When you have a son with autism, you can be sensitive to what others think about him.
I can be.
The other night we were watching Argentina-Peru at a friend’s house, and my 12-year-old was doing a running commentary on the World Cup qualifying match. After a while he asked me, “Don’t you think, Dad?”
“Yeah,” I said, hesitantly.
But I had no idea what he was asking me. I had lost track in his barrage of commentary. I had tuned out.
He didn’t wait for me to say anything else and launched back into his commentary.
After another minute I asked, “Are you going to talk the whole game?”
“No,” he said.
He went quiet after that, but then Argentina missed a chance at goal yet again, an incredible shot by Lionel Messi knocked inches wide of the goalpost by a defender.
My son shot back into action, yelling that he hates Messi.
That struck me as rather strong, and so when he sat down again I stroked his back and made a shushing sound.
He looked over at me and said, “What? It’s football.”
He was right, and who was I to judge?
He started up his off-key rant again, and to my mind came perhaps my favorite parenting scene in film ever, from Little Miss Sunshine. There is a moment at the end when Olive, a plain and chubby girl, is performing in a beauty pageant, doing a risqué dance to the Rick James song “Super Freak.” The organizers try to get the pre-teen off the stage for causing such a disgrace to the pageant, and Olive’s father rushes to stop them. But he is told to get her off the stage. He goes up to his daughter, nervously. And that’s when there is a superb moment of hesitation when you see him decide to screw convention. Instead, he chooses to start dancing alongside his daughter, his hands cusped behind his head. He gets into his moves, and is soon joined by his wife, son and a friend to the disdain of the organizers and many of the parents of other contestants.
At the end of Olive’s performance, a few clap, but mostly there is silence. Except for one dad, who stands up and hoots in delight.
After so much of the same at pageants, who wouldn’t?
Sadly, most probably wouldn’t.
But not me, not that night watching the Argentina-Peru match with my son. I chose to refrain from shushing him again, and instead to enjoy the match and his passion, his grit and his loud and out-of-tune commentary about his favorite sport, his favorite team, his favorite player and their sinking chances to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.