The Journal of Best Practices : A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband
At some point in nearly every marriage, a wife finds herself asking, What the @#!% is wrong with my husband?! In David Finch's case, this turns out to be an apt question. Five years after he married Kristen, the love of his life, they learn that he has Asperger syndrome. The diagnosis explains David's ever-growing list of quirks and compulsions, his lifelong propensity to quack and otherwise melt down in social exchanges, and his clinical-strength inflexibility. But it doesn't make him any easier to live with. Determined to change, David sets out to understand Asperger syndrome and learn to be a better husband- no easy task for a guy whose inability to express himself rivals his two-year-old daughter's, who thinks his responsibility for laundry extends no further than throwing things in (or at) the hamper, and whose autism-spectrum condition makes seeing his wife's point of view a near impossibility. Nevertheless, David devotes himself to improving his marriage with an endearing yet hilarious zeal that involves excessive note-taking, performance reviews, and most of all, the Journal of Best Practices: a collection of hundreds of maxims and hard-won epiphanies that result from self-reflection both comic and painful. They include "Don't change the radio station when she's singing along," "Apologies do not count when you shout them," and "Be her friend, first and always." Guided by the Journal of Best Practices, David transforms himself over the course of two years from the world's most trying husband to the husband who tries the hardest, the husband he'd always meant to be. Filled with humor and surprising wisdom, The Journal of Best Practices is a candid story of ruthless self-improvement, a unique window into living with an autism-spectrum condition, and proof that a true heart can conquer all.
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January 03, 2012
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Excerpt from The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch
I was thirty years old and had been married five years when I learned that I have Asperger syndrome, a relatively mild form of autism. My wife, Kristen, a speech therapist and autism expert, brought it to my attention one evening after harboring suspicions for years.
Receiving such a diagnosis as an adult might seem shocking and unsettling. It wasn't. Eye-opening, yes. Life-changing, yes. But not distressing in the least. Strangely, it was rather empowering to discover that I had this particular condition. In fact, the diagnosis ultimately changed my life for the better.
I received the news the day before my niece was born. I remember this not because I'm a wonderful uncle but because she was born on March 14, 2008, which is well-known among my fellow nerds in the math and science communities as "Pi Day" because pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, is equal to 3.14. Also 3 + 14 + 2 + 0 + 8 totals 27, which is divisible by 3, and I love numbers that are divisible by 3, particularly numbers whose digits sum to 27, of which 3 is the cube root. (Are you starting to see why Kristen had her suspicions?)
The day had been chaotic but really nothing out of the ordinary for two young working parents. Kristen was in the kitchen, trying to put it back in some kind of order, and I was upstairs saying good night to our kids. After walking with our ten-month-old son, Parker, in little circles around his dark room and whispering the lyrics of an Eric Clapton song until he fell asleep, I cuddled with our daughter, Emily, until her restless two-year-old squirming subsided and her breathing slowed and deepened. I crept out, whispering "I love you," the words all but dissolving into the whir of her electric fan.
As I descended into the warm amber glow that bathed the first floor of our house, I could hear the hum of the dishwasher in the kitchen and the soft clunk of toys being put away in the playroom. Something was up; the house was never so tranquil right after the kids went to bed. Usually, the television was on, the kitchen was a disaster, and books and toys were scattered everywhere. I expected to find Kristen in her usual spot: sitting on the couch among stacks of paper and thick binders, her laptop resting on her legs as she feverishly prepared for the next day's work. But everything was different that night.
In the kitchen, my dinner was cooling on the clean counter, and I felt an unusual sense of peace as I prepared for my evening routine. At eight thirty each night, after the kids have been put to bed, I circle the first floor, counterclockwise, starting in the kitchen, where I check to see if the patio door is locked. Then it's back to the kitchen, where I usually wander around in circles until Kristen asks me what I'm doing.
But that night, before I began, Kristen approached me by the refrigerator in her pajamas and wrapped me in a tight hug.
"Oh," I said, surprised. "Hello there." I couldn't remember the last time she had given me a hug for no particular reason. I hesitated for a moment, trying to play it cool, then squeezed her close.
"Hi," she said into my chest. Her blond hair darkened to a shade of honey and shimmered lightly in the dimness. "Do you want some pizza?" she asked.
"Yeah, thanks for making it."
"Sure," she said. "When you're ready, why don't you bring it down to the basement?" Without letting go, she looked up at me and smiled. "There's something I want to show you."
"Okay, I'll be right down."
Understanding the importance of my routines, she playfully patted my butt and headed down to her office in the basement. Stunned by this rare and remarkable display of affection, I completed my rounds. I proceeded through the dining room and living room, then it was on to the foyer, where I always take a few moments to stare out the front window, visually lining up the neighbors' rooftops (the alignment is the same every time, which is so gratifying it makes my shoulders relax, and for a moment my head is clear, my thoughts organized). As usual, I took note of which lights were on. I don't normally shut them off, I just like to check in and see how they're doing. Dining room light on, piano lamp not on, foyer not on, hallway on, kitchen off (that's kind of rare . . . how 'bout it, kitchen?), oven hood on. I grabbed my pizza from the counter, swiped a Pepsi from the fridge, and made my way down the loud, clunky steps to Kristen's office in our basement, where she was sitting in front of her computer. She turned and beamed at me.