My son was returned home to me, pale and extremely subdued, after his weekend visit at his dads on Sunday afternoon.
I could tell instantly that something was very wrong, but when I asked him about it he just said that he wanted to go to his room.
So he after he’d been in his room for a while I went in to check on him.
The movie “I Am Sam” has always made my son cry.
Yet he continuously watches it because just like Sam, he too dreams of becoming a father one day.
His desire to become a father and experience the joys of raising a child has always been on the top of my son’s wish list for as long as any of us can remember.
Even as a child, he’d continuously express his desire to hold and care for babies.
His little hands would always be awkwardly reaching out toward the nearest person smaller than himself.
Anyone who truly knows my son also can’t help but know this one very important fact about him.
Because of this, I am the first to admit that my son’s relationship to the movie “I Am Sam” is a complicated one.
He loves to watch it because although it upsets him, it also fills him with the hope that fatherhood for him need not be an impossible dream but instead can become a reachable reality.
He relates to this movie on such a deep level because it is the only movie of its kind that portrays an adult, especially a man with an intellectual disability, as being capable of genuinely caring for others, of having a sexual relationship with another special needs adult, and most importantly, of becoming a loving and devoted father despite his own personal circumstances.
My son is clearly smart enough to know, that the story line contained within the movie, is not beyond the realm of possibility.
For this reason, he fears that one day, when he does become a father, there may be someone out there who will try to legally remove his baby from his care, as was done to Sam, by claiming that his status as an adult with special needs makes him an unfit parent.
Usually my son will watch the movie, cry and then come and seek reassurance from me that I will never, ever let anyone take away his baby when he has one.
This time however, he wouldn’t come out of his room and talk to me.
Despite my best efforts he chose to remain within the solitude of in his room all night.
This morning when he woke up, he looked even paler and refused to eat his breakfast.
Yet he insisted on going to College, as he’s just met a girl that he really likes and he said that he wanted to be near her.
Okay. So we get ready and we’re driving in the car when he suddenly breaks down again.
Only this time he’s not just silently crying the way he was in his bedroom the night before.
This time he’s physically dissolving into great heaving sobs of sadness as he sits in his seat right beside me.
I pull over and take him in my arms and ask him again what’s wrong.
It is only then that the awful truth finally comes tumbling, haltingly, out of his mouth and the cruel gravity of what’s been said to him whilst at his father’s house, hits me like a red-hot arrow straight to the heart.
On Sunday, whilst they were alone, his father’s new wife took it upon herself to tell my son that he’d “never ever be able to have children of his own because he has Autism and his genetics are all wrong.”
He said she then told him to “stop talking about it because she was tired of hearing it and it’s never going to happen anyway so just get over it.”
Her words must have felt like bullets to him.
Delivered as they were in such an incredibly cold and cruel (and if I were a lesser person I’d also say a deliberately well calculated) way.
The impact they had had on him had quite literally cut into the very core of his being.
I kept my own sense of rage in check as I tried to calmly reassure him that ‘her’ words weren’t true.
Then I remembered that I had a letter from my son’s geneticist still in my bag from the week before. I grabbed it out and read the last line of it out to him……
“As we discussed in our previous visit, I look forward to seeing James again when he decides it’s time for him to have children as there is no reason why his desire to become a father should not be realized.”
Fortunately for us, we had seen the Geneticist in November of last year and James had asked him whether or not he would be able to have children.
Though initially taken aback by the question, coming as it was from a 16-year-old with Autism and a chromosome deletion to boot, the geneticist answered my son by telling him that there was no reason why, with due care, he could not have children.
He also told him that the best way forward with having children would probably be to look at some form of IVF so that they can check any future embryo’s to see if they are carrying any chromosome deletions before implanting them.
The whole issue of IVF took quite a bit of explaining later at home, but I still remember the smile that almost split my son’s face in two once the penny had dropped and the realization that he could truly become a father without causing any genetic harm to his baby finally hit home to him.
I tell you, never have I felt so pleased to have doggedly persisted in chasing down the necessary genetic screening tests for my son and never have I felt so relieved to have fallen down on my self-appointed task of judiciously filing away all of James important documents, as I did today.
My son sobbed some more as we sat there in our rain splattered car, then slowly, he lifted his head and warily glanced in the general direction of my face.
“You promise me I can have children?” he asked me.
‘Yes I promise’ I told him. ‘Look here it is in writing. In good old black and white. And you remember don’t you how happy you were when the geneticist said that you could have children?’
He nods and blows his nose. His tears slowly stop falling.
“So what she said isn’t true?” He asks one more time.
“No it’s not true. This,” I say waving the letter in my hand toward him, “this is true.”
“But she’s a nurse. She said she knows about this kind of thing”.
‘I don’t care what she is. She’s is wrong.”
Finally, as a parent, I had the ability to not only answer my son’s questions but to also defend his truths and validate the personal worth and integrity of his dreams against the erosion of harm and doubt that other people’s words of ignorance had caused him.
To prove it I hand him the letter.
He looks at it as if he’s reading it but I know there’s no way his vision is clear enough to read such small writing.
Never the less, he smiles.
Folds it up and asks if he can take it to College with him.
Normally I’d say no. Not till I’ve made a copy of it.
Today I say….. Yes.
Because if nothing else, he needs a yes after enduring God knows how ever many hours of the cruelty of ignorance he’s forced to endure at his father’s house.
And as we all know, ignorance is the curse that those with Autism are far too often forced to deal with every day in our society.
The curse that follows you home and invades not just your outer space but your inner space as well. Silently shedding its doubts on all of your personal thoughts, your hopes and your dreams, long after the echoes of the words once spoken have disappeared.