Father’s Day holds special significance in our house. Not only is it a day to honor Jack’s dad for, well, all that goes into being Jack’s dad, but it’s also his birthday. So, I have to give a quick “Happy birthday, sweetheart!” to my little boy’s daddy and my husband.
I truly think that dads are the unsung heroes of special needs parenting. The honest truth is that there are dads out there that simply cannot handle the marathon that is parenting a kid with special needs. However, my husband is definitely not one of those men. He is down in the trenches with me every step of the way.
Moms are the most visible members of the parenting team. Typically, we’re the ones who leave our careers to help shuttle our kids back and forth to therapies, school, and other special needs programs. We talk to the insurance companies, become way too versed in special education law, and learn all there is to know about sensory integration, fostering engagement, and any of the myriad of ways to better help our children.
That doesn’t mean that the dads aren’t there and are not supportive. Someone has to go to work and earn the living and insurance that provides these pathways for our children along their journeys. It is the dads who stay behind while moms go to support group meetings and Medicaid workshops. It is the dads who take over after a long day in the office to give us mamas a chance to do a bit around the house or give us a moment to simply put our feet up.
Dads are built for the job. Really, I think that dads are perfectly equipped to deal with sensory seekers. My son, in particular, is a big vestibular/proprioceptive kid. We’re talking big movement, lots of swinging, lots of crashing, and lots of spinning. Unfortunately, my boy also has motor planning, coordination, and low-tone issues that thwart his ability to independently get the input he so desperately needs.
Enter Dad. I’m not a lightweight when it comes to doing the heavy lifting, but after a long day at the office, my husband comes home, dons his workout clothes (literally, we’re serious about our sensory diet in this house!), and proceeds to lift, swing, and spin Jack until bedtime. He does this with no complaints and no admission of fatigue. He can lift and crash Jack down on to the couch in a way that my smaller frame simply will not allow. Not to mention that moms seem hard-wired to resist many of the vestibular and proprioceptive activities on which our kids thrive. I know that I cringe when Jack spins for long periods of time, or swings too high, or is tossed on to the couch. Dads, however, seem to lack that internal “danger” filter that keeps many a mom at bay. Not that it’s a bad thing; Jack simply loves the crashing and roughhousing that his dad provides!
On the other hand, this is not an easy life for dads, either. Having a child with special needs brings up all kinds of emotions, something that most men tend to bury down deep for none to see. For dads, I think that they have a certain idea in their minds of what life will be like parenting their sons. My husband grew up in a baseball family. He played youth baseball. So did his brothers. His dad, Jack’s grandpa, still works with our local youth baseball program. From the moment we heard those magical words – “It’s a boy!” – my husband was buying Jack baseball gear. The kid was practically signed up prenatally for t-ball for the Fall 2014 season. I know that my husband’s dream was to coach Jack’s youth baseball team. Autism changed that.
Sure, at first my husband went through the process of mourning the loss of the dreams he imagined for himself and his son, but my husband has also had the courage to dream new dreams. Maybe Jack can’t handle going to see a baseball game at the stadium, but perhaps he will be willing to watch one on TV? Jack might not play on a competitive baseball team, but perhaps we can find a way to include him in the youth program with an aide or some other assistance? If not, we’ll pave the way for Jack to join an adaptive program. My husband has had the courage to begin to dream other dreams that include Jack and consider his strengths and weaknesses. He’s not trying to change Jack; he’s willing to change the world for Jack.
I don’t need to tell you how lucky I am to have such a great guy.
This is the guy that also went to 5 weeks of DIR/Floortime classes with me just so that he could better understand how to connect with his son. He works tirelessly trying to foster engagement and regulation with our boy. It’s a thankless job sometimes, believe me. There are days when we get good engagement as a reward, but there are others still when my boy can’t keep it together and when he just self-absorbs, yet his dad presses on. He goes to work each day with only a select few colleagues being even vaguely aware of the battles we wage at home for our boy. He does all of this with very little recognition for a job well done.
So, I think that on this Father’s Day he, along with the many hard-working special needs dads out there, deserves particular recognition. They need to be acknowledged for the way in which they support so many of us moms so that we can be at home to help our children progress and grow. They need acknowledgment for the way in which they love their children just as fiercely as we moms do. They deserve our gratitude for the way in which they step in and, quite literally, do the heavy-lifting at times so that mama can have a little break.
To all of the dads out there who walk this path alongside us moms and our special children, your role in the lives of our children is an important part of their success. Each step our children make is a reflection of the work that you also put into raising our special needs children. Your job is not easy, it is tiring, and at times thankless, but it is so vitally important and so appreciated.
Our children are better for the dads that are in their lives. Happy Father’s Day to my sweetheart and to the many special needs dads out there. You are appreciated not just today, but every day.