Father’s Day, like almost everything else in your life, is redefined in a special needs family. In ways large and small, the challenges of special needs parenting are often magnified on days when typically developing families can celebrate in special ways. In a special needs family, though, you learn to celebrate the mundane.
Being a special needs father is not something you sign up for. For some, it breaks them – and their marriage – irrecoverably. For others, it is galvanizing, launching these men into a world of more hands-on care, altered expectations, and reimagined dreams. My husband is clearly in the second category.
For years, my husband stayed home with Mr. Diggy. It was easier for him to step away from his job than it was for me, so, therefore, he was – and is – the primary hands-on caregiver.
Having spent years at home with Mr. Diggy, my husband knows the neighbors and neighborhood better than I do – especially those who are home during the day. On more than one occasion he has crossed paths with – but not actually spoken with – another dad with a special needs son.
This boy is older than Mr. Diggy and has physical challenges. He is most often seen in an adaptive device somewhere between a wheelchair and a stroller. As is the case with Mr. Diggy, he is often on the run. The other dad looks rather wistfully at my husband, chasing Mr. Diggy through the yard, across the playground, or down the street.
Meanwhile, my husband regards the other man with an inverse sort of envy, hearing the two in a constant flow of conversation with each other. Neither of these men chose this path of parenting – they each hold part of the dream. One has a son with the physical prowess to play almost any sport at a high level – if only he could comprehend the rules. The other has a son with the ability to articulate his thoughts to teammates and coaches, but not to run, jump, or throw.
Though we don’t know this other dad, this day has been most certainly redefined for him as well. For a special needs dad who is a primary caregiver, celebrating Father’s Day isn’t objectively a tall order. You want to sleep in, maybe appreciate some of your kids’ accomplishments, get some fresh air, and maybe go out to dinner. In real life, none of those things are simple in a special needs family. Here are some ways Father’s Day has been redefined in our home.
…breakfast in bed is redefined as trying to sleep in while being jumped on by a kid holding a fistful of dry cereal.
…a school choir concert is redefined as cheering for your nonverbal tambourine player to play for three entire minutes without taking off to run in front of the choir.
…a science project is redefined as sitting in the backyard, “listening” to the flowers and “watching” the wind.
…a class presentation is redefined as a video of your kid rocking it on their AAC device.
…the final game of the season is redefined as two innings where all twenty-seven kids bat, regardless of outs, followed by a “party” that most of the kids are too dysregulated to attend.
…camping is redefined as playing hide and seek under the dining room table with a blanket.
…a beach day is redefined as a special needs surf day (where you have to drag you wetsuit-clad kid out of the water at the end).
…your Father’s Day dinner is redefined as your favorite take-out meal that you eat in one sitting, where you may, or may not be, the only person at the table for the entire meal.
How does Father’s Day look in your home? Please comment below with what it looks like in your world.
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