I read an interesting article online the other day about the masks some of us wear. Different masks for different environments. It went on to say that we should be looking to drop the masks and learn to live as ourselves, authentically. It’s a weird thing, or it could be a funny thing. Or even a weird, funny thing, but whatever thing it is, the people who probably live the most authentic lives are autistic people. Tiddles doesn’t have a mask, doesn’t need one. He’s painfully authentic sometimes and shows his genuine feelings on every situation that he encounters. There isn’t any way that he could hide his emotions about what he may be thinking or what he could be feeling, and nor would he want to. Well, he wouldn’t know how to for starters. Such is his life here that possibly, he feels that he can be the most genuine he can be in his own world. Nothing to prove, no ego to stoke, he and many others like him are a prime example of ‘authentic’ living.
Does that mean though that they see us for who we truly are?
Is that the reason for his apparent dislike of me? And sometimes not just me, either. But mostly it is and there are times when he can’t even look at me. Sometimes he’ll put his hand up in front of his face as a sort of barrier, the way I used to when I watched Dr Who in the seventies. I could still hear what was going on, but I didn’t want to see the scary bits, so I’d put my hand up so my eyeline to the tv was blocked. And that’s what Tiddles does. He blocks out the ‘scary’ bit.
Which is me.
And with his earphones in he has the added advantage of blocking out the majority of my voice too. So in effect, I’ve just compared myself to a Dalek/Silurian/Ice Warrior/Cyberman/Giant Rat/Wyrryn/Brain of Morbius/Any other DW monster…Why couldn’t it have been The Master?
It was my birthday recently, and I have mentioned this elsewhere, but I received my card from my family in the morning – one card, three messages.
The first, from TCMH began,
‘Happy birthday, gorgeous…’
The second, from The Eldest Child began,
‘To Daddy, the best dad in the world…’
The third, from Tiddles, began,
You know how it is when you find something funny initially and then the reality sets in? That was it…
So, the other day was also World Autism Awareness Day, or as we know it in our house, Thursday. I reflected on this as I was giving Luke his morning supplements. When I first started writing about Tiddles and I, I spoke about how he doesn’t say good morning, instead telling me to go away. That was 2 years ago now, and has anything changed? Well, no. Not really. It’s now become accepted that this is how he greets me, if telling me to go away can be classed as a greeting.
But many things have changed in 2 years. It’s inevitable I suppose. As I write this today, I’m preparing to play my last game of competitive football after 40 years of playing and over 1000 games. I’ll no longer be ‘risking injury diving at the studded boots of Sunday morning footballers on bone dry pitches’. To me it’s a big thing. Football has always been a huge part of my life, but I’m going to walk away after today once I’ve burnt my gloves and been carried shoulder high by the opposing team, and that’ll be it. A big thing that has pretty much been an obsession of sorts – “sorry, can’t make that, I’m playing football…” – will be done with for good. There is of course, going back to Dr. Who, a small part of me that is going to be like David Tennant before he regenerated into Matt Smith – “I don’t want to go!” – but go he did and go I will too.
So what’s been the point of this blog today?
All things will pass? Nothing lasts forever?
How about, if you find something you love, then you’ll deal with the heartache, heartbreak, bruises as well as the incredible but all too brief highs…
Moments…we all live for those wonderful pieces of time that make us feel…incredible, unbeatable, inspired.
For me, most of the moments in my life come from songs, films and books. The crunching chord in the chorus of ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The bridge in ‘All the things she said’ by Simple Minds. Any moment Rocky Balboa overcomes insurmountable odds (“Get up you sonofabitch…cos Mickey loves ya…’). The chord change in ‘Why does my heart feel so bad?’ by Moby. Scrooge’s redemption in ‘A Christmas Carol’. Rutger Hauer’s death speech in ‘Blade Runner’. The heavenly choirs in both ‘The Last Dalek’ by Murray Gold and ‘All For You’ by Paul Leonard-Morgan. The lyric ‘I know you have a little life in you yet, I know you have a lot of strength left…’.
I could go on. It would be easy to list many such moments.
But sometimes, moments are all I ever seem to get from Tiddles. Such is the nature of our fragile relationship these days, such moments of pleasure come all too fleetingly and are sadly gone just as quickly.
We danced the other night.
I was in the kitchen and he came in and without even being asked, stood on my feet and we danced around in a circle in our tiny kitchen. It only felt like a minute but in actuality it was probably less. It wasn’t long I know that much.
Then he suddenly put his arms around me and squeezed me tightly. My arms were pinned so I couldn’t hug him back, but it didn’t matter because I had misinterpreted the hug. I could feel him walking me backwards, out of the kitchen. We got to the living room door and he turned me to go through it. Then he realised he wasn’t where he wanted to be so turned me round and walked me back towards the office, where he pushed me in and shut the door.
‘Relax Riddler, you’re in no hurry now…’ He said, mimicking Batman – The Animated Series from the 70’s. Knowing the next line, having heard the damn thing so often, I replied.
And then he laughed the fake laugh beloved of that particular genre of 70’s cartoon makers.
Then he left me. He had had his fun, his momentary connection with me now severed, he walked away ready to move on to the next thing.
This is a common theme here. I get moments. Sometimes the moments last a bit longer, most of the time they are no more than a minute. And sometimes it’s difficult to accept. It actually breaks my heart to write this down sometimes. Cathartic it is not. But I still write them down. I hope people get something out of them, even some small moment of clarity, comfort, even a feeling of smug superiority, I don’t care. I write them for whatever heartbreaking reason that I do. He’s my beautiful Quiet Prince and his distance from me is for me to deal with, whether anybody reads about my sadnesses and successes or not.
The other night, my son and I, we danced.
My quiet Prince…
Except he’s not of course. He’s loud and vocal, constantly chattering and shouting at times. He repeats lines from a wide variety of films and television shows from Batman Forever through to Batman the animated series (70’s version), encompassing Stingray, Thunderbirds, Wind in The Willows, Willo The Wisp, Joe 90, Oakie Doke, Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and of course, the autistic’s weapon of choice, Thomas the Tank Engine along the way. At times it’s difficult to keep him quiet.
Except of course, when you speak directly to him.
Then, you’ll be lucky if he says more than 3 words to you. And they are 2 more than he actually wants to say to you. If he can make himself understood with a nod or a shake of his head, then he will. It’s only with a bit of prompting that you may get a ‘yes’. And then with more prompting, a ‘Yes. Please.’
It’s something we’ve tried to combat, but to no avail. My Quiet Prince knows on a deep level that we know what he wants and that we don’t need him to tell us. But we still try and get him to engage by asking.
Why? Why do we bother?
Because I/we love him. And that reaching across to Narnia is something I/we will never stop doing, because to do so will mean that I’ve lost him forever and I’m just not prepared to do that.
I wait patiently for THAT connection, that moment when HE becomes my boy, my son, my friend even if only for a second.
Understand that I COULD do something else. I COULD not bother to wait and when I get some of the reactions from Tiddles sometimes, nobody could blame me.
But these moments are precious. When they happen at home, I don’t tend to make too much of them. I think because I fear that in doing so would break the spell and I like to take the moments where and when I can.
I’m reminded of a great song taken from the latest album by (Sir) Billy Idol, ‘Love and Glory’, which contains the line;
“In another universe, if the planets are reversed, would I still wait patiently, for you?”
Yes, yes I would.
There is no glory in being a parent to any child. If there was, then parents probably wouldn’t split up. Parenting can be hard, mainly because there is nobody that you can look to as THE ideal for How To Be A Parent. But we do it anyway and we do it for the love that possibly may come our way. And with Tiddles, possibly is an oft used word and that’s why I love the moments I do get and crave more of the time between us when he rejects me.
I’m grateful of course. How can I not be? It would be churlish of me to criticise the quality or quantity of the time we spend together, but of course, you always want more.
But, he is as ever, my beautiful boy. My son.
My Quiet Prince…
The all encompassing word, meaning -depending on the circumstances – what goes around, comes around OR you reap what you sow OR that bastard got what he deserved…(delete as applicable).
I’ll make an admission here. I’ve not always been the best of men.
I’m far from perfect. I’ve made decisions I’ve come to regret and I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’ve let down at some time or another, my close family, relatives, friends, even strangers at some point in the 46.75 years I’ve been around.
I’ve been rude and insulting. I can be vain, greedy, lazy, dishonest. I have been and continue to be at times, selfish, unthinking and very not very likeable.
And now it’s come back to bite me.
Karma…what goes around,comes around…the bastard got what he deserved…
A lifetime of choices, good and bad have led me to Tiddles, my judge. The very thing I want, is to be forever in sight but never attainable.
I’m not a ‘good’ man, and I think the universe has been biding it’s time to show me that.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favourite stories of all time is ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Dickens. I can watch several different versions of this tale over the Christmas period and have done so in the last month. The ultimate story of redemption for a man who has been weighed down by the chains of the decisions he has made over the course of his life. I love it and every time I get to the resolution, Scrooge’s promise to keep Christmas in his heart and live in the past, the present and the future, I always think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a better man, somebody that I’m proud of. Somebody people would be glad to know.’
And maybe then, Tiddles would love me a little bit more. Or at least, acknowledge my existence as something more than a figure of…indifference?
‘He does love you,deep down.’ People say. So why doesn’t it feel like it? Why does everything that he shows me is contrary to that belief? Because I believe that personally, I am not a ‘good’ man. And this is how the universe has chosen to show me.
Now I can already hear most of you reading this saying to yourselves, but that’s what everybody is like. Nobody’s perfect.
And you’d be right. You would be absolutely spot on. But I cannot speak for you, I can only speak for myself. I’ve passed my judgement on people I hardly knew before and it’s another thing I feel I am having to atone for. But, my blog – and I’ve always written it from my point of view with as much honesty, brutal or otherwise, as I can – may not always be pretty, but it is always from the heart.
So I want to be ‘better’. If the universe has a plan for me and Tiddles and this is what’s involved, then I have to do whatever it takes to see if it leads me to him. There may just be a path to Narnia that is hidden until such time that I’m deemed worthy enough to see it. Who knows?
Nothing is certain but unless I do something about it, I’ll never know.
I’m probably closer to Ebeneezer Scrooge than I ever realised and this could be my wake up call. My redemption. All of the years of watching ‘A Christmas Carol’ and I probably should’ve been taking it more to heart.
I’ve always thought I could make a difference in this life. The reality of it is that actually, right now, I can’t even make a difference with Tiddles. I’m treading water with him. And if I’m being honest again, little by little, I’m actually drowning. I just don’t realise it.
So. Can I ‘be the difference I want to see in the world?’ All the self help books tell me I can. But until I can get up and act instead of just theorising about it, then the answer will continue to be a loud, resounding ‘no’, followed by a mocking laugh from all who witness this ridiculous charade.
I’ll continue making bad judgements, of course. Wrong decisions, mistakes. I’ll be rude at times, say things in the heat of the moment that I’ll regret, etc. I’m human. Who doesn’t stumble, no matter how good the intentions? And if I do, will there be anybody to catch my fall? Time will tell…
Do or do not. There is no try. But never give up.
I’m not a good man.
I’m just a man who loves his son.
Perceptions and realities…
We all like to think that we are a tolerant bunch. Good Samaritans who would stop and help somebody in need, or not judge somebody just by what we see. That we’d get to know the real person before making our minds up. Kind, thoughtful, caring…all that other stuff.
The reality of course is that we’re not and we do. It’s human nature. The sad fact is that we have lots of thoughts flashing through our heads in a second of all the possible scenarios of what could happen. I’m as guilty of this as the next man/woman/child/traveller. It’s not that we don’t want to help, it’s more the fear of the unknown-what could happen to us? If they’re bleeding, might we catch something? Might they get violent? Are they armed? Are they drunk?
What almost never crosses our minds until possibly the last microsecond is that maybe there are mental health issues at the root of their behaviour.
Whatever the reasons, self preservation takes hold and we would rather steer clear, shake our heads in disbelief, or worse, mock them for their behaviour and let’s be honest we’ve all done that in our younger years, because to our youthful eyes, it’s funny to see a tramp shouting at pigeons or an old lady who moves slowly and talks in a rasping voice.
We don’t appreciate that the tramp may be a paranoid schizophrenic who has slipped through the net because of his circumstances or that the old lady could have chronic arthritis and throat cancer.
Who knows? I certainly didn’t and still don’t, because we all know you can’t judge a book by its cover…unless it’s ‘Judging a book by it’s cover’ by Judge Bookcover and then you probably can…
When Tiddles was younger, I used to walk along the street holding his hand. We thought nothing of it, because it was something we did to keep him safe. Now he’s 16, and I’m still walking along the streets holding his hand, or have him link his arm in mine. I still think nothing of it, because I’m still keeping him safe on the roads. He’s getting taller, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up dwarfing me eventually.
But what do other people see?
Tiddles doesn’t look autistic, whatever that means. There are times when he will suddenly shout out loud in crowded places, usually scaring a few old ladies…(‘shhh Luke, not so loud…I’m terribly sorry’) or he’ll jump and flick his feet, Riverdance stylee, but nobody looking at him for the first time would say, ‘ah, autistic…’
But they would possibly shy away from him for fear of the unknown. Which, as we have already said, is a natural human reaction. Sadly.
But do people see a dad walking along the road with his son? Or do they see a middle aged man walking arm in arm with a teenage boy? Same thing, different perceptions.
Tiddles walks with me because he has been conditioned to do so. It’s something he does, because it’s something he has always done. Given the choice, however, he probably wouldn’t. If we ever go out as a family, either with or without The Eldest Child, Tiddles always has to be reassured that TCMH is coming with us. She sometimes doesn’t come out straightaway, for whatever reason and so Tiddles is always vocal in making sure that it’s not just me taking him out. And he casts the occassional glance over his shoulder to see if she is indeed coming too. He doesn’t understand the concept of lying, but he does know that if you say you are going to do something then you are going to do it. So if Mummy is coming with us, you had better be damn sure that she is going to do just that, or else…
It’s difficult to define the relationship that we have. We’re not friends, not in the traditional sense that some parents are lucky enough to have with their children, and that I have with The Eldest Child. We’re just…together, I suppose, but not. We have the same surname and we share the same spaces, but we don’t have the same rules as to who we are. He’s Luke, that’s Jake, there’s Mummy and I’m ‘Go away’.
The pain of losing somebody close to you is something that takes many people a long time to get over and come to terms with. But they do, because they have the memories of that person, which are probably all of the good times whilst tending to gloss over the bad.
But how about losing that person whilst they are still here? Tiddles’ attitude towards me has not improved in the last 20-odd months and as I have stated previously if anything it has gotten worse. I don’t like it. I hate it, but I can do nothing about it, except go on being there for him, holding his hand and keeping him safe. But I have lost him to Narnia.
And eventually one day, I’m not going to be here. It’s a sad fact, but a fact all the same. Will he miss me? No, probably not. But that’s strangely ok. He won’t have to deal with that loss, and in a perverse way, that makes me happy that our relationship is at that stage. He won’t mourn, or cry, or be sad. And that is good.
I can see now, that like many of my friends from whom have drifted from my life, I have served a role. I was the one who swam with him, picked him up when he was tired, pushed his bike uphill when he was still on it. Maybe, possibly I was once an important part of Tiddles life. I don’t know. Now I can see that I’m not.
Perceptions and realities.
I’m still his father of course, that will never change, but am I his dad? Only Tiddles could tell you that.
But I’m not the centre of his universe any more.
Perhaps I never was…
Dancing with Tiddles.
TCMH is a lovely mum and wife. Sometimes though she does something that becomes a habit that is hard to break. I’m not talking about her, I’m talking about Tiddles.
Let me explain…
A few weeks ago, Tiddles came up to me and wanted me to chase him, something I never pass up. I ran after him and we ran around the house, ending up as we usually do with him jumping on the sofa. It was at this point that TCMH said,
“Say freeze, Luke!”
“FREEZE!” repeated Tiddles and I dutifully froze in my tracks, just as I reached monkey boy. Laughing, he pushed me away and, seeing as I was frozen, I fell over, still keeping the same position.
“And now you have to say “Unfreeze…” said TCMH.
‘UNFREEZE!’ Tiddles repeated. I relaxed and started to get up.
‘FREEZE!’ shouted Tiddles. I froze.
‘UNFREEZE!’ he said again. I did as ordered.
This went on for another 5 minutes. Tiddles loved the fact he had this magic power over me, so much so that he even went upstairs and brought down his magic wand to cast the freeze spell over me. And so it set the scence for the last month or so. Whenever I get close to him, he yells out ‘freeze’ and I stop in my tracks, allowing him to move away from me or push me over, or whatever he wants. And I – Like An Idiot – allow him to do it.
Because it’s magic to him. To him this world can be mysterious, confusing, frustrating and sometimes even frightening. But it can also be magical. Christmas, birthdays, even some holidays, are all magical to him. He adores Christmas, and the wonderful fantasy of Father Christmas will always be a source of wonder to him, because we have always kept that magic alive for him. He goes to sleep, eventually, on Christmas Eve, he wakes up early on Christmas morning and he has a stocking full of things that he has asked for! Magic!
Who are we to crush that beautiful dream for him or for any child who still believes? I and my family absolutely adore Christmas, so we are more than happy to indulge at this wonderful time of the year.
And so the same goes for this other magic spell. Who am I to refuse that for him? He believes he can freeze me and delights in doing so. It’s his power now. The reverse doesn’t work however. I tried freezing him the other day but he just carried on doing what he was doing, looking at me in his cat-like way, and giving me a two fingered salute with his eyes as if to say,
“I have no idea what you are talking about…”
This has been taken to extremes though.
The other day, when my parents – Dennis Waterman & Mrs Shufflewick – were here, Tiddles decided that he wanted chasing again. Again I obliged. Any excuse to have a cuddle with him if I can, was my thinking. We ran, I got close, he put his spell on me and I froze. He then put a blanket over my head. He’s done that before so nothing new there, but then he unfroze me and guided me into our little office at the front of the house.
Then he froze me again.
Then he shut the office door…
And went and watched TV.
And I – like an IDIOT, AGAIN – stayed in there, frozen for about 5 minutes. Dennis and Mrs Shufflewick, who could see me in the office through the door with a blanket over my head, were laughing their heads off. But did they do anything, like open the door? No…they also left me there, standing stock still with a blanket over my head, as they tried to convince Tiddles to free me…
The power of love, eh? It’s not just a force from above…
This is the first blog after the milestone 50 that I reached last week and to be honest I wasn’t really that sure if I was going to write another one.
But today is a rather special day.
When I started writing these blogs 18 months ago, Tiddles was 14. I was writing about the chunky, cuddly, shouty teenager, whose voice was breaking and for whose boyhood I grieved as he grew bigger.
Today, October 22nd 2014, is Tiddles 16th birthday. Another milestone and another sign of all of our mortality. The little blonde baby has gone, replaced now by the slimline, ever-growing, spotty youth with the voice of a young Hannam. And the hair! His legs are so covered in dark hair it looks like he’s auditioning for the part of a Faun in The Chronicles of Narnia…
But whilst I will be sad as I look at old pictures of my beautiful boy, and whilst I will also be scared of what’s to come in his life, I will also marvel at the little things that he can do.
For instance…TCMH has been unwell this week, so Tiddles keeps going to her and giving her imaginary medicine, feeling her forehead, rubbing her stomach and saying, ‘all better now…’. He’s capable of making himself something to eat, as long as it’s a marmite sandwich and a peeled carrot – which he peels himself.
I could go on, but the birthday boy is awake and for Tiddles, it’s all about the presents. Cards are to be opened and put aside for mummy and daddy to read. Presents are a-waiting! Unless it’s clothes…cos they’re boring.
So, I’ll relate this story which happened last week.
It was TCMH’s birthday and with her money she had ordered an old Bakelite style phone, which she had always wanted. It turned up and I connected it, and duly rung it for her to answer. Then we showed it to Tiddles and I rung it for him to answer. He picked it up and he quoted some lines from ‘Joe 90′ before putting the receiver down again.
TCMH came back into the living room and we sat watching some TV, listening to Tiddles talking on the phone, this time quoting lines from ‘Trumpton’ – he does love his classic childrens TV shows. Then the phone rang, for real this time. TCMH went and answered it and I could hear her saying,
‘Yes, I’m very sorry about that, it’s my son. He’s autistic. No, I do apologise, we’ll certainly try, thank you.’
She came back in.
‘That was the police…Luke dialled 999 when he was talking to Trumpton Fire Station…’ Before she could say anymore, the phone rang again. TCMH answered it.
‘It’s for you,’ she said, ‘it’s Essex Police again…’
‘Is that Mr Hannam? We’re just checking everything is alright as we have had a couple of calls from your number which only lasted a few seconds…’
‘Yes, I’m very sorry about that, it was my son whose autistic. He was pretending to talk to…it doesn’t matter. I do apologise…’
Happy Birthday Luke Hannam, with love from your Dad.