Aspies and our parents

I know that John has posted extensively about his complex and turbulent relationship with his parents, so I thought I should go into my own situation.

My parents could hardly be any more different from each other.  I figure they got together through sheer physical attraction.  My mom is very emotional but also closed off.  She reacts very strongly to things, but she keeps a lot to herself.  I think she is the main reason my sisters and I went to church when we were kids.  She’s one of those “spiritual but not religious” people with a mishmash of beliefs that are based on whatever makes her feel like she understands reality, though in actual reality she understands very little, and it’s impossible to have a conversation or debate with her about it.  Back when I was as superstitious as her, if I said something she found interesting, she would say “that’s deep” in a sort of mocking tone that didn’t encourage me to really go on.  Now that I’m more sensible, all of my points are met with “you have too much time to think” or “science is a religion”.  We get along ok most of the time because she likes to pretend that everything is ok when it really isn’t.

My dad is probably an aspie himself, though he hasn’t been tested and never will be.  I get the impression that he thinks things like asperger’s syndrome are just excuses not to do things.  He worked hard to get through school and get a job, so he expects me to do the same, and because I don’t, he’s disappointed.  Fortunately, I don’t care because I can see what walking the well paved path of conformity has done for him.  He keeps himself amused through various engineering, computer, or carpentry projects, but he’s basically not a happy guy.  When my sisters and I were little, he would hit us with his belt when we made him angry.  I remember the way he would snap it when he threatened us with it.  He was a monster, but he has become more of a human being when we became old enough to realize what he was doing was wrong.  It left us all with emotional scars that have yet to be healed completely.  He was one of 10 kids in a very catholic family, so you can imagine what the abuse was like for him.  His parents are both dead now, and he’s almost 62 now, so he’s probably as healed right now as he’ll ever get.  It’s pretty sad, especially because even to this day he thinks child abuse is sometimes justified.  He never touches his grandkids like that though.  He knows that would cause them to be removed from his life.  Despite all this, he and I have a lot in common, and we talk about computers a lot.  I have a lot of good memories of talking to him when I was little.

I don’t feel like either of my parents understand me or want to understand me.  They both just want me to conform and get a job and be miserable like everybody else.  I thought parents were supposed to want their kids to have better lives than they have.  Oh well.  I feel no obligation to work for their approval.  They have a long way to go before they get mine, but until then, relations will remain cordial.

Overanalysis of a joke; or…Killing humor for Science!

So this is a little embarrassing to admit but here is a joke that my mom shared with me the other evening on her smart phone just before she went to bed.  I guess she thought it was too funny not to share, etc.  It had been forwarded to her by one of her retired teacher friends or other peers.

I read the joke and did not laugh, did not “get” it until afterwards.  Perhaps it would’ve been funnier if it had been spoken on stage or by a storyteller with good comedic timing and a flair for zingers, who could hit the “punchline” just right.  As it was, in written form, it just fell flat for me.  Here was the basic structure of the joke; It’s not the precise wording because I just googled it instead of having mom forward me the specific text, but this is close enough for our purposes.

The joke that fell flat for me (probably because of my ASD)

The Hypnotist – joke

It was entertainment night at the Senior Center.

Claude the Hypnotist exclaimed: “I’m here to put you into a trance. I intend to hypnotize each and every member of the audience.”

The excitement was almost electric as Claude withdrew a beautiful antique pocket watch from his coat.

“I want you each to keep your eyes on this antique watch. It’s a very special watch. It’s been in my family for six generations.”

He began to swing the watch gently back and forth while quietly chanting, “Watch the watch, watch the watch, and watch the watch.”

The crowd became mesmerized as the watch swayed back and forth, light gleaming off its polished surface. Hundreds of pairs of eyes followed the swaying watch. Suddenly, it slipped from the hypnotist’s fingers and fell to the floor, shattering into a hundred pieces.

“SHIT!” said the Hypnotist.

It took three days to clean up the Senior Center, and Claude was never invited back again.


I read this account, visualizing the action.  I finished it nonplussed and a little mystified.  It took a little talking back and forth with my mom for me to “get it”.  I don’t know why, but I just didn’t latch on to the “mass post-hypnotic suggestion” premise of the joke…quite possibly because I have such a rational frame of mind that I don’t really buy into mass post-hypnotic suggestion as a real thing.  I believe certain individuals may be susceptible to it to greater or lesser degrees, while other individuals can’t be hypnotized at all.  So as such I instinctively reject as irrational/false any narrative involving post-hypnotic suggestion for an entire audience of people.  I can’t even “suspend disbelief” for the sake of appreciating this joke, evidently.  Perhaps if had been told aloud, narrated to me in a quick, punctuated way, with the punchline told in a persuasive and amusing/surprising tone, I might have erupted with laughter.  But reading it off the sterile page, it failed to amuse.  Afterwords, when I “got it”, I chuckled briefly and could admire how the joke was constructed and the premises it was built upon, but I felt somehow “robbed” of a good laugh by poor delivery because of receiving it in writing and not eloquently spoken, and perhaps also because of my autistic brain and its intensely rational “default” framework for understanding the world.  Comedy is all about delivery and timing, about catching the reader or audience off-guard with a surprise turn in an unexpected direction.  Or explosive fart noises and dick & boob jokes.  Whatever.  I fully admit for a 42 year old male, I still possess a quite juvenile sense of humor and actually feel sorry for my NT peers who have lost theirs, whose sense of humor today is now so sophisticated they’re incapable of laughing at toilet humor.  The hypnotist-at-the-senior-center joke should be right up my alley in terms of content, but it failed to work for me because of my focused, rational frame of mind at the time I read it, and because it was in prose rather than delivered by an expressive comedian on a stage.

Anyway, it was an odd experience I had this week that I thought worth sharing.  It shows that although I’ve learned a lot about language and non-literal uses thereof these past 42 years, even still I sometimes overthink and am sometimes still too literal and trip up at times on account of my ASD, despite my best efforts.  It doesn’t happen often; I can usually roll with the best of jokesters and even tell a few zingers myself; but when it does happen it leaves me feeling alien and weird and disconnected for a spell.

Aspie adult son, NT mother.

So mom came up to bug me again; oh, excuse me, I mean “engage me in conversation”, I mean, oh, yeah, that’s right….NAG ME AGAIN about my weight/body.  So yeah, lots of crap I don’t want to hear and lots of awkward silences or one word answers from me.  I’m insulted because I’m very aware of my current waist size, very aware that the working out that I do basically maintains it; I’m seldom losing weight, but I’m also not gaining, or only gradually gaining.  I’m not as thin as mom would like me to be, but I’m not at the out-of-control levels I was in North Texas either.  Perhaps it would be nicer to be slimmer and more desirable to the opposite sex from a physical standpoint, but good looks can only carry me so far.  It doesn’t take much for my social ineptitude to trip me up.  And my thinning hair is eventually going to fail the comb-over test.  I’m not sure I could find and win over another girlfriend or wife even if I actively wanted one for sure.  The ex-wife was such a risky gamble that just happened to pay off in the short term, though ultimately failing in the longer term, like roughly 50% of all American marriages.
Mom also said “you could practice social conversation with me some time…”; and I muttered back “I’m not really that interested in that.”.  Jeesh, could I BE any more stereotypically Aspie…sometimes I just blurt out blunt, hurtful things because I just want to be left the f*ck alone.  I stare hard into a wall and clam up without another word until the other person gives up and leaves me alone.

And of course mom was interrupting an Anime that I was streaming via Netflix on my PS3.  Not that it mattered, I had it paused, could always go back to it later, but it still just irked the sh*t out of me.  And I realize that my mother is sometimes lonely.  Dad went unexpectedly back to the country because one of his workers accidentally put his foot through the roof on one of his properties and he went up to supervise the repairs.  Dad is no spring chicken anymore; He’s…he is elderly and just doesn’t have the energy and strength he used to.  He loves being up in the countryside near Lake Livingston.  He loves working on his property up there…but it just drains him empty.  He comes home and is lethargic from lack of energy.
I know mom sometimes craves talk, social interaction, etc, but sometimes it’s really just not in me to give.  I do what I can to give her proper “face time” at meals, and sometimes in the evening.  We sometimes watch shows together, like the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, and we are also watching the HBO series Boardwalk Empire together on rental DVD, which we are both enjoying.  I feel like that should be enough.  I know she worries about my health and my body but really, that’s ultimately my concern not hers.  Even though I’m not in tip top shape, I’m reasonably confident I will outlive both my parents.  I’m not grossly unhealthy, I’m just not as motivated to be as fanatically diligent about what I eat every single day of every week that is apparently required to consistently lose weight and maintain it at the level required to stay in size 36 pants.  I’m just unwilling and unmotivated to stay that on top of things…for me it just kills my self-generated spontaneity and joie de vivre on some level.  I’m basically okay with how I am now and would please like to be left the fuck alone about it, but evidently I’m to be put back under the microscope for awhile.  God I hate this sh*t in my family at times.

I have my friends that I hang out with at times.  I sometimes still go to things on my own and have a perfectly reasonably good time, whether it’s to the Anime screenings in Katy or like this past Saturday when I went to the last University of Houston collegiate baseball game of their regular season.  It was actually an exciting game with real competitiveness, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did flip through my issue of Otaku USA magazine during some of the slow parts, but more often than not I paid rapt attention to the game itself.  The only downside about it was afterwards…I hadn’t realized that although I was sitting mostly in shade, my legs had been exposed to the sun, and they got pretty badly sunburned just above the knee.  My forearms got sunburned a bit, too, though not as painfully bad as the legs.  I hadn’t thought about sunscreen until I was nearly there–I considered trying to find a pharmacy to run into and get some, but then nixed the idea because I was anxious to find parking and get to the game on time.  Anyway, I’ve been liberally applying aloe gel to my sunburn every so often, and that does help relieve the pain & discomfort, despite the goey mess of it.

I sometimes feel like an ass, ending conversations with my mom like that, retreating into a stony silence, but sometimes I genuinely am at a loss for words and don’t know what the hell else to say.  I was like that with my ex-wife at times, though in her case it was more excruciating because she forced me to say SOMETHING, anything–usually the wrong thing that would result in a knock-down, drag-out emotional verbal fight that would exhaust me (literally at times, depriving me of sleep)…we might eventually work our way back to a respectful, loving understanding but it always took a long time and yes, sometimes the make-up sex was fantastic…but I would just as soon have not had to have the argument at all.

It was the suggestion to practice social conversation with my mom that angered and triggered the motivation to write this post.  Yet another example (for me) of mom just wanting me To Not Be Aspie.  Social banter “not really your thing”?  Well, silly, just practice it…

…never mind if I simply just really don’t want to.  That’s me being a jerk, apparently.  NT parents apparently feel no compunction about forcing their social need for conversation upon their Aspie children.  It’s somehow my fault for refusing to reciprocate this imposition.

Sorry.  I’m just angry and unfocused and felt the need to write this down.