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What You Don’t Know About the Perspective of a Special Needs Dad

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I’ve always garnered strength (and the best info!) from a community of dedicated moms. Noticing a void amongst the fathers who must crave that same sense of community, I asked for a dad to submit his perspective of parenting a child with special needs. No one was more surprised than me when my own husband sent this.

Whether by choice, influence of society or just by the sheer fact that I am a handy fellow, I’m often posed with the question, “Can you fix it, Daddy?”

A simple question on the face of it. Glue this, bend that, reattach (insert random doll appendage here). But in reality, it’s a much deeper question for a dad. Being a dad is more than just fixing toys. It means being caring, tough, loving, stern, thoughtful, funny and strong all the time, and sometimes all at once. It means being a good role model in your thoughts and actions, a role model of how to love and treat your family and significant other. It means losing sleep and adding (or in my case losing) gray hairs when you realize you slipped up and didn’t have all the right answers. When you let your family feel pain or worry. When you failed to “fix it” whatever today’s “it” happened to be.

This is the daily struggle for a dad. How to keep his family happy, healthy and provided for. How to balance demands from work, home and family — again, all the time and sometimes all at once. You learn to be a master of multi-tasking, hoping you’ve remembered everything, only to realize you forgot to grab bread and milk on the way home. You internally curse yourself and vow to try harder tomorrow.

A dad’s work is never done. If you’re like me — a dad to a child with special needs — the pain and struggle are always front and center. You quietly burn inside watching your child experience relentless seizures. You feel you heart shatter when you watch their siblings cry and feel helpless. You feel like failure when you see sadness in your wife’s eyes. But these pains only strengthen your commitment to try harder, to stay strong, to love more. If we seem distant or quiet, we’re not. We’re thinking a thousand different things a thousand different ways. Ways to help, ways to love, ways to fix the troubles we face. When something needs fixing, we want to be the one you turn to.

To feel true joy as a dad, you learn it must come from your family. It comes from seeing your children discover new talents. The school play, a band concert, or even a homemade volcano. It comes from watching them set and achieve their own goals. Joy comes from watching your spouse’s hobbies and talents take off. The light in your child’s eyes when you glued their favorite figurine. A family day at the beach filled with laughter and fun is the fuel that dads run on. Every day you search for these moments. When you find them, you grab onto them fiercely. Because you know there are some days that are just plain awful. You need to tap these memories to keep yourself moving and maintain a positive outlook for yourself and family.

We often get caught up in making things perfect. In reality, when your child asks you to fix something, the expectation is only that you are there to help. To lend a hand, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on. It doesn’t need to be made whole or perfectly like new. They just want to know their problem is important to you and that you are there for them. Which of course, as a dad, you always will be. “Can you fix it Daddy?” I hope so, sweetheart. I hope so.

Follow this journey on Seizing Hope.

Originally published: October 8, 2015
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