I used to think my Dad didn’t like me.
When I was a kid, he seldom played with me. He usually preferred to be by himself after work. He was easily irritated by my interruptions and random, unexpected noises. He rarely asked me questions about how I was, but he loved to talk about himself or what was on his mind.
It was hard to feel he liked me or was interested in me. I interpreted his interactions to mean he didn’t like me.
The same feeling continued into adulthood. He’d always answer the phone when I called, and happily talk about all the family news and what was going on in his life. He always welcomed me over to the home to showcase all of his newest treasures, but seldom asked about my life.
When my mother passed away, the one parent who seemed interested in my life was gone. It highlighted how little my dad asked about me or took interest in my life.
And yet, he cared. When I had a cancer scare, he was more than happy to show up when I asked that he go with me to my surgery. When he started to tell me scary world news on the way to the appointment, I had to ask him to stop. This was another odd thing about my dad - he never seemed able to read the room and be cognisant of how his words impacted the people around him.
These experiences made it feel like my Dad didn't love me. I wanted him to love me the way my Mom did. She would call to see how I was doing. She would ask me questions about my life. She would remember the important things I told her. She planned special adventures for us. She always made sure there was enough space for me.
What I didn’t know then is that my Dad is autistic.
I learned in my 30’s that I’m autistic. This led to a conversation with my father where we talked about our similarities and that he is likely autistic.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve been re-examining and re-interpreting my life and identity. I’ve also been re-interpreting my relationships and how I see the key people in my life.
I now realize that my Dad likely didn’t play with me as a child because it was overwhelming to him after a long day at work. He needed time to recharge and that often meant engaging in his special interest, which was reading. He was bothered by unexpected noises because of his sensory sensitivity.
I also no longer take his lack of interest in my life personally. That’s simply how he is. He’s interested in his special interests. He shows his love by sharing his special interests. He also shows his love by being available when I need him. He’s always happy when I call or come over. He always goes out of his way to make me great food and play card games together (another one of his special interests).
Yes, I still wish my Dad expressed his love in the ways I prefer. However, I now understand that he deeply loves me and expresses it in the ways that feels good to him and works with who he is.
I’m sure the same could be said of me. I have strong preferences when it comes to how I show my love. I like to write and speak about my love. I like to spend lots of quality time together. I HATE giving gifts for obligated occasions like Christmas, as I find it very stressful to find the right thing. I also don’t like doing “acts of service” together like cooking or cleaning the yard. I’d rather do it by myself or not at all.
Now that I know I’m autistic, I want to be mindful of how I express my love to different people. I’d like to be more cognisant of how others want to receive love and try to give that a little bit more. For example, I hate making phone calls, but I know my Dad loves receiving them. So I’ll try calling my Dad a little more.
Yes, I will always gravitate toward the natural ways I express love and what works with my autistic being, but I think I can also occasionally drift into the zone of discomfort to let others know I love them.
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