To all of the father’s out there happy Fathers Day. My own father passed away in 1998 due to cancer so for him I always light a candle on this day. I still miss him and unfortunately I don’t have any real pictures of him. Fathers Day, for me, takes on a special meaning. I’m sure it takes on a special meaning for so many individuals parenting with a disability.
Historically I was never suppose to be a father. I grew up in a time when it wasn’t unusual to sterilize persons with disabilities to keep us from propagating. That was the ideology of the day and backed by legislation, the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act. It was finally repealed in 1972 but not before denying hundreds of potential parents an opportunity for a family. That is not exactly “ancient” history.
The moment the Alberta Eugenics Board letter showed up at my parents home in 1966 I knew exactly what it meant or I thought I did, I thought being a eunuch was the same as being sterilized. So before my parents got home from work to open the letter I was hitchhiking my 16 year old ass to Vancouver. I spend the next five years in my “hippy period” and the furthest thing from my mind was Fathers Day. And today not only am I grateful it never happened but my 88 year old mother is as well.
Not only am I a father but I’m also a grandfather. I don’t see them as much as I would like but you come to accept parenting from the sidelines.
I recall a good quadriplegic friend of mine back in the 80’s expressing his frustration of parenting from a wheelchair. Don had two very active boys. He talked about the difficulty and tumultuous mental attitude of having to watch someone else teach his boys how to do something as simple as throw a baseball or football. I didn’t give it much thought then but I did fifteen years later.
By that time I was also wheelchair dependent and had a growing active son of my own. He was involved in the usual sports (minus hockey) and I spend a lot of time watching soccer games from my car while parked on a side road close enough to see the field. Gravel parking lots and sunken grass soccer pitches don’t make for hospitable wheelchair venues.
I spend just as much time hoping a fowl ball wouldn’t come over the backstop and take out my car window as I sat there watching him play baseball. Again gravel and ball fields not designed for wheelchairs. I even had other sports parents tell me the first time they met me that they had assumed Sean’s mother was a single parent, never having seen his father.
I spend a lot of vacations watching from the porch of my ex-wife’s family cottage as Sean splash around in the lake. The closest I could get to that lake was the cottage porch. Being a father is all about your children and if it meant playing down the accessibility aspect of things, well you just did. I could not deprive my son his time with his cousins at the lake.
It’s the little things of fatherhood that create the darkest moments in your mind. The walk holding his hand or hoisting him onto my shoulders like so many parents do. It may be a little selfish but I actually envy fathers when I see these simple things.
My first visit to his school for a parent/teacher meeting wound up happening in the parking lot because the school wasn’t accessible. This was the early 90’s and I didn’t really think I had to announce my disability. It just didn’t dawn on me. When I questioned them their response was “we don’t have any students with disabilities”. When I asked them how many parents had disabilities they had no idea.
Being a father, or any parent, with a disability brings on unique challenges and for all of those fathers I send my own respect. To that deaf father whose child’s first language was signing or that blind father who had to rely on someone else to read a report card I send my respect.
We became fathers despite these challenges. We became fathers because, like anyone else, we want a family. Is that really that unusual? Fatherhood is about what we do and not what we can’t do. And for that I will always, without conditions, love my son. He is my life and my light regardless of how dim it may be at times.
Just one man’s opinion!