I have always heard it said that anyone can be a father but that it takes someone special to be a dad. If so, then it seems only fitting to say that it takes someone incredible to be the dad of a child with special needs. To describe my husband Richie as incredible doesn’t begin to describe the amazing father that he is to both of our children, but I haven’t always felt this way.
When I met Richie 20 years ago, I was immediately drawn to his warmth, honesty, carefree spirit, authenticity and smile, but most importantly his mind. Complete opposites, he challenged me to look at the world through different points of view and it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was someone I could see myself with for a very long time. As most girls do, I pictured our lives together, married with two children and never once thinking that the experiences we would face could or ever would change how I felt.
The truth is that the circumstances we experience in life can deeply affect who we are and how we feel about and respond to the people in our lives. Even the closest of relationships suffer not because of different responses to these circumstances, but because of individual perceptions of how others should react. It was this very thing that almost ruined my marriage.
The birth of a premature baby and subsequent disability diagnosis are roads I never believed I would cross, but life knocks us down at times. It is through these difficult periods in life that true character is revealed. To say that my marriage was challenged by the aforementioned is an understatement to say the least. Just three years ago Richie and I found ourselves in a place where we were not sure our marriage would survive. Devastated by tremendous loss we both experienced grief, anger and resentment towards each other.
Even though we were both experiencing these things, I was so consumed with my own journey that I forgot that my husband was on a journey of his own. As a society we understand the deep emotional impact that having a child has on a woman, but we often overlook a father’s experience.
The experience of having a child in the NICU and then of raising a child with a severe disability is something that you are never prepared for. The hopelessness and terror of knowing that your child may not survive or may end up with life-changing challenges that parents in the NICU feel is the greatest shock that many of us may ever know in our lifetime, but for dads this fear is often magnified by the pressure placed on the male species to be strong.
Strength was just one of the many expectations I had for Richie during this time, and when my expectations were not met anger and resentment were felt. Six months later our daughter was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and I began this long struggle of never being happy with the kind of father he was.
Expectations shatter your perception because they never define who someone is, they only define who you believe they should be. The smallest things such as the way that Richie bathed and played with and fed our daughter brought constant criticism. I found myself angry at everything that he did.
My husband has always been an amazing father, but my expectations of who I thought he should be made me believe otherwise. I have finally come to understand that the differences that brought us together 20 years ago are the same differences that make us both the best parents we can be. We balances each other as a couple, but even more importantly as parents giving our children exactly what they need.
During June we honor and celebrate dads. The honesty, warmth, carefree spirit and intellectual characteristics that made me fall in love with Richie are the same characteristics that make me love and appreciate him as a father. Our children are blessed with a dad who plays, loves, accepts, teaches, encourages, disciplines and most importantly a dad who is present. Our ways of parenting and of showing care towards our children are different, but each not less important or effective. Thank you Richie for setting an amazing example of exactly who a dad, not just a father should be.