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How I'm Learning to Accept I'm Not the Dad I Expected To Be

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I always expected I would have children during my lifetime. When I found out I was going to be a dad, it seemed logical, the natural order of things. There was no panic or apprehension. I was mentally prepared, and I knew exactly the kind of father I was going to be.

I would be strong, dependable, without fault and a role model for my children.

For all my self-assuredness, however, I had made a flimsy, baseless assumption — that hearing and reading about the sleepless nights, the loss of free time and the financial drain would somehow prepare me for reality. It was a trap of my own making, and it hit me hard, particularly after Henry was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

In hindsight, my biggest mistake was borderline delusional. I took heed of all the advice, identified all the likely issues and problems I would face and then set about resolving them in my head. I considered everything, and you know what? I had it all sorted. How easy it was! There was no conceivable problem I couldn’t solve! I was SUPERDAD!

A perfect version of myself…

…how idiotic.

Unfortunately, the trouble with hypothetical problems created in your own mind is that they are incredibly easy to solve. The thing about Superdad is that he is invulnerable. He is never exhausted. He is never impatient, frustrated, angry or sad. And most important — he never compromises. Ever.

But wait! Why can’t Superdad exist in the real world?

He does. However, there is one key difference. Real-world Superdad has pockets full of kryptonite.

Kryptonite makes Superdad vulnerable. He is exhausted. He is impatient, frustrated, angry and sad.

Kryptonite leads to compromise, and compromise is what he does. Little by little, Superdad is eroded by the kryptonite in his pockets. As time goes on he starts to find kryptonite in his coat and shoes. The building he works in is built from kryptonite. It’s everywhere.

He starts to fall apart.

Slowly, he comes to the realization that although he’s doing his best by his children and his family, he is not the man he hoped he would be. He is floored. And all those complaints he heard from other parents that he vowed he would never say become his words.

Imaginary Superdad, of course, continues to fight the good fight. Except now, he’s become a judgmental bastard. In between heroics, he gives real-world Superdad disapproving looks.

He tells him that he has failed, that he should loathe himself.

Superdad almost pushed me lower than I ever thought I could go. How would I ever be able to support Henry throughout life without his strength?

The clarity needed to resolve this only recently came to me. Superdad doesn’t exist. But I do. And Henry has me.

Floored but willing, compromising but resolved, exhausted but attentive.

Henry’s dad.

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This post first appeared on Henry’s Dad: Finding Hope in Child Disability.

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Originally published: February 11, 2015
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