Saturday, March 10, 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012
Thursday, March 8, 2012
August 1, 2005
Today was a very special and very painful day. Today was the day that you would leave for Seattle to live with your mom in your new home on Capitol Hill. I think that it’s a good idea for you to make this move, and I will make the move along with you once my lease in Olympia is up. In the mean time, I will see you almost every weekend, and we will spend the whole weekend together when we see each other. But still it’s very hard for me to see you go.
Do you wonder why that’s hard, when I will still see you all the time anyway, and will be back living near you in a few months? Well, I wonder why too, and I think after wondering why I have a few explanations.
One is that this town, Olympia, has been your home and mine for as long as you have been alive. When I walk around town, I see places that we have spent times together, and had fun, that we will probably never go to together again. Just today, I walked through the area of Capitol Boulevard and Union. This is near where you and your mom used to live. I would take you for walks in your stroller through that area when you were very little. We would go to Wagner’s Bakery and get a muffin and share it. We’d walk around and look at the nice houses in that neighborhood, and sometimes I would wish I had enough money to buy one of those houses for us to live in. It is a big change. I think change is good, and I think this change is good for you and for me, but it’s still hard to let go of happy things, like living in Olympia with you.
Another thing that makes me sad is that I worry about you. I worry that this big change will be very hard for you, and I will be so far away that I can’t help you with it as much as I want to. I know you are a very tough little boy, and you are always OK, and that your mom will take good care of you. But because I am your father, I feel very protective of you and I want to personally ensure that you are OK. I worry that you are in a big city now and there are more dangers there, and I am not there to protect you. I am listening to a song right now, with lyrics that go like this…
“yellow hair…you are such a funny bear…it’s so hard to be in the city, because you want to say ‘hey’ to everybody.”
I wonder if you will want to say “hey” to everybody in the city.
I also feel sad because we have been spending so much time together lately, and now you are gone. I feel like a part of me is missing (I even wonder sometimes if the sadness I feel is from you being gone, or if I am just feeling the world’s sadness because you are not there to protect me from it anymore…do you understand?). I feel like you can’t possibly understand why I am not with you anymore. I know you will go on, being brave, living life and enjoying yourself. But I worry that you are having fun despite your worries. I don’t want you to do that, I want you to not have any worries. I know that isn’t realistic, but that is what I want for you.
This morning, I woke up very early with a very heavy heart because I knew it was going to be very hard to say goodbye to you. I almost just got up and left you sleeping with Lela, so I wouldn’t have to say goodbye and maybe you would be less sad if you woke up and I was gone instead of having to watch me leave. I went into the kitchen to mix a cup of juice for you or for Lela to give you when you woke up, and I heard you crying. You came walking out of the bedroom as I was walking from the kitchen to see what was wrong. You had woken up and were sad because you didn’t see me in bed next to you. I comforted you and came back to bed. You settled down and then started to play. We got up and got dressed. I told you that I was going to take you to see Terry and you started to cry. You asked for mama, and for grandma. I told you that you would stay with Terry for a little while until your mama came to pick you up. You sobbed, “ok” and then you cheered up. I was happy you felt better, but I knew that what you understood was that you were going to see mama, not that you would have to be left with Terry first. I made you some toast and we got in the car. You were smiling and singing along to Ernie and Bert, and munching on your toast. You were so happy, and I felt very guilty because I knew I was about to do something that would make you sad.
We were early, so we stopped at Bagel Brothers and got a bagel and a coffee. I figured I’d eat half of the bagel and drink the coffee for my own breakfast, then save the rest of the bagel for you to eat while you were with Terry.
We drove to Terry’s house, which is right next door to the house you and your mama were moving out of. Terry wasn’t home. I called her and she said they were at the store and on their way home. You squirmed from my arms and ran away from Terry’s over to your house. Except it wasn’t your house anymore. We went inside and everything was gone. You went upstairs to the place where your TV was, and you said “Uh-Oh, where TV?” I tried to put on a brave face, and tell you how exciting it was that you were going to have new place to play, and that your mama had taken everything to this great new place so you could have fun playing there together, and she would be back soon to take you to the wonderful new place. But you are three years old, and those words don’t make much sense to you.
Terry came home, and I carried you over to her place. You knew where you were going, and you didn’t want to go. So I had to clutch onto you very hard to keep you from running away. I handed you to Terry and she carried you inside. I walked over to the doorway and waved goodbye to you, and told you everything was OK and mama would be there soon. You were red in the face, crying and screaming. You begged me not to leave and reached your little hand out to me. I had to wave goodbye and close the door. I knew the sooner I left the sooner you would start to get used to your new surroundings and have some fun.
I felt a strange feeling wash over me as I walked to my car, like I was going to fall over or collapse. I felt like all of the life was flooding out of me. I drove out of the parking lot quickly and found a spot off the road to pull over. I started to cry very hard. I felt alone, so I called Lela on the phone. When she answered, I couldn’t even speak, I just cried into the phone.
After a few minutes, I calmed down a bit and took some deep breaths. I got off the phone with Lela and then called your mama. I left her a message asking her to please hurry up and go get you, and to please call me when she had you so I knew you weren’t unhappy anymore. I also told her I would like to come see you this Saturday morning. I needed to have a set date and time when I knew for sure I would see you again.
Then I went to work.
I was scared to go to work because I felt so sad, but it kind of cheered me up. I went with a client of mine to his first day of work, and he was so happy to be at his job that it made me happy. Later, I was helping another client with his job. He noticed I was feeling down, and asked me if I was tired. I said, “Yes, I’m very tired today.” And he said, “I’m sorry you’re tired.” I thought that was very sweet.
I spoke with your mom later and we decided I would come get you on Friday evening, and we will spend the whole weekend together! And then I went home and wrote this letter to you, which I think you will probably read sometime when you are older. Now that I’m finishing writing it, I feel like maybe I am ready to put this whole sad day behind me and get back to being your happy father again.
But here’s the funny thing: I’m very pleased to know that I can feel this strongly still. When you’re three years old, your emotions are so strong it’s almost scary, and maybe sometimes you come to wish they would just calm down. But as you get older, it gets harder and harder to really feel strongly about anything, and you start to wish you could feel more. I feel so much love for you that it makes me feel very very sad sometimes, like when you are leaving, or when you’re sad. But most of the time, it just makes me feel very very happy to love you so much. So thank you for making me feel so much.
I can’t wait for Friday evening. I hope you are very happy in your new home.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Monday, March 5, 2012
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Saturday, March 3, 2012
This was originally published on October 16, 2008, on the Still Life With Shark Blog. My brother Ben re-posted it on some site that I can't remember what it is. It ended up getting over 10,000 views in the next few hours, resulting in many comments praising me and my first comments of people calling me names and attacking me. In anticipation of Le Mixeur Sharky: Nine Stories, here it is again...
This has been much written about in many spaces with far greater readership than this blog, but I feel compelled to take a break from my tales of school placements to share some comments that reveal the emergence of an inevitable autism backlash.
Michael Savage is a UC Berkley Graduate and former herbalist, turned "Compassionate" Conservative talk show host. In 2003, he was fired from his show on MSNBC for the following rant after a caller insulted him, then identified himself as being gay:
"Oh, you're one of the sodomites! You should only get AIDS and die, you pig! How's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig? You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage? You got nothing to do today? Go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis. OK, got another nice caller here who's busy because he didn't have a nice night in the bathhouse and is angry at me today?"
He later defended his actions by claiming he didn't realize he was on the air when he said it. Savage has waged a long-term (and still ongoing) assault on the gay and lesbian community, often referring to "the gay mafia," likening the legalization of same-sex marriage to making it legal to marry a horse or a mule, and comparing flamboyant homosexuality to the excesses of the Weimar Republic, which he claims gave rise to Hitler and the Nazis.
Despite having lost his show on MSNBC, Savage remains one of the most popular radio talk show hosts in the world. His show is broadcast on 350 stations, with 8.25 million listeners.
On his July 16th show, Savage took time out from the gay-bashing to unleash a sickening attack on some old standby targets of conservatives - minorities and the poor - and also upon two new targets: asthmatic children and children with autism.
From the July 16 edition of Talk Radio Network's The Savage Nation:
'Now, you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I'm not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket. For a long while, we were hearing that every minority child had asthma. Why did they sudden -- why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I'll tell you why: The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket. Everyone went in and was told [fake cough], "When the nurse looks at you, you go [fake cough], 'I don't know, the dust got me.' " See, everyone had asthma from the minority community. That was number one.
Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is.
What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, "Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot."
Autism -- everybody has an illness. If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, "Don't behave like a fool." The worst thing he said -- "Don't behave like a fool. Don't be anybody's dummy. Don't sound like an idiot. Don't act like a girl. Don't cry." That's what I was raised with. That's what you should raise your children with. Stop with the sensitivity training. You're turning your son into a girl, and you're turning your nation into a nation of losers and beaten men. That's why we have the politicians we have.
It can be daunting, even awe-inspiring, to stare straight into the face of such galactic proportions of stupidity, wretchedness, and depravity as these comments. There's also a temptation to just ignore it. After all, why even dignify such pap with a response?
But consider this: 8.25 million listeners. And consider this: now we have "comedian" Denis Leary joining in on the fun in his newly released book:
“There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can’t compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks . . . to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons. I don’t give a shit what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you - yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.”
Pardon me for the jarring juxtaposition, but let's go straight from Savage and Leary to a slightly more enlightened human being, Martin Luther King:
“Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”
And let us make no mistake about it: the Savages and Learys of the world are cowards. They are cowards, and thus the question "is it safe?" comes up. Sadly, they don't even need to consciously ask this question any more. Of course it's safe. Assaulting children is always safe. Persecuting those without a forum to defend themselves - whether they be children, people with disabilities, the impoverished, the sickly, or some blessed combination of these - is always safe.
And there's no doubt it is all expedient and politic. It's vitriol such as this that fuels the allegiance of the "Savage Nation," keeping the ratings up. And as far as Leary, the "edgy" persona he cultivated in order to propagate his comedic career has now expeditiously found a tow hook in the form of Savage.
And so where does conscience and what is right enter in? Sadly, it once again is left to the muted voices of those who are being attacked, those voiceless people that bullies like Savage and Leary delight in piling on. Usually, those people consist of people of color, homosexuals, immigrants, poor folks, Muslims, or some combination of the above.
Today, as a parent of a child with Autism, it's my turn.
Let's start with what is not right.
The assertion that minority children fake asthma in order to garner excessive welfare benefits - even when divorced from the repugnant and typical insinuations that people or color are lazy free-loaders who devote their lives to exploiting "the system" - is inane.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), low-income children with diagnosed asthma, compared to children generally, suffer disproportionate levels of hardships such as gaps in insurance coverage, housing problems, and insufficient food after diagnosis.
Furthermore, the children most likely to experience hardships are those afflicted with severe asthma. In fact, 78% of low-income children with severe asthma experienced one or more of the above-mentioned hardships, compared to 64% for children with mild to moderate asthma.
And, in spite of this obvious need for services, according to NIH, "children with severe asthma were no more likely to use housing, childcare or SSI benefits, and were less likely to get WIC benefits than children with less severe asthma."
So not only are children with asthma not reaping untold fortunes from the debilitated social welfare system of the United States, they are actually suffering most from its failures. And the more severe their condition, the less assistance they are likely to receive.
The reason minority children are suffering disproportionately from asthma is because minority children are suffering disproportionately from poverty. And with poverty comes greatest exposure to the side-effects of our corporate, toxic culture.
Environmental Racism. What could possibly be more tragic than the fact that such a phrase needs to exist? Yet it exists out of perfectly legitimate reasons. Our society, as presently constructed, necessitates the creation of massive quantities of filth and toxicity, and all that toxic mire must be generated, exploited, and dumped somewhere. And you can rest assured that isn't going to happen in an affluent white community. It's going to happen somewhere where the people are poor, powerless, and disenfranchised. It is going to be inflicted upon the same people that the Savages and Learys of the world inflict their vitriol.
Take an extreme case for example. East St. Louis. East Saint Louis is 98% African American. It has one of the highest rates of child asthma in America.
The people of East St. Louis are impoverished and powerless, as is the City itself. Most rely on welfare to survive, as local commerce and industry are almost non-existent. Even the city government has laid off most of its employees over the last 20 years due to lack of funds.
East St. Louis lies in the Mississippi River's floodplain, surrounded by the Illinois Bluffs. The bluffs, predominantly white and middle to upper class, have never been compelled to pay taxes to assist with flood control, despite the fact that it is their drainage that floods the floodplain and East St. Louis. East St. Louis lacks the funds to be able to pay for this itself.
The flooding in East St. Louis is especially problematic, because the deficient sewage systems of the town are entirely contaminated with the toxins of the chemical plants that surround the town. When flooding occurs, the poison in these sewers flows through the streets and the homes of East St. Louis.
Monsanto and Pfizer have maintained chemical plants here for years. Apart from the release of toxins into the sewer system (not to mention the soil and the drinking water), the plants release a steady stream of smoke that literally forms a perpetual cloud over all of East St. Louis. From time to time, the plant emits a blast considered to be toxic, at which time an alarm sounds. People who have breathed the smoke get a payment of a few hundred dollars, if they first sign a release relieving the company from liability. The companies that operate these plants have formed small incorporated areas, outside the jurisdiction of East St. Louis, and therefore are exempt from paying any taxes to the city.
So, to recap: affluent white communities on the bluffs are excused from assuming fiscal responsibility for the preventable occurrence of the flooding of East St. Louis. Multinational corporations, earning billions of dollars in revenue, are excused from taking responsibility for preventing the release of their toxic chemicals upon the environment and the residents, and from cleaning up the released toxins. The voiceless people of East St. Louis absorb all the misery that comes from all this, and their children become afflicted with asthma and other diseases, such as lead poisoning, liver tumors, and abscesses.
But heaven forbid a mother in East St. Louis, out of desperation, should ever once coach her child to fake a cough in the misguided hope that this will somehow derive them an additional benefit of some sort. For this act will surely be noted by the ever-observant, astute mind of Savage, who will quickly pass it along to his 8.25 million "listeners" as evidence that their bigotry is actually righteousness.
As for Leary...Diagnoses of Autism tend not to come from a "shrink," or a "crackerjack whack job" as he so assonantly describes them. Perhaps Leary has not heard, but autism is not a psychological or psychiatric condition. It is a neurological disorder. Diagnosis, in our case, initially came from a medical practitioner, with the advisory of licensed physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Eventually, a proper diagnosis should come from a neurologist, a process we have yet to go through, but will likely have to if we ever hope to receive a state-provided benefit.
Between the two of them they did say something that is right. That would be Savage. He is right that Sharky - a child diagnosed with autism - lacks a father who calls him an idiot, a moron, a putz, a dummy, a brat, or a fool. He is right that Sharky lacks a father who tells him not to cry, not to act like a girl.
Savage claims to have a father who told him all these things, and out of cowardice proclaims his father was right, and begs us all to not deviate from his father's methodology, perhaps out of some desperate dream that universal adherence to this cancerous way will somehow vindicate it, and provide Savage with a specious peace in the sewage-flooded nest he has sought shelter in.
Despite his venom, despite his daily efforts to seduce 8.25 million listeners into his own cauldron of hell, I feel genuine compassion and pity for him.
Years ago, in his HBO special, “No Cure For Cancer,” Leary spoke – touchingly in fact – of his tough Irish father, and the understood rule that even a small child was not permitted to cry, even upon having an arrow lodged in his head.
I feel genuine compassion for him as well.
I cannot, however, adhere to the path they beckon us toward. I will never do my child like that, and I trace it back to a lunch break years ago at a Wendy's in Bellingham, Washington.
I was working as a barista, and if I neglected to bring a lunch with me to work, the only place I could make it to during my 30 minute lunch break was the Wendy's adjacent to the the coffee shop. I sat there one day, eating a salad, and noticed my place mat was adorned with rows and rows of pictures of children.
I read that these children were all foster children, and we fast-food eaters were being asked by the Wendy's corporation to consider adopting one of them. About 3 rows down, slightly to the right of center, my eyes locked in on one of the photos. Even in small size, on a fuzzy printout discolored slightly by my soda's condensation, this child's eyes burned. The look was simply, purely, unmistakably one of wounded pride. The child was cooperating with the adults around him by posing and smiling for the picture, perhaps realizing that the emotions he exuded for this photo could very well dictate whether or not he found a home to live in. And at the same time, he seemed fully aware of how wrong this all was.
This child, as all children, had an innate sense of the promise of existence, and consequently knew that this promise had been broken. Born a proud warrior, and now, by the age of 8, disillusioned and hurt. Wounded pride, the promise of existence betrayed.
And I thought to myself right then and there, that should I ever have a child I will fight with everything I have to make sure this never happens to him. And years later, when I found out I was to be a father, I made this vow to myself and to my unborn child:
Whatever happens, no matter how tired, frustrated, or desperate the challenges of raising you make me, I will never shame you. I will never insult you. I will never, ever do anything to take away your pride. If I ever were to do this to you, it would be a violation of what is right, and it would be a betrayal of you. And should I ever betray you as such, I would not at all blame you if you found it difficult to ever trust another soul. And my apologies would then go out to the world for having cast another lost, hurt, betrayed soul into its midst.
And I thought clearly of what my hopes were for my child. And they were simple. I hoped that I would have a healthy, happy child. And I hoped that my child, both from his own innate strength and from my support, would have the self-confidence, pride, and strength of character to be his own person, to follow his own path, and withstand any indignities the world might throw at him and stay true to himself.
That, to me, is what it means to be a man (not a beaten man: Savage and Leary are the beaten men). And at the same time, let's not draw lines along gender. Sharky is a boy, and so I talk in terms on what it means to be a man. But truth be told, this is what it means to be human.
There exists a higher plane of being, one that transcends this messy matter of arguing with the crippled and wounded thinking of Savage and Leary. Having just now sufficiently vented my spleen, I now am on this plane, and I find myself – oddly yet comfortably – capable of devoting the same vow I gave the unborn Sharky to Savage and Leary.
The Savages and Learys, when taken in proper context, are our Bodhisattvas, always nudging us closer to enlightenment. Their attacks on children with Autism, people of color, the poor, and homosexuals, have reawakened me to the presence of all of these communities within me.
I am the parent of a child with Autism, and am raising that child with a lesbian couple. I am the child of a man who grew up in abject poverty, suffering all the hardships outlined in the NIH reports. The same man spent the better part of his adult life as a devoted teacher and advocate for low-income youth, incarcerated youth, and miseducated youth - the vast majority of whom were people of color.
All of these communities come together within me, just as many communities come together within most of us. And as the attackers grow bored with their usual punching bags, their expedience and cowardice compels them to seek new targets that they perceive to be voiceless. But with each new community they attack, they step upon the sacred grounds of more and more of these "voiceless." And in doing so, they awaken us to our commonality, they drive us towards the realization that we are all together. And perhaps this realization will give us our voice.
For Savage and Leary, I truly have the same hopes as I do for Sharky, just as I hope for this for myself, just as I hope for this for all of you.
Really now, what else could I possibly hope for?
“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”
- Mohandas Gandhi