Amo Raju, author and award-winning CEO of Disability Direct, writes for Working Dads.
“Daddy, daddy, sit me on your shoulders like he’s sitting over there…”
Thirty years later, I remember those words as if it was yesterday. My eldest child, my daughter, was around two-years-old and enjoying a sunny day in the park with my wife and I. Nearby a father had his son sat on his shoulders with the biggest smile on his face. My little girl wanted the same experience, and I wasn’t able to oblige.
You see, I’m a physically disabled man who was now a father. Let’s look at that sentence again.
To most children, ‘father’ or ‘Dad’ is the first observation which usually describes the grumpy male who just doesn’t listen to his other half as much as he should. Yet to many disabled men, the impairment will take precedence in fatherhood and as in my case, led to feelings of inadequacy. Not being able to run around with or after excitable toddlers, pick them up for long when they are too tired, the list can be unique for each disabled person.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never resented other fathers for being able to do all the things which I could not, yet it did occasionally push me into my own dark little corner where I would often feel sorry for myself until Mrs. Raju promptly reminded me of areas where I did excel as ‘Daddy’. And that my friends, is the area upon which we must focus.
In time, I realised that yes, my children wanted to run around and physically exhaust all within their immediate surroundings but that was not all they needed. Like all rug rats, they had endless questions about the world around them and here, my position was unrivalled. ‘Daddy, why….? Daddy how….? Daddy which….?’ To this day, my children often question me before reaching for Google, although truth be told, nowadays, I tend to lack in detail, nevertheless, they still get a ballpark answer to most of their queries.
Anyway, my point is that as a disabled man, I soon realised that it was far too easy for me to feel inadequate which steered me away from considering my strengths. Disabled or not, being a father is not an easy role. All men question their own suitability for the job which has a daily-changing specification. We continually compare ourselves to men from our own pasts and indeed, present with the added expectation of duties for the ‘modern man’.
However, whilst we may be underdogs in one arena, we rule in the next. Disabled dads wrestle the same demons as non-disabled dads. That’s fatherhood, nothing to do with disability – just life. Also remember this….your children are growing up exposed to disability, social prejudice and with an experience other children can only read about. They will become adults with a little more empathy and compassion and empowered, educated understanding of a topic which people only think about when it happens to them or a loved one later in life. They will be mature beyond their years and id anything like mine, a credit to you.
All very positive hey? Well let me say, I recently became a Grandad and I can assure you, the ghosts of the inadequate father came back to remind me that I was now not only disabled but old and disabled – that’s another article for another day!
Amo Raju is the author of Walk Like A Man.