The job and role of a parent can be daunting at times. You are always worried about making the right decision, worried about if it is sinking in, always running around… If you are like a lot of families today, you or your significant other may have to work additional jobs or opposing schedules just to live and do your most important job… PARENT. Surely, anyone who is reading this has already been made fully aware, raising a child with special needs presents a unique set of challenges. In addition to all of the ”regular” stuff like sports, wellness checkups, etc, you have to squeeze in IEP meetings, battles with insurance companies, therapy appointments, screenings, evals, meetings with wrap around services, etc.
I’ve embraced our “lifestyle.” After all, that is what it becomes, a new way of life. I embrace it and I embrace my son and his uniqueness. If not for his diagnosis, I may have been ignorant to the blessings in my life, taking them all for granted. You see, and this may sound crazy, but Dominic’s disorder was a true blessing. Dominic has taught me how to be a man. He taught me patience, compassion, understanding and empathy. He taught me kindness and acceptance. He taught me how to father.
From day one, I tried to be as involved as possible in Dominic’s treatment plans and development. Fortunately, I have a wonderfully amazing wife and we are in this together for the long haul. From his birth, I always worked full time and my wife part time. We always shared duties and pitched in where we could. We were and still are a great team, there for each other. This is really the only way this works.
About 3 years ago, my wife afforded me an amazing experience. The year I met her, I had just graduated from photography school and didn’t pursue it after about a year post graduation. I did a variety of jobs – Accounts Payable and Produce mostly. Then after about a year and a half of mall retail misery and seeing a desperate need for change for the betterment of our family, my wife graciously and on her own free will, offered to go back to work full time so I could stay home, raise the kids and work on my career.
Nutty as it is, with my wife as my accomplice, I decided to make a career change at the age of 35/36 – married with two kids. Here’s the real kicker… my new career was a freelance photographer. HA! Yes, I am serious and yes it is crazy across the boards. I took on a career with absolutely no guarantees or stability. Way to think it through, right? Well, much like we did with things when we got Dominic’s diagnosis, we made adjustments, we adapted and overcame.
The first year or two were very rough. I had to spend a fair amount of time out of the house re-training and building my book and my name. A lot of this came with no check attached. This part was definitely rough and for good reason, caused doubt with my wife about this field. It definitely caused some tension and definitely raised the question with her as to whether or not it was working or will work. However, I was not taking no for an answer. Failure was NOT an option. To me, for me, there was no way this was not going to work.
Fast forward to current day – literally. I am typing this on Amtrak on my way home from Boston where I spent the better part of a week photographing the Boston International Ballet Competition. Since I started back into photography back in 2007, I have been published in 3 major dance periodicals, a book by Oxford University Press, countless newspapers across the country. I have worked with some of the biggest name dancers in the country, some of whom I call my friends. I have shot for several major ballet companies and have blogged for a variety of websites in both the special needs community and dance community. I was also just nominated for a fellowship in the arts. Some of my portraits have appeared on a billboard in York County, Pa, for Autism York. Also, a year and a half ago, I took on studio space in downtown Phoenixville. Failure was not an option.
The challenges I face now are juggling the high demand of my work, including networking, marketing, etc, and being a stay at home dad. It gets crazy but we make it work. I volunteer in my kids classes and try to maintain that presence. It’s essential to me. My career affords me a great deal of flexibility. I often make my own schedule which is done around theirs usually. It also affords me the chance to give my kids unique opportunities of traveling with me. Last summer, we drove up to Lee, Massachusetts. I had to photograph a dance performance at Jacob’s Pillow. The family also traveled to Washington, DC with me last summer. This summer I plan to take them to Charlotte with me for a long weekend.
I love my life. I love the bond Dominic and I have. We are best friends. Sure, it adds complexity and sometimes stress, but life is all about the journey, the experiences. It is very important to me that my kids know and experience this. It is also important that I make them an integral part of the journey and give them as many experiences as possible. There is only one way to live life…. FULLY!