Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Dance

When I was 8 years old, I got some money from a few different relatives for Christmas. I had $48. My parents were nice enough to exchange that for a brand new, never before seen, exciting $50 bill. I had never owned one before. My brothers and sister and I were promised a trip to Fashion Fair Mall the day after Christmas, to buy what we wanted... with our own money. I put my money in an envelope, so I wouldn't lose it and headed to the record store. I wanted to buy Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on LP. It was to be the first piece of music I'd ever bought with my own money. I was ready.


I do not profess to be an expert on MineCraft, so please dismiss any factual errors in the MineCraft mythos that may follow.

Jack has been playing MineCraft (the mobile version) for the last 18 or so months. He started to grow out of Star Wars and back into MineCraft around the beginning of Summer. He's very good at it. He tries to include others in his worlds (I believe they are called "mods"). He fears the EnderDragon and won't even speak of the SlenderMan. I must say that I am impressed at his level of dedication to building his world.

A few days ago, Jack sat me down to show me all the crap he had acquired or crafted in the game. A bounty of hard work and dedication from the last 10 or so weeks. He seemed most proud of his diamond sword and armor. He lamented that he had not found lapis lazuli yet. I, dismissively, told him to keep looking.

I admired his hard work. I was proud that he had stuck with something, even when it proved to be difficult. I championed that he had not given up.

I pretended to care about finding lapis lazuli.

He was proud.

More importantly, he wanted my approval... a gigantic milestone in a child with a perspective processing disorder like autism.

He cared what I thought.

Let me write that again...

He cared what I thought.


It is often said that autistic children (and adults) lack empathy. It is also often misunderstood that they lack emotion. Most children (my son included) have a very healthy relationship with their emotions as they relate to themselves, but cannot see them in others. They don't disregard them (psychopath), they don't use them only to advance themselves (narcissist) they simply don't recognize another perspective in the first place. Remember, autism is Greek for "self-ness".

So, it is not unusual for a child to be sad, happy, nervous, and express it... but it might be difficult to recognize that in another.

Empathy - noun - The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or pathos of another.

Pathos - Suffering.


Somewhere in between the car and Sam Goody records, I dropped my envelope with my $50 bill. I looked for hours. I never found it. I got a new pair of gloves for Christmas. They were too big. The envelope must have slipped out of my hands because I wasn't used to the gloves yet. It was all their fault. I wished I had never got those gloves.


Jack came home from swim camp yesterday and was in a bit of a testy mood. He wanted to be alone and work on his MineCraft. Twenty minutes later I heard from his room the repeated cries of "no"!!!

I went to his room and Jack was under a blanket crying. Sobbing. Big fat ugly tears. Now, I've seen him cry a million times... because he wanted something, because he dropped something on his foot, because he didn't know how else to express himself... but there was something different.



"What happened?"

"It's all gone. I forgot to save my stuff in my chest and I fell in a hole and it's all gone! My diamond armor, even my diamond sword. It's all gone. I'm so stupid. I worked so hard to get it all. How could I forget? I hate myself."

He was fairly inconsolable, but I caught something in there... he was blaming himself! He was taking responsibility for his error... and was sad about it.

I asked him if there was a way to get it back and he said "no". I fought the urge to pick up to console and try to find a way to get his stuff back...

But nobody gave me my $50 back.

And then he said it...

"I wish I had never learned to play MineCraft"


Jack got a new aide for Summer School. He had to say good-bye to his old aide on the last day of school. I wrote about it on the Facebook page.

But, she was in his Summer School classroom with her new student. So he didn't really have to say "good-bye" until the last day of summer school.

When he came home that day, he was sad and quiet. He wouldn't tell me why.

Eventually he asked me

"Daddy, why did you make me meet Ms Melissa?"
"I don't understand"
"If I had never met her, I would have never had to say good-bye"

and I responded with the only thing I could muster up... a quote from a song by Garth Brooks.

"Well, then you would have had to miss the dance, Son"


Jack started re-building his MineCraft mod hours later.

Jack started dancing with Ms. Melanie (his new aide) instantly.

I, however, never wore those gloves again.

Who really has the problem recognizing the suffering in others???

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


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.

Life did.

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"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Give a Little Bit

There's a good story going around the US right now about a little girl that was attacked by a dog and then refused service at a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) restaurant in Jackson, MS. The story goes that she was asked to leave because her appearance was "disturbing" other customers (or something like that). KFC claimed no knowledge of the incident and couldn't even find any evidence that she ever entered the store through their own internal investigation. It was deemed a hoax (still pending, of course) and the story was mostly dropped and will soon be forgotten.

When the story was still hot, however, a donation page was established. The page was seeking donations for corrective surgeries and potential legal costs (among other things). That page raised 138 thousand dollars... including 25 thousand from KFC themselves. The page has since been disabled and final numbers are unattainable.

The public cried out "What terrible people", "how could a family use a little girl's disability or disfigurement to make money?" "What is wrong with this country?"

According to the story I watched on the "Today Show" the family had offered to refund any donations made to their cause.


Autism Speaks is a juggernaut among charities. They raise millions of dollars (MILLIONS) every year through their walks and other fundraising efforts.

Yet, about a year ago, in an attempt to secure autism funding through congress, founder Suzanne Wright wrote a scathing "speech" in which she painted the autism community as helpless, at the mercy of these "terribly disabled" children, and how "autism tears families apart."

The public outcry began again. "That's not my autism", "How could she hate children so much?" "They don't speak for my family" "That's not my experience".

Their financials were released a few months later... "They spend so much money on their board member's salaries" "They fund such stupid studies" "I've never received a penny from them... or any services" "Look at how much of my money they spend on their legal defense!"

And finally, "They don't have any autistic adults on their board."

An underground movement to boycott Autism Speaks began.


Yet, Autism Speaks is still receiving record donations.

Yet, few people (including KFC) actually did take their money back.



- noun "something given to a person or persons in need; alms"
(alt) - noun "leniency in judging others; forbearance"


The four Cardinal Virtues from ancient Greek philosophy are prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. The three theological virtues from the letter of St. Paul of Tarsus (combined make up the commonly know "seven virtues") are faith, hope, and...



The concept (or virtue) of charity is not uniquely American. But no country exemplifies it more. To any foreign readers, did you know that the US actually has limitations and rules written into our tax code to regulate charitable donations? Whenever there is an international crisis, the average US donation (cash only, not including services) is 800 percent (8 times) that of the next leading country? Often to our "enemies". Did you know that the household average in the US for charitable donations is 5-10% of your annual income... regardless of that level. From buying a muffin at your school's bake sale, to building a hospital. Americans give. Corporations donate closer to 15%... and often run their own charities!

The cynics out there will say "well, the US can afford it" or "The wealthy only do it for a tax shelter" or "corporations only do it to funnel money back into their corporation" or "charities never give me anything, so why should I give to them"

The truth is that there are some illegal uses of charities. It does happen. It is also illegal and prosecuted (if necessary)... and extremely rare.

Some people (many) were "duped" into donating to help a little girl get a corrective surgery because KFC denied her service.

Some people (many) are outraged that Autism Speaks doesn't have any autistic adults on their board, pays their board too much, or doesn't speak for them.

Yet, the donations pour in.

Autism Speaks' mission statement is "At Autism Speaks, our goal is to change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders."

The donation page for the KFC story (not really an official Mission Statement) aimed to "raise money for corrective surgery and legal funds for a little girl."

And so, so many people did.

If you gave $5 to either cause, if you gave $25k to either cause, you did it for the right reason. You did it from your heart.

I remind you, once again, an alternative definition of charity:

leniency in judging others; forbearance.


The US has difficulty defining its culture, sometimes.

We are excessive.

What is "American Pizza"? more meat and more cheese.
What is an "American Car"? Bigger engine. Bigger body.
What is an "American grocery store"? More products. Bigger displays.

The United States did not invent the concept of charity. It's one of the seven virtues, for Christ's sake (pun intended). But, from many different cultures and countries, we brought it here, made it excessive, and made it our own.

Keep giving. Find a charity or cause with a mission statement you agree with. Give your Starbucks to the homeless guy outside. Volunteer at your school. Build a hospital.

Keep up the good work, America. It's your patriotic duty.