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Tribute to Special Needs Dads

Posted by on June 19, 2010 in Life Beyond Limits | 0 comments

It’s hard to really understand what the father of a child with a disability, or “special needs child” goes through unless we have been in their shoes. These dads, like my own, are there with their children giving a gift that no one else can give. They give comfort and reassurance that no matter what, everything will be okay. Sometimes dads pretend to be strong when deep down inside, they are uncertain or even terrified. They are the unsung heroes to special needs children. They are special needs fathers and dads.

Any male can become a parent. It takes a real man to be a father.  And it takes a man, I think, of extraordinary stock to be a father to a special needs child. We deserve extraordinary after all, don’t we? When a child is sick, typically it is Mom who handles the care unless the mom decides to work while the father stays at home, or works from home.

Special needs moms are very special, but in the world of a child with a disability, Daddy is equally vital. Fathers tend to provide a calming and logical presence, to help bring some clarity to the fuzziness in the world, and help calm and reassure a child in a way no one else can.

In families with multiple children where one child is hospitalized or in need of regular care, usually it is dad who stays home with the other kids while mom is at the hospital with the sick child, unless there’s a relative to sit with the kids while they both go. Dad is the one holding down the fort, keeping the other kids safe and happy, and bringing the siblings to visit the sick brother or sister. Dad’s role is very often overlooked because he is so quiet and often working behind the scenes. In my dad’s case, he was a grade parent bringing cupcakes to school, taking me to school or on field trips around his Coast Guard base schedule, helping me get ready for school, while my mother worked and went to school to finish her degree. Other times, they worked as a team day and night investing in the best opportunities for my development inside and out. It made sense when my dad ended his career in the Coast Guard due to kidney disease and wasn’t totally ill quite yet, to be the house dad. And he did well, right by me. To my mother’s half dismay, I’m sure, I grew up to be a Daddy’s girl, still loving her very much, but bonded close to Daddy. I learned her head strong ways and some of his level-headedness. I learned to freak out first often, but after getting it out of the way, taking a problem apart one piece at a time to solve it.

In single parent situations, dads still play a critical role. From providing Mom with time off through visitation, to dads who are the full-time single parents, there are many great single fathers to special needs children who are priceless. I know a few of them myself and would stand by their fathering of their children with challenges through thick and thin. There are also amazing men who step up to the plate and assume the role of step parent to a special needs child. Not all men would want to take on such a role because it does require a lot of work and can be daunting. There are also men who choose to intentionally adopt special needs children. All dedicated, special needs fathers are amazing.

Special needs mothers are the ones who tend to discuss their children ad nauseum with pride, advocate fiercely and rally support around their children’s needs, while the fathers are generally more reserved but still intensely interested, watchful, and emotionally invested in the care of their children. While I’m sure Daddy had an overprotective streak, he was more likely to display a, “You ok? Well, get up and throw some dirt on it!” concern once he figured nothing was broken. He was the mild-mannered semi-‘Good Cop’ when my mother was raking ‘experts’ over the coals for making daft assumptions about my challenges and abilities — often mixing up the two. Still, he knew how to pound a fist on the right desk at the right moment when it was needed

Behind every special needs child, there is a team who has helped that child thrive: the doctors, many therapists, caring nurses, dedicated teachers, extended family, mothers — and our fathers, dads, daddies, pops, etc. On this Father’s Day, special needs fathers deserve extra praise and gratitude, a pat on the back or hug. But, if not on this Father’s Day, honor them every day for all they do, give and say. To every special needs father out there, the often unsung hero in a child’s life, thank you for loving your child with a disability as they are and rallying their best as a result of your protection, nurturing, encouragement and protection. Thanks for being there for us, and for giving us the love and support we need to blossom.

And thanks to the special needs grandpas out there, too, like my mom’s dad, Grandpa Tom — who, using his old N.C. mountain-raised ways, reminded me to stay ever strong inside, live with integrity, be my own person and never let the world stop me from being who I am. Love you both for being men among men who taught me there are men out there, also like my husband, who will love you for you – all of you, no matter what about your body doesn’t work or doesn’t exactly look like everyone else’s. Thanks for making me feel more myself and helping me to reach for more out of life.

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