Dads of Disabled Kids – The True Myth Busters

Photo: Judy Berna

Raising kids isn’t easy. I think anyone who’s ever strapped a car seat into their back seat will agree. But life can get pretty hairy when you’re one of the millions of parents in the trenches with a disabled child.

No one understands this more than Glen Finland. Her candid book Next Stop: A Memoir of Family shows what life was like as she and her husband raised their 24 year old son who has autism. It’s an enlightening book for those of us who aren’t raising a disabled child, and sort of a life raft for parents who can identify with her struggles.

Since her book’s release date, some revealing emails have been showing up in Ms.Finland’s inbox. Moms weren’t the only ones trying to survive day-to-day without a road map. Dads were too. Men often like to fix and protect. But disabilities generally can’t be fixed; they have to be managed. Sometimes even the most loving, involved dads have trouble re-wiring their brains to stop believing that if they try hard enough, their child can be “fixed.” And this is where moms generally step in.

Finland says the men behind these emails shatter the myths of being unable to be tender and caring.  Just like women, they also grieve for their child’s lost opportunities, and worry about the struggles their child will face in the years ahead. According to the author, the difference is how they handle it:

“Once upon a time fathers were expected to focus mainly on the long-term financial burden of providing for a child with special needs, while leaving full responsibility for the daily care of the child up to the mother. This meant these concerned dads were often left out of the day-by-day interactions that come from doctor’s visits, therapy sessions, or even the supportive chats found at playgrounds or PTA meetings. But it’s no longer a given that fathers are more comfortable at work than at home with their families, or that only women are hardwired to protect their young. Men care. They care deeply.”

The comments she received from these men are touching.

From the father of a 6-year old with developmental delays:

I spend so much time wondering if I am doing the right thing. As a father, I feel that so many dads are dealing with grief and loss, but I know that our son has made me a better man.

And this one from the father of a 9-year old boy newly diagnosed with autism:

I am 47 now and can’t even remember the last time I let myself cry. Probably never? Your book just told me out loud to wake up and do something, to plan for the future, to reset my priorities, to finally realize that the rest of my family, my other kids , my marriage have been affected… And I see now the heroism of my wife.

On Father’s Day, the one day where dads across the country will be showered with construction paper cards and tacky striped ties, let’s not forget about all the dads who carry a different weight on their back. The ones who want to fight a diagnosis that tries to define their child. They often feel helpless and alone. Forgotten. But they’re not.  Because just the fact that they’ll acknowledge their struggle makes them a better dad–the kind of dad a kid is lucky to have any day of the year.

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