrified kids, all of them united by a burning hunger to prove themselves. His voice quivers with excitement when he tells these stories, and I know that I was not adopted from gypsies. I am truly my father’s son… we share the same passion.
We all want to earn our place in the sun – we all want to be valued. However, I’ve learned that you cannot buy your way home. Your true family does not need to be impressed; they love you for who you are, not who you once were or who you may one day be.
I was certainly not the son my father envisioned, and I’m sure a part of him mourned the loss of his dream child, but he never made me feel like a disappointment. He may not have understood me, but he embraced me nevertheless.
Dad still hasn’t figured me out, but that’s alright – he loves me. Occasionally, he will try to make sense of my behavior, but I’m quick to remind him that the effort is unnecessary. “You know son, autism is a lot like professional baseball…”
“Not today, Dad… Not today…”