09/10/2013 06:29 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

Where's Mommy?

Joseph Hill

A few days ago, I went to my ex-wife's house to pick up my sons and something interesting happened. I was buckling my four-year-old son into his car seat when he pointed at the front seat passenger side of the car and said, "Where's mommy?" as if he fully expected her to be in the car with us. I said, after a long pause and looking into his big, blue, and confused eyes, "Mommy isn't coming with us, honey. She's staying at her house." He processed this and shrugged, and then said "Ok, Daddy." followed by, "Are we going to Daddy's house?" to which I replied "Oh, yeah" with a smile, and he was very happy with that answer.

This story has two implications. The first, is that my son is making amazing progress. My two sons both have Autism, and what this question shows is that Gunnar (my son) is growing in his cognitive reasoning skills and is assessing his environment in an effective way. Gunnar has never expressed interest in the empty passenger seat before. He has always been happy to have just his daddy and his brother in the car, unaware or not acknowledging that his mom is not there, and it has been that way for almost a year now, since his mother and I split up. Now he see's the empty seat, expects something to be different, and is able to articulate what is confusing him in words, rather than gestures and noises. That's awesome, and I'm happy that this is the case.

The second implication is not negative, but it is tough to swallow. It is that my son, until a few days ago, did not realize that his mom and dad are now divorced. That simple situation in the car seems to have jolted him a bit, and I was heartbroken to talk to him about it with that hurt look on his tiny face.

I have been asked the question before, "How is the divorce affecting the boys?" or "Do your boys know that you are gone?" and up until now I was able to truthfully say that they are always happy to see me, and that they seemed unaware that something was amiss. I can no longer say that now.

I always naïvely thought that this situation was going to come later, and that I would be able to talk to my son's when they were able to understand and explain that mommy and daddy were going to live in separate houses. Their special needs were delaying that conversation, and I just thought that maybe this was going to become the status quo for them, and they would not know any better. Mommy and daddy just lived separately.

Divorce has a steep learning curve, at least it has been for me in the last year, and this is yet another lesson. A lesson to not be complacent, to not sit around and let things happen. To take potential tough situations, like talking to my autistic children about their mom and dad's divorce, and actually doing it, rather than letting them happen. If I had learned this lesson sooner, maybe things would be better, but my son's simple question taught me a lot, and I intend on paying attention.

I want to conclude this by saying that just when you think you have divorce figured out, that you have leveled out and that you are becoming more secure in your "Single Adult Skin," life has a funny way of taking that perspective, and smashing it into the ground repeatedly, like Hulk did to Loki. Just type that phrase, "Hulk smashing Loki" into You Tube and you'll see what I mean by this. All of this is okay, though. We can learn from it and become better. I think I started this journey at rock bottom as a dad, and through this last year I have learned a lot, about my boys, life, and what it means to be a good dad. A few days ago it was tough, but today is better, and that gives me hope that this roller coaster situation will end up ok for my boys and myself.