I never really noticed people with disabilities (i.e. special needs) until my son Micah was born.
I mean, I knew there were people with disabilities, but I didn’t pay much attention to them and I mostly felt sorry for them. It took an encounter with disability to change my perspective on the matter. My wife and I processed our child’s disability in very different ways. In this blog, I want to share with you a few thoughts on disability from a dad’s perspective.
Thought #1: Dads operate differently than moms
It’s hardly a profound thought, but it’s true. Dads are different than moms. We dads, operate differently than our parental counterparts. Besides the obvious physical differences between men and women, generally, men are more visual and less emotional than women. Men like to drive fast, play hard, and have fun (okay, girls just wanna have fun too). Men like sports. From fishing to football, hunting to hockey, we like them all, except for badminton. Men like to share our hobbies with our buddies too, that’s why we play golf in groups of four, basketball in teams of five, and fishing, well, we just rent a whole boat. It’s just not the same if you get a hole-in-one, make the game-winning shot, or reel in the big one, without having anyone to share it with. And ladies, we know you’re there for us, but you just don’t exude the same excitement over catching a bass or hitting the perfect 7-iron as our bro-friends do. It’d be like us getting all excited about going shoe shopping or getting a mani-pedi…it just wouldn’t be right!
Thought #2: Dads communicate differently than moms
Studies show that women talk two to three times more throughout the day than men. Surprised? Comments ladies? Either our vocabulary is much smaller than women, or we prefer to communicate in other ways. For example, my wife looks forward to getting together weekly with a group of her girl friends. They talk, eat, and talk some more. Okay, maybe there’s more to it. But they are content with just hanging around and talking, without the TV on or any other activity going on. That would be torture for most men! Men will hang out in the living room shooting the breeze, if there’s a sporting event on the big screen and food involved. But we’d much rather be doing some manly activity like duck hunting, hanging out at a muscle car show, or weed whacking.
Thought #3: Dads handle conflict differently than moms
There’s a reason why most kids run to mom after they fall down and skin their knee, because mom will kiss it, clean it up and even put a bad-aid on. Dad, on the other hand, will look at it and say, “it’s okay, walk it off,” as blood is dripping down their leg! When dealing with a matter of conflict, moms will look at it from all aspects: physically, mentally, emotionally, dads tend to just stick with the physical and mental aspect of the issue. “How can we fix it?” And, “mind over matter” approach.
Okay, so far I haven’t really talked about disability or special needs. I’ve just talked about the way dads and moms are different. If my wife was writing this article she would have probably shared more on the subject already, but it would be odd for my wife to write an article titled, “Disability From a Dad’s Perspective.” Just another way that men and women are different. Thank God opposites attract!
Let me get to the point.
Thought #4: Being a dad is a big deal
Being a dad is a big deal. Most boys look up to their dads and want to be like them when they grow up. Most little girls want to marry their dad’s, both of mine did. Your children look to you for guidance and protection. Fail as a provider and role model and your child could follow in your footsteps, but no pressure! As a young boy, I wanted my dad’s approval. I wanted my dad’s attention. Whether at home in the pool or at the park on the baseball field, I wanted my dad around. During the Summer, I would ride my Honda mini-bike in the lot across from my dad’s used car and mechanic shop, when he wasn’t teaching me how to work on cars. I have a lot of fond memories, growing up, of my father.
Thought #5: Dreams of being a dad
When my wife and I were expecting our first child, I was nervous and excited. I knew the importance and responsibility of the role of a father. I had dreams of what fatherhood would be like. Coaching little league, birthday parties, talent shows, father-son or father-daughter talks, someday walking my little girl down the isle, or seeing the family name carried on. When our first child, Hannah, was born, I was overwhelmed with joy. She was perfect! Healthy, beautiful, skin like silk, a creation of her mother and father. I was officially a dad! Now for the hard part…parenting! All of our planning went out the window.
Thought #6: Dad, a.k.a. “Mr. Fix It”
When I found out we were having another baby, a couple years later, I was again nervous and excited, and hoping for a boy to balance things out. The one thing I didn’t hope for or imagine was having a child with a disability. But that’s exactly how things turned out. Micah was diagnosed with developmental delays at 9 months and started receiving multiple therapies, multiple times a week. But somehow, reality hadn’t set in yet. I kept thinking he would grow out of it or something. Then at 2 and a half, he had a seizure and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. They sedated him to stop the seizure some 45 minutes later. The next day the doctors shared the results of the tests and scans from Micah. They said he had “abnormalities in the brain” and that they weren’t sure what he would be like as he grew up. As a dad, I didn’t want to hear those words about my son. He was going to be “abnormal”!? But I had all kinds of plans for him. There were so many things I wanted to teach him, show him, so many places I wanted to take him and things I wanted to do with him. Would I still be able to? How would others look at him? Would he have friends? Would be get married some day? Would he be able to carry on the family name? Have children? I had a lot to process and all I was thinking was “How do I fix it?”
Thought #7: Kids with disabilities don’t need to be fixed
It took me a while to come to the realization that I wasn’t going to “fix” my son’s disability, I just needed to love him and get to know him.
When Micah was a year old I learned that he loved football. At the time he wasn’t walking or communicating with words but if football was on TV you better not change the channel or he would let you know by crying his eyes out until you turned it back. As Micah grew up, I learned that he loved animals and people. His face would light up when he saw a dog (or even a cat!). After he was able to walk, himself, at the age of four, he was drawn towards people in wheelchairs or with walkers or canes. He wanted to communicate with them and find out what their story was. He was and is the most unselfish boy I’ve ever met (I know I’m biased, but it’s true!) Kids with disabilities or special needs don’t need to be fixed, they just need to be loved. Don’t get me wrong…I am going to do everything I can for my son to make sure he succeeds in life! If there is a support, whether physical, educational, emotional, mental, medical, or the like, that will benefit my son in some way, I am going to look into it. But the bottom line is, that support is not going to change the way I look at my son, it’s not going to make me love him any more than I already do.
My son brings joy to me every single day just the way he is. He delights in life. He loves God and people. He brings me closer to my Creator. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Joe Butler @abilitytree