As Father’s Day approaches, we remember fathers of all stripes, but one segment of the population of fathers that we would like to focus on this year is dads with disabilities.
While there are many resources for fathers of children with disabilities, it is more difficult to find resources for fathers who have a disability themselves.
Perhaps this is because we live in a culture that sometimes assumes unconsciously and mistakenly that people with disabilities are not likely to be parents. Some may entertain stereotypes about disabled individual’s ability to have children or to provide for them once they are born.
But the facts speak against these unfortunate assumptions. Unfortunately, little data is collected on the prevalence of parents with disabilities and their children. However, recent research from Through the Looking Glass indicates that at least 4.1 million (6.2%) of parents in the United States have a disability. Disabled Parenting.com
But popular perceptions do not match this reality. According to a landmark document published in 2012 by the National Council on Disability, which advises the President and Congress, “Discrimination against parents with disabilities is all too common throughout history, and it remains an obstacle to full equality for people with disabilities in the present.”
The report goes on to make specific policy recommendations to keep parents with disabilities and their children from being separated, either by losing custody unjustly or by lacking medical resources.
But the value of being a dad despite disability is evident from the many stories of amazing fathers who faced disability head on.
One example was Glen Dick whose career as a landscape architect, his sense of adventure and zest for life were temporarily slowed, but not defeated, by a spinal cord injury in 1995. The birth of his daughter helped him see that his limitations were actually a blessing that led to hours of creative imaginative play.
Another father, featured on UnitedSpinal.org named Dave, a father and husband, discusses how he learned to live with his spinal cord injury. Being unable to go backpacking after his injury was a significant challenge for Dave and his oldest son. They used to enjoy long-distance summer trips to various areas of northern New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. His three sons were 15, 10 and 4 at the time of his injury.
Dave says he was more present for his oldest son post-injury. “I haven’t had the crutch of being able to take him out into the wilderness to get him out of the house. We would do other things like go for drives or on hikes on paved trails,” he says. “I have become a better father to him because I’m not off doing those things.”
As for his youngest son, Dave says, “I think it has turned out for the best because my youngest son does not enjoy outdoor activities like backpacking and camping at all,” he says. “My youngest does not really remember me walking, so he has had a completely different path than the others.”
Dave picked up new hobbies to replace backpacking. For example, he found a love for wildlife photography and building computers with his youngest son, which has led him to pursue a computer tech certificate.
The fact is that fatherhood is both a blessing and a challenge, and that is true for everyone, regardless of disability. Fathers with physical limitations cultivate joy in their homes and work hard for their families. Just ask their children!