A recent incident reminded me that only a fellow stay home dad can truly understand another.
One minute a fellow stay home dad and I were catching up over a cuppa to share our respective journeys minding our kids at home. The next minute I was bawling right there in front of my bewildered friend!
Thankfully he was a patient listener, and didn’t try to stop me or interject or offer advice. Not even a napkin! He just sat there quietly and listened.
Somehow my subconscious took that as a cue to really let the floodgates open!
Welcome to the world of good listening and empathy…and the still un-ending emancipation of yours truly!
It was supposed to be an innocent breakfast
Honestly I had no idea what happened.
First off, me being me, I typically run through in my mind what might transpire conversation-wise before I meet anyone. If anything might “go south”, like if I’m unwell, not in the mood, or if the conversation could be tense or uncomfortable, then I would reschedule until a better day comes. Or not even arrange to meet at all.
Since my friend and I already met barely a month ago, I figured there wasn’t going to be too much we didn’t already know about each other’s lives up to that point.
Secondly, my friend and I were just catching up over what was for him an early surprise birthday breakfast treat from me at a mall cafe near my son’s school.
So for all intents and purposes, it was to be a pretty casual chat to celebrate. A time for light banter between two stay home dads who meet regularly for breakfasts or long walks since July last year (An article on stay home dads I wrote — published in a local daily for Father’s Day 2021 — had connected us).
Clearly, I was mistaken, and what happened that morning was as much a surprise to me as it was to him!
Why did this stay home dad let his “dam burst“?
Looking back to that morning three days ago, I don’t even know what was the trigger.
One moment I was telling him stuff that happened in the past week; the next I was sliding down an all-too familiar emo path of tears. And in full view of the public no less!
I suppose over time as a stay home dad to kids, including one with ASD, it’s really about more than one single incident or trigger. Having written extensively here since three years ago about my journey as a dad and caregiver, I can basically take my pick of any of my posts that dives into this event or that challenge across time.
For in each often lies a teardrop or a heartache just waiting for another chance to bring me low!
Over time though, I’ve learnt to roll with it. If a new parenting or autism-related event happens, like yet another melt-down homework afternoon with my son, or a tragic news in the papers that leaves me undone and broken, I’ll emote right away, wipe away the tears and press on. Best to bawl now then later, or so I thought.
And surely, once I’m done balling my eyes out, I’m done. And everything’s right as rain again.
It seems a confluence of seemingly-insignificant and unconnected events can still collude to trip me up when I least expect it. Events that took place over the past couple of weeks, conspiring in unison to humiliate me in public that morning!
One trigger plus one trigger plus …. equals one all-out cry fest!
There was for instance that morning school run late last month.
On that day we saw for the first time in three years his former classmate. Back then, that classmate had trouble walking due to muscular dystrophy. I recall my son had once even pushed the boy to the floor because in my son’s words: “He was walking too slow.” (We chastised him of course when we found out).
But at least that boy could still walk on his own then.
That morning however when my son recognised his classmate at the school drop-off point, the boy had to be lifted out of his family car onto a wheelchair.
And then there was the day before.
I was invited back to a parenting podcast I first appeared on in October. This time, the discussion centred on caregivers to children with special needs.
At one point, I nearly broke down as I shared the reality of daily adjusting down my expectations/hopes/dreams of my son’s future, given his glacier-slow pace of growth. I shared that there were many moments when it felt like something inside me died each time I lowered my ‘ambitions’ when it came to what my son could be when he grows up.
And then there was the week before.
While surfing the net, I came across someone who wrote a long LinkedIn post to advocate for colleagues and friends with special needs. While always heartening to see others advocate for special needs, this person had no actual experience caregiving (I checked), nor was he someone with special needs. So was his post genuine? Or simply click-baiting for “likes” and eyeballs, like so many others on such humble-bragging social media platforms?
Finally, on the morning of my breakfast meet, my son and I found ourselves in the apartment lift with a neighbour’s son who was seven years old, and almost as tall as my 11-year old.
So in short, one trigger plus one trigger plus one trigger plus…equals one all-out cry fest!
Emancipating a stay home dad with empathy & good listening
Sighhh…guess it’s safe to say my blog’s running theme is still spot-on! That this is truly a blog about one stay home dad’s “raw and unfinished journey with autism, parenting, writing and life”.
My cry-fest certainly proves it. I’m just grateful the breakfast crowd was thin that morning. It also helped that we sat in a nondescript corner of the cafe, though still clearly visible to any casual observer. Most importantly, my friend wasn’t subject to funny looks that would most certainly be cast our way had more people been around that morning.
Fortunately, it was to this friend I poured my heart out to. A fellow stay home dad who understood better than any other guy friend I had (and I have very few).
He listened throughout in polite silence, giving occasional nods at the most appropriate moments. Both to acknowledge that he was with me, and that it was okay for me to be vulnerable. At no point did he stop me or offer hollow words of comfort.
In a world often filled with quick and meaningless platitudes by those uncomfortable with another’s grief, that was a gift.
What was also a gift was him, simply staying put and listening to me undistracted. Which was exactly what I needed there and then, even as I tried to figure out why I had fallen apart the way I did.
To this fellow stay home dad, thank you. Your simple act of listening emancipated me that day.
One day I hope to repay your kindness.
But first, let me close my floodgates.