Diary of a Special Needs Dad

The perception of “dad’s place within the family” in America has evolved over time alongside changes in gender roles and society as a whole.  While this perception pertains to all fathers, everywhere, it goes double for father’s that parent children with special needs.  It is from this unique perspective that I would like to offer up some advice on how to approach and relate to parents of children with special needs in a way that will be perceived as positive, because frankly, something needs to be done.  Let me explain… 

If you would like to relate with me and/or my child, let’s keep things appropriate…

As humans, we seek out opportunities to relate to one another—it’s what makes us what we are; however, being human, we are flawed by nature and often make mistakes.  I can’t help but wonder what goes through the mind of the “well-intended” stranger that decides to open their mouth to offer what they believe is an empathetic question or remark regarding my child with special needs—little does the stranger know that their lack of understanding can infect every word that come out of their mouth.

I appreciate your sympathy for our situation, but please don’t encourage my child to give/accept hugs from strangers.  I appreciate your willingness to explore solutions to my “problems”, but please keep your opinions about vaccines causing my child’s genetic disorder to yourself.

As we build an appropriate relationship, know that dad is more than just a babysitter…

For whatever reason, the natural tendency in today’s world is to assume that since a child is accompanied by an older male figure, that person must be some sort of paid caregiver.  Dads are people too, and we like being invited just as much as moms do!

I appreciate your concern for my wife’s schedule; however, I’m actually more than capable of bringing our child to the next play date, doctors appointment, or anywhere else for that matter.

As I parent a child with special needs, my family will face very unique challenges, and that’s ok…

Yes, we do have to plan a bit longer and take a few more things into consideration when prepping for trips and activities—in a weird way, the extra work actually helps us gain extra appreciation.

Yes, we may have to deal with uncomfortable situations like having to cope with the fact that our child is in a residential placement during the week and can only come home for the weekends.  I appreciate you trying to offer words of sympathy, but I would rather acknowledge and deal with the normal emotions associated with separation from my children rather than “pretend like my child is simply having an early college experience.”  Lending an ear or a hug, if appropriate, will do just fine.

The last point I want to make is one of the most important in my opinion.  I appreciate your desire to learn more about our situation, but please don’t assume that my child is all I want talk about—I’m interested in your family as well!  Please don’t assume that because I parent a child with special needs that my life remains in a solemn and serious state with a hint of gloom at all times—things actually couldn’t be further from the truth!

I thank God daily for the opportunity to be my son’s father.
I feel lucky that I can learn from my son as I love and care for him as we navigate this life together.

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