I played football in High School. I was terrible. During the Spring practices one year, I split my hand open and left a scar that goes about 4 inches down each side of my left hand between my two middle fingers. I was out for the rest of the Spring.
The coaches didn't mind much, but the orchestra teacher was PISSED.
They had lost a seldom-used 3rd string Tight End, but Maestro had lost his all-state first chair viola.
We didn't know if Jack was a boy or a girl until the minute the doctor flipped him up, showed me the fruit cup, and stared blankly at me for a moment.
"It's a boy" I exclaimed.
Followed by "Right?"
So I found myself with a son. Cool. Someone to drink beer with. Someone to throw a baseball around with. Someone to drive me to the racetrack in my dotage. Someone to carry on the name. Someone I could understand.
I'll be forty this year. Since I moved away when I was 21, every year I make the trek back up to Fresno (yes, THAT Fresno) to take my dad to a Fresno State Bulldogs football game (or two). We show up early, cruise the tailgates looking for free beer or tri-tip, and talk Bulldog football. On a sidenote, we NEVER find that free beer or tri-tip. It always goes the same way, my dad will tell me he's well-connected and we'll bump into someone he knows and get to hang out... but we never do. 20 years of not knowing ANYONE!!! So, if anyone is reading from Fresno, we're coming to the Nebraska game this year. If you're having a tailgate, we'd love to drop by.
But what my dad doesn't know is how much I enjoy that time. Maybe he does know. We usually just walk around talking for an hour or so and then watch the game.
Sometimes, my brother will come with. Sometimes a random friend. But it's usually just the two of us.
And those are still the best Saturdays of my life.
In the fall of 2008, The University of Wisconsin played against the Bulldogs in their home opener. We were there. We witnessed the Bulldogs freshman kicker miss 3 field goals in a 13-10 loss. It was wonderful. And I said to my dad, hey, I can't wait to bring Jack next year. He was almost 2 at the time, but I saw a lot of three year-olds there... maybe next year. I couldn't wait to share my favorite experience with my dad with my son.
Maybe next year.
Jack was diagnosed next year.
Maybe next year.
2010-2013 were more of the same. First, Jack has absolutely NO interest in football. He has even less interest in crowds, noise, and fanaticism.
This year Fresno State opens its schedule against University of Southern California. Here in Los Angeles. We are getting our tickets together and I find myself saying the same thing about bringing Jack...
Maybe next year.
I don't think this is autism specific. I'm sure all parents are a little disappointed, or "let-down" when their child has no interest in participating in something that is so dear to you. I truly envisioned walking with Jack (when he turns 21, of course) at the tailgate parties trying to find free beer. Maybe even with his son.
Instead, I try to get into his world. Maybe we can make his own memories of time with his dad. I will be the first one to laugh his ass off when his son says "Dad, I don't want to play Minecraft with you and Grandpa." or "I don't want to have another Light Saber Battle".
And I'll be a little bit sad, too. I'll know how much Jack wants to spend time with his boy the way he did with his dad.
Autism didn't take this from me.
But I'll get to keep what I love. On August 30th, my dad will come down to Los Angeles. We'll leave for the game an hour early or so because I'll tell my dad that I am well connected in Los Angeles... and we won't find any free beer.
My dad will ask the same question he already knows the answer to: "What about Jack?"
And I will smile my usual smile and give my usual answer: "Maybe next year"
Or will I?
Because, in the wise words of Master Yoda that Jack has made me repeat a thousand times...
"There is another"