Living the Puzzle: The Step-Dad
By Ellen Dampf
When I hear the word “step” and then “dad” I envision a space or a gap between the man and the role of being a dad. The definition of a step is the act of placing one foot in front of the other, or one part of a process. The act of taking a step is walking toward, or many times, walking away from something. A Step-dad has that choice; they can walk towards and be fully involved, or turn away and leave plenty of room between themselves and the role of being a dad.
In a family with an autistic child, whoever has the honor of being welcomed into their family must walk on solid ground. They have to be involved with routine, behaviors, rewards, consequences and whatever else comes with the territory. To not be involved would be tragic to the child and everyone else around. It’s not for the faint of heart. Who would voluntarily put themselves into such a situation? ……a saint and a real, true man, caregiver and caretaker. Very rare to find today.
I was blessed to find one of those. A needle in a haystack and he is my husband. Yes, my children have a relationship with their biological father and I am not discounting that. But, as biological parents, my son, who is on the spectrum, is our responsibility. God doesn’t allow you to choose what he would look like, his health, his interests his disabilities or anything. But my saint that I found, he chose.
It’s Not Easy
It’s not easy being a single mom with a disabled child. From the beginning, I told my husband that he would never be first in my life and that, at times, all of my energy will be focused solely on my children. His response: “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I was very transparent about what the future could look like. I didn’t paint an appealing picture.
I expected him to slowly fade away and then go away. It didn’t happen. Instead, he would be the first to call me after a doctors appointment or therapy appointment to ask how it went. He was inquisitive and wanted to absorb as much information as he could. He wanted to be involved in every way, but more importantly, he wanted to understand.
I fiercely protected my children and wouldn’t introduce them to just anybody. However, my husband kept asking and asking and asking and asking. He wanted to meet the greatness that I so proudly spoke of…my son and daughter. I spoke of the unconditional love that my son provided and his humor….oh…his humor. He made me laugh when I needed it most. And my daughter, one of the strongest and determined little spitfires to grace this earth. He chose.
An Unbreakable Bond
As time passed, I watched my new family unit, play, laugh and create a unique and unbreakable bond. The patience, guidance and support that he provides my son with every day has had a profound impact on him. Through it all, he has supported, loved and cared for us all. It has not been an easy ride and we have faced more challenges that I could never have anticipated. It seems like there is always something else right around the corner. I know he could’ve left at any time and I quite frankly wouldn’t have blamed him. He has said so many times that he doesn’t feel obligated and he wants this life with us, the good, bad and the ugly, but he chose.
My son is 15 and things are not easy right now. We are going to be entering him into a partial-hospitalization program at an Autism clinic. Blame it on COVID, hormones, or anything really. He needs to reset, regroup and receive some intensive therapies. This is the lowest of low for us as a family. He has cried with me, researched with me, hugged me. More importantly, he is sure to chisel time away to spend with my daughter, who is also effected by this decision. Again, it takes a special man to fully involve and invest themselves into these responsibilities.
So, as Father’s Day approaches, it is typical to salute and sing praise to the many deserving and loving fathers that grace this earth. What about those men who chose to love and accept autistic children and all that it comes with? What about the men who choose to look at these autistic children like they are a blessing and to love them to the moon and back? I am truly humbled and grateful for my husband. There are no steps between him and my children. He chose.