James @storiesaboutautism is a father of two boys, Jude and Tommy. Both boys are autistic and in James’ #whatmakesadad blog post for us he has shared honestly how although their life does not resemble the one he imagined for himself and his family, it is rich in love and reward. As well as reading his blog post, we also suggest you keep up with James on Instagram. We love his posts about family life, and more recently the particular challenges that lockdown has presented. He gives an important, all-too-often unheard, perspective on life outside neurotypical parenting.
When my eldest son Jude was born 12 years ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what being a dad was going to be about.
There’d be the baby years of course, helping him learn to crawl and walk, explore the world around him and start to talk. Then the really fun stuff would kick in. All the different sports we’d play, the days at the beach. The museums and the cinema trips, the castles and the amusement parks. Of course there’d be the more serious stuff too. From learning to write his first word, to helping out with his maths homework. Helping explain the world to him, teaching him good values, and showing him just how much he is loved.
Yet if I’m honest, only some of that turned out to be true. Life had slightly different plans, and the dad I thought I was going to be, the dad I thought I wanted to be, is very different than the dad I am today. Both of my sons, Jude and Tommy, are autistic and their needs are very complex. At 12 & 9 years old, there’s been very few words said aloud, and little of the types of happy family days out that I expected.
For over 4 years now I’ve also been a full time single dad. My boys struggle so much around each other and need so much 1-1 care, that me and their mum have one of them each and swap every day or two. It’s meant a lot of changes, it’s meant I’ve had to step up way more than I ever imagined, but it’s given them the both the best possible environment to grow up in.
For me being a dad has become a multifaceted role. I’m a therapist, a carer, and their advocate, continuously fighting to get their needs met.
But what really makes a dad a good dad, is being open to learning from your children along the way. My boys have totally transformed my life in more ways than one, and it’s only when I was able to open my eyes and see what they were teaching me, that I’ve been able to become the type of dad they need. They’ve taught me how to be more non-judgmental and empathetic, to always think of how another person might be feeling. They’ve helped me develop incredible levels of patience (a very important skill to have when dealing with professional services so often!) They’ve shown me how to live in the present, to stop worrying about what’s going to happen five years from now, and to just be in the moment with them. Being happy today is what matters.
They’ve taught me how to be brave, how to get up and carry on, no matter how low I feel or how tough things might be. They face challenges I’ll never have to face and keep going each day, and make me feel that I can do the same. They’ve opened my eyes to the world. I knew very little about anyone with special needs and disabilities, never gave it a second thought, now they are never far from my mind.
They’ve shown me the importance of being emotionally present with them and not distracted by thoughts of what if or what next, as well as physically being there right next to them, day after day, night after night, through the good days and the bad.
When my boys were born I started off being the dad I wanted to be, but by learning from them along the way, they’re the ones who have turned me into the dad they need me to be.
*WIN* £75 worth of credit to spend with Don’t Buy Her Flowers.
Because we know there is no such thing as a ‘typical dad’, we want to hear your stories about your dad or a father-figure and we have three vouchers of £75 to giveaway. Winners will be chosen at random. UK Deliveries only.
To enter the giveaway, what you have to do is:
1. Post to your *own account* on instagram with the #whatmakesadad. It can be light-hearted or serious, an image or a video – the choice is yours.
2. Include the following sentence in your caption ‘I am posting my #whatmakesadad to enter a @dontbuyherflowers giveaway’
(if your account is private just DM us and we will request to follow you so that we can see your entry). Competition closes midnight Monday 15th June. Find out more on our Instagram.