A Tribute to Dad: We Didn’t Know About Autism
Dad, my sister, and I were marooned that first Christmas after my mother died. It didn’t matter that at 48, I was the youngest of us — Mom was gone, and we had no ballast. It would be another two years before I unpacked the story of that holiday, when I got involved with someone who had potential.
We were talking in the way of new lovers, surprising ourselves with our wealth of material. I wasn’t looking for an interpretation so much as a witness, because when I looked into his golden-brown eyes, I knew he was listening. By this time in my life, I’d lived all over the world and spent years in therapy and addiction recovery. I knew my shortcomings and understood my family dynamics. Or so I thought.
That night, I was telling him about that first holiday after Mom was diagnosed with cancer. The four of us watching a movie when out of nowhere my sister Tess took Dad’s shoes off the coffee table and put them on the floor. I found my mother’s eyes across the room—nothing good could come of this.
My father is the type of man who stays fully dressed until he goes to bed. This includes wearing shoes. Other than pool- or oceanside, I couldn’t recall seeing his feet bare, or his footgear lying idle, let alone on the coffee table. If he was home, the shoes were on. But there they were.
More to the point, I was the one who fought with Dad, not my sister. Our family fractures aligned with our resemblances — my dark-haired mom and sister fought bitterly, as did me and my blond dad. Yet even I would not have moved my father’s shoes to the floor so brazenly. Nothing set my father into a rage like disturbing his routine, and Tess’ footwear reconfiguration was no exception.
Dad’s initial response was to simply put his shoes back on the table. Tess returned them to the floor. Dad moved them back. This went on for several rounds before words were exchanged. “Leave my things where I put them, Goddammit!”
To my astonishment, my sister grabbed his footwear again. “Shoes go on the floor!”
Suddenly Dad and Tess each had a hold of the shoes, wrestling them back and forth as their argument escalated…