53 Photos of Fathers Helping Their Children Through Challenging Times

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Perhaps one of the most unfair parts of fatherhood is that, according to stereotypes at least, you’re not supposed to be scared. But when your child is in the hospital, that’s next to impossible. That’s OK, though, because even when faced with fear, dads have a way of making everything seem all right. With a hug. With a reassuring look. With a dad joke. With just being there.

Below are just a few of the many fathers who sent us a photo of them with their child while getting through a difficult hospital stay. Here’s to you, dads.

1.

Dad holding baby in hospital
Photo via Andrea Legg

2.

Dad kissing forehead of child in hospital
Photo via Jessica Bodey

3.

Dad smiling at baby in hospital
Photo via Kristina Johnson

4.

Dad holding baby wearing a face mask
Photo via Jen Carter

5.

Dad holding baby in hospital next to mom
Photo via Kathryn Singleton

6.

Dad hugging baby sitting on hospital bed
Photo via Amber Walls Fosler

7.

Dad sitting in front of hospital bed with baby and toys
Photo via Gloria Campbell

8.

Dad standing next to hospital bed with baby and toys
Photo via Autism Mom

9.

Dad standing next to hospital bed baby is lying on
Photo via Jackie Renee

10.

Dad holding hand of baby on hospital bed
Photo via Tracy Slusher Cox

11.

Dad holding daughter in hospital room
Photo via Kate Sytsma

12.

Dad looking down at baby while holding him
Photo via Tristen Wuori

13.

Dad smiling at camera while holding baby at hospital
Photo via Lindsay Vanzandt

14.

Dad standing next to child's hospital bed
Photo via Stephanie Johnson

15.

Dad holding baby and smiling
Photo via Samantha N. DaRocha

16.

Dad holding baby and smiling
Photo via Yentte Xia Fourie

17.

Father holding baby on his lap
Photo via Tanya Louise Tunbridge

18.

Dad next to daughter on hospital couch
Photo via Mike Porath, Founder of The Mighty

19.

Dad next to baby in NICU
Photo via Erica Davis Canfield

20.

Dad holding baby with a pink and white polka dot blanket
Photo via Jacqui Hicklin

21.

Dad and child laughing together next to hospital bed
Photo via Kathryn Singleton

22.

Dad sitting in front of son in a wheelchair in the hospital
Photo via Jeff Davidson

23.

Dad making frowning face while holding crying baby in hospital
Photo via Kimberly Messer Grossman

24.

Collage of photos of dad next to son in hospital
Photo via Helen Bates

25.

Dad sleeping with face mask on while holding baby in hospital
Photo via Heather Bell League

26.

Dad wearing face mask and holding baby in NICU
Photo via Aleisha Aguilera

27.

Dad holding daughter's hand while she sleeps in hospital bed
Photo via Ashley Mobley

28.

Dad sleeping next to sleeping baby at the hospital
Photo via Brenda Hickson

29.

Dad giving child on hospital bed a kiss on the forehead
Photo via Vickie South Sheffield

30.

Dad sitting with baby on his lap
Photo via Lisa De Luna

31.

Dad holding and looking down at baby in hospital
Photo via Krissy Heller

32.

Dad sitting in hospital chair, holding baby
Photo via Sarah Thomas Bobo

33.

Dad posing for photo next to baby, baby holding his finger
Photo via Harvey TheRealtor

34.

Dad holding baby and stuffed animal in hospital chair
Photo via Beth Dellinger Mead

35.

Dad holding child and stuffed animals in hospital
Photo via Katherine Smith

36.

Dad in red shirt holding baby in hospital
Photo via Lisa Stewart

37.

Dad smiling next to child in the hospital
Photo via Lisa Blackstone

38.

Dad holding baby in the hospital
Photo via Leidy Jesse Garcia

39.

Dad next to son in hospital bed, dad holding a book next to his face
Photo via Susan Crowe Brown

40.

Dad holding and sleeping next to baby in hospital bed
Photo via Heather Cortez

41.

Dad touching foreheads with child in the hospital
Photo via Anita Birk

42.

Dad sitting next to son on a bench in the hospital
Photo via Amber Gonzales

43.

Dad smiling and sitting next to daughter coloring at table
Photo via Lauren Casper

44.

Dad sitting next to daughter on hospital bed
Photo via Kate Crabb

45.

Dad touching head of son in hospital bed
Photo via Diana Cosman

46.

Dad touching arm of baby in hospital crib
Photo via Christa Douglas Gill

47.

Dad reading to child in hospital bed
Photo via Anita Birk

48.

Baby looking up at dad in hospital
Photo via Tania de la Ossa-Rucker

49.

Dad holding baby
Photo via Nate Vandenberg

50.

Dad giving support to daughter in hospital bed
Photo via Shauna Cantrell

51.

Dad and mom holding and looking down at baby
Photo via Lauren Wunderlich

52.

Dad reading to baby in hospital chair, baby smiling and holding arm up
Photo via Kathryn Singleton

53.

Dad next to baby in NICU
Photo via Sydnie Eileen Bill

Related: 50 Photos of Mothers Helping Their Children Through Challenging Times

53 Photos of Fathers Helping Their Children Through Challenging Times
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Meet Dustin Demmers, One of Our Mighty Special Needs Teachers of the Year

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Dustin teaches English

Dustin Demmers knew he had a gift working with students with special needs long before he had kids of his own. Demmers, 42, teaches students with all different types of needs at Floral Park Memorial in Floral Park, New York. His classes include an 11th grade English Regents preparation class that has English Second Language (ESL) learners and high needs students, and a language enrichment program for eighth graders. But his gift extends beyond his 15-year experience in the classroom. Demmers has two children, Jolie, 9, and Ethan, 6. Ethan was diagnosed with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy in 2013. “I find that what I pursued in the name of my son has translated very well to what I do at school,” Demmers told The Mighty in an interview.

This school year, The Mighty asked its readers to nominate a special needs teacher who made a difference in their or their loved one’s life. To nominate, they submitted an essay to us. Our staff then picked five teachers, and Demmers made the cut. So we reached out to him to learn more about what makes him so Mighty.

What’s the most memorable thing either a student or a parent has said to you? For me, I think it’s more general memories of appreciation. Those have been the more powerful thing for me. I think with my son, who has Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, I’ve had literally thousands of students come back and offer to help or offer prayers and support. It hits really hard every time. Someone I haven’t spoken to in so many years comes back and says something nice about my class or helps me or helps my son.

They have a dodgeball tournament at our school and this one group of guys, for the sake of raising awareness about my son’s condition, named their team “Team Ethan.” They made their own shirts and they printed one up for Ethan and for me. They did it completely on their own and completely voluntarily.

Dustin is always thrilled when students help raise awareness about his son

I find that what I pursued in the name of my son has translated well to what I do at school in my classes. It’s a conversation I don’t think people have often because it’s not something present for a lot of people. I don’t think people understand how to look at and interact with people who are in a wheelchair. A wheelchair is something that needs to be disarmed a little for people.

Jack playing in his basketball tournament

What’s the most challenging part of your job? The most challenging part of my job today is when you see students who need things and when the school is not able to accommodate the students for certain things. When there are programs in place that keep the building running but sometimes are difficult to challenge when a student or two or three have a need beyond the institutional directives. A student in the past really pointed out to me that a lot is done to help keep things flowing, but sometimes the way things are going don’t work for every single person. And even though it might make sense to keep things going for the majority of people, it’s difficult. Something else that’s difficult is when a student opens up about something troubling that’s beyond academics. When a student says something to me about something going on in his or her life about getting bullied or having something going on at home, I think that hits hard for me. I get upset by stuff like that. It hurts.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out as a special needs educator? You always have to look at your students as people before anything else. To me that has been the most successful thing. For better or for worse, whether they’re having a bad day or a good day, understanding that they’re people capable of the same exact feelings, of their own kind of intelligence, of their own kind of mischief even. If you can appreciate that on the human level, then all the other stuff is a lot easier to do. It’s a lot easier to teach when you understand that you’re teaching someone who’s a real person inside first.

Jolie, Dustin and Ethan at a fundraising event for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? Getting to talk to the students, and if you’re lucky enough, to catch a day where a lightbulb goes on; that’s a great day. When they talk to you like a person and they talk about what’s important to them, they just light up when someone is willing to listen to what they’re interested in. Those kind of moments can happen all the time if they believe someone cares about what they have to say. That to me is the best part of my day, just taking those extra seconds to look them in the eyes when they’re speaking and to let them finish their sentence. You can tell they feel valued, and that’s important. It’s one of those things, when you figure it out, how could there be any other way to do things?

Dustin and his students in Nicaragua with BuildOn

If you had a $1,000 grant for your classroom, what would you buy? I would love to have some sort of periodical that allows us to access things that are present and relevant in their lives. With the vast majority of students I have now, The New York Times would be something great. Also, I would love to get everyone a really nice journal. I love Moleskine journals. To let my students have something like that, that they’d want to keep for the rest of their lives, that they could just put anything into that’s not just a notebook, but something where they can write thoughts they’re really invested in.

What’s your favorite thing to teach? English. When they look at a piece of writing as more than just the words on the page. When they start connecting the meaning of rhetorical devices and strategies. I also like to conference them with writing. Then, I don’t spend weeks and weeks of my life grading papers. If I take two of their essays and spend time talking to them, I feel like they learn more about writing and how to use language effectively in that conference than they do in a whole week’s worth of lessons that sort of wash over them. I really like teaching writing. One of the things that fires me up is when I get to ask the questions and then I’m pretty much out of the conversation, when we get in a class debate and I get to listen to them go back and forth between each other.

Learn more about Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy and Dustin’s son Ethan in the video below: 

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To the Overwhelmed Moms Jealous of Those 'Perfect' Moms on Facebook

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I grew up thinking when I became a parent, I’d love my children equally. Now that I’m here, I can’t exactly say that. I honestly don’t feel as if my love has a measure. First off, the way my babies make me feel is not something I could ever express in quantity; it’s just there. It’s warm, comforting and forever. Both of my babies are my world and my absolute everything. I couldn’t chose one over the other; they are mine, they are my heart and soul. Something “equal” requires an amount. Instead, my love is infinite.

Secondly, my children are two extremely different people. They are tiny human beings with gigantic personalities and “vibes” all of their own. My daughter, Dakota, makes me shake my head and giggle like there is no tomorrow. My son, Charlie, is medically complex, and he makes me feel comfort, peace and pure innocent joy, always. They’re different, and they’re what stitch my heart together.

In the same sense that my children are different, they have changed me equally, drastically and differently. I’m so far from the person I was before I first saw two pink lines. Being a parent changes you like you wouldn’t imagine, in ways that steal your heart and challenge your patience each and every day.

Parenting is real, raw, dare I say, hardcore stuff (laughing because yes, I do dare to say). It’s ridiculous that I’m repulsed by ketchup, yet puke, poop, stomach acid (my son has a feeding tube in his stomach), snot and other bodily fluids just don’t faze me. I’m a mom now, and those things just come with the title. There are so many things people don’t tell you about parenthood. I believe the reason they don’t is because most people want to seem like the “perfect” parent.

It doesn’t exist. So just stop.

You will see the happy faces on Facebook. All the cute outfits, milestones and “had a great day at the park!” posts. Meanwhile, you’re sitting there: no bra, hair up and most likely not washed, babies crying and banging on the door. (Did I not mention you’re sitting on the toilet, attempting to find a peaceful moment?) Eventually, feelings of jealousy, failure or being overwhelmed will catch up to you.

I want you to stop, momma. Stop comparing yourself. Facebook is just a page where everybody posts only the things they want people to see. It’s where everybody puts on the face they want. They’re just as jealous when they go through their news feeds while sitting on their toilet while their baby bangs on the door. Understand that, momma.

You’re going to cry, you’re going to raise your voice and your going to learn. Please remember that. You’re learning just as much as you are teaching your child. You will learn more about yourself, life and love than you can possibly imagine, and just when you think you’re done learning, you will learn some more.

Some days will just drag on and on. You’ll feel like giving up, and when you finally catch that break you’ve been waiting for — you miss it. You miss the chaos, the footsteps, the giggles, and the feeling of being needed and unconditionally loved. Still, I urge you to enjoy your moment. Do something for you, and embrace the fact that you’re a mom and basically a superhero.

Skip the laundry, take a real shower and just breathe, because before you know it, you’ll be running back to those little stinkers you call your own.

A version of this post originally appeared on Four East.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Dad Who Grieves

The often unnoticed, or not noticed nearly enough, member of the grief process when a family has lost a child is the father.

I’m not sure I understand this fully. I’ve read articles that seem to indicate that because a mother often spends more time with a child and is more nurturing, that their grief is more visible and even more intense, therefore getting more notice or seeming to greater on some “grief scale.”

I don’t buy that.

Clearly I know all men are unique, just as all women are unique, so please forgive anything I’m about to say that feels like a generalization or a stereotype.

Here’s what I know. I know my man. I know Mattie’s father. And he grieves deeply. Today he wept over an empty laundry basket that will never hold his son’s dirty clothes again.

A man at his core has an inborn desire to fix, to care, to support and provide safety for his family.

And when a child is lost, it shakes the very core of his nature. Something has happened that cannot be fixed. Something has happened that is honestly out of his control and the safety of his family is in jeopardy. Everything is broken.

So let me speak to you from my heart, because honestly I don’t think there are enough people talking to you or sharing in your pain.

tracie loux the mighty

Dear Father Who Grieves,

I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry your child is gone. I’m sorry the dreams you had for the future of this precious life have been smashed before your very eyes. I’m sorry for the walks you will not take, the balls that will not be thrown, the games you will not attend. I’m sorry for the kisses that will no longer be planted on your cheek, for the tea parties unattended, for the girl you will not walk down the aisle. I’m sorry you won’t watch your child get on the bus for kindergarten, tell you about his first crush, or cry on your shoulder over a broken heart.

I’m sorry for the overwhelming sadness that sometimes cripples your ability to enjoy life. I’m sorry for the ache in your chest when you lie down at night and the punch in the gut every morning when you wake up.

I’m sorry that you are hurt and angry. You feel cheated and robbed. Life isn’t making much sense right now. And I’m so sorry for every trite word thrown at you, for every insensitive utterance that has hit your ears and caused you more pain.

This can’t be fixed and that very truth infuriates you. Things are broken, and you don’t have a single tool to put it back together. Your tool box is simply empty.

You look around and your family is hurting. You feel helpless to be strong for them all, to hold them up in your own weakness. It’s paralyzing at times. You see your wife and maybe you don’t know how to reach into her pain — maybe it scares you. She’s changed in many ways and you’re worried you won’t get her back. You get mad. Sometimes it might even come out as anger toward her, but you know deep down, it’s not her you’re mad at. It’s this unspeakable pain that has woven a thread through the very fabric of your lives that causes rage to burn. Be mad. Shake your fist at the sky for a moment.

Then grab your wife and hold her close. She’s the one who knows your pain more than any other. She doesn’t need you to fix what cannot be fixed, she just needs you to be there. She wants to connect with your heart and love you through this. It’s OK to be broken with her. Marriages fall apart under this kind of pressure. Guard yours. Be broken together, but hold tight in the brokenness and don’t let go.

You may have other children who have lost a sibling. You hold them as they cry. They ask questions you cannot answer. You’re the guy they look up to. You’re the one who’s supposed to have the answers and make everything feel better. I’m sorry you feel helpless. But you have something amazing to give — just you. Wrap those strong arms around them and simply listen. Hold them close and tell them that you understand, that you are hurting, too.

Maybe friendships you once had are barely existing. Perhaps no one knows what to say, so they say nothing. Maybe the men in your life have simply disappeared, or maybe they think you’re just find because they don’t ask or are afraid to ask. I’m sorry if you’ve lost friendships at a time when you need them the most.

I’m sure sometimes it’s hard to talk and find words for all you are feeling. Maybe you’ve never been great at that anyway. I encourage you to find your words. Write them down. Talk to someone you trust. Get your family into counseling.

Most of all, I want you to know that I notice you. I notice you as I look into the eyes of my own husband, and I’m sorry if you have been unnoticed by those around you. I want you to know that I acknowledge your loss and your pain.

Nothing trite, no poems or verses.

Simply know this: I am so very sorry.

A version of this post originally appeared on From the Heart.

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16 Secrets of Dads of Children With Special Needs

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After having one of our Mighty contributors explain six secrets of special needs moms, we got to wondering what secrets dads of children with special needs have. So The Mighty asked some of these fathers what they wish the world understood about them. This is what they had to say.

1. “We cry. We worry. There are times we want to scream. Is it hard sometimes? Sure. But the good outweighs the bad. We’re tough as nails with a tender heart.”

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2. “It’s your life 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Everywhere he goes, I go. That’s my job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

3. “I need time with my buddies. Please invite me, too. I’ve had friends tell me they don’t invite me to things because they feel bad about taking me away from my family.”

4. “As strong as I may seem on the outside, I’m scared as hell on the inside for what the future holds for my little guy.”

 

5. “At times it can be lonely because others don’t understand and back away.”

6. “I don’t find anything more or less challenging. I’d be parenting and loving my daughter the same way regardless. The future is bright, and I can’t wait for what’s next!” 

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7. “I worry about everything with my son. I worry about if he’s being treated well at school, will he get married… I read every bit of literature, blog etc. that I can… I’m with him every step of the way.”

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8. “[The] fear of the future, when I’m no longer here, brings me to my knees. I love my boy so much; I want to protect him with every fiber of my heart and soul.”

9. “It will never be what you had expected fatherhood to be. It will be much better. Not easier, mind you, but certainly better.”

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10. “I wish [others] would stop feeling sorry for us and saying, ‘It must be hard work.’ We get on with it and never complain… I have never complained. Ever.”

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11. “It’s hard balancing everything, but it’s lots of fun watching your children accomplish something new. Your career aspirations take a back seat to much more important stuff.”

12. “Treat me the same as you would every other father. Treat my daughter the same as any other child. Educate your children about special needs children. Teach your children to celebrate differences, not accentuate them. My hope is not for me but for my child, who loves you and your child.”

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13. “We’re not the [reckless] dads you see on TV. We’re fighting and praying and supporting our kids with everything we have.” 

 

14. “I am much, much more than you might ever imagine a father ought to be.”

15. “No matter if I’m tired, angry, upset, sad or just having a bad day, one smile from my daughter makes everything better.”

16. “We wish others could understand what a privilege it is to serve someone who needs just you.”

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What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

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11 Important Lessons I Learned Growing Up in a Children’s Hospital

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I began getting sick when I was only 11. I traded in a life of running around at recess and trading snacks with my friends to walking the walls of The Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto and making friends with the wonderful ladies who would deliver my meals.

My life was different, yes, but life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

Here are 11 things I learned from growing up in a hospital, and why I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

1. Your family is not limited to who sleeps in your hospital room. Family can be every person who enters your hospital room.

Whether it’s the team of doctors doing rounds at 7:00 am, or a nurse or a child life specialist, each of these people come in with a common purpose of wanting to see you better. And they work to get you there. They stay up late and wake up early wracking their brains trying to discover ways to combat every curveball your body throws at them. It doesn’t take long for you to love them and for them to love you.

2. The only reason to ever look at what someone else has is to make sure they have enough.

You learn to appreciate every moment, celebrate every victory and be grateful for every breath because someone across the hall is begging for his or her child to take another one. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t undermine your victories for theirs. It can always be worse and it will always get better.

3. Your future will be figured out for you before you’re old enough to realize it.

I walked into the hospital at a young age, cursing anyone who came near me with a needle. It took me two visits to realize that I wanted nothing more than to be the one on the other side. Today, I’m studying to become a pediatric oncology nurse thanks to each and every one of the nurses that have ever taken care of me — even the bad ones! The love of a nurse is unlike any other.

4. “True strength doesn’t come from being strong all the time. It comes from having fears and doubts, falling to them, succumbing to them and then rising above them.”

Someone I love once told me that. Sick kids made sure that I knew that I didn’t have to be a superhero all the time, and that it was OK to not be OK. I learned to accept my fears and sadness and move forward with happiness.

5. Difficult paths lead to beautiful destinations.

Being sick isn’t an easy or beautiful journey, but after fighting all of these years I’ve realized that the greatest things have come out of the hardest fights. I’ve been taught to deeply appreciate any victory. I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of my best friends and the most inspiring little kids. I’ve found what makes me happy and what makes life worth living.

6. You can take the child out of a children’s hospital but you can’t take the children’s hospital out of a child.

The hospital will always be a second home to me. It will always be a safe place and it will always be in my life.

7. Loving yourself is more important than being loved by others.

Truthfully, fighting these illnesses has been a very isolating journey. A lot of people have left — friends, family and even the people who swore they never would. At first I was hurt by it and my world would crumble each time, but eventually I learned the importance of loving myself and knowing I was capable of doing things alone.

8. When all else fails, ice chips and banana popsicles will prevail.

Enough said.

9. This is my reality, and that’s OK.

Someone once told me that I couldn’t possibly find happiness within the hospital. It took me a while to understand it, but I grew up in the hospital during the years of “self discovery.” I learned who I was as a person and the hospital was a part of that. My comfort foods and greatest pieces of advice came from within those walls and I won’t be ashamed of that.

10. Bad things happen to good people and we don’t know why.

This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to accept. I will never understand why a sweet little baby had to fight for every breath of her life only to be taken from us. But as long as we don’t understand we will keep fighting for better days.

11. The little things will always matter the most.

A “ticket to fly” after a long inpatient stay, a freshly made bed, a cup of hospital ice after being unable to eat for a while or watching the movie “White Chicks” with your nurse at 3:00 in the morning — these little gestures meant the world to me.

Follow this journey on #SimplySabrina.

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