“The most important thing I’ve learned from being a parent is to put my needs aside and put my family’s first.”
Eric Anderson is the father of 3-year-old Miley Love. When he was 18 years old, Eric had a C6 spinal fracture while wrestling with his brother, and became a quadriplegic. And at that point in time, he thought “being a father was not in his future.”
A shift in perspective, fueled by love
Eric recalls initially being self-conscious about his injury, and could not imagine having a partner, let alone a family. But all that changed when he met his wife, Karalyn. It was the world of adaptive sports that brought both of them together. They first met at a wheelchair rugby tournament – Karalyn was working on her physical therapy doctorate, while Eric was an athlete, and they started dating when Karalyn became a volunteer for Magee’s wheelchair rugby team.
“After meeting Karalyn, I was comfortable with myself, and we were able to have a great relationship."
After dating for a year, Eric and Karalyn got married, and have been together for 9 years since. “The thought of becoming a Dad was now more prevalent,” says Eric. “The reality was frightening.” Three years ago, Karalyn became pregnant with their first child.
“Starting a family with a spinal cord injury can be a process filled with obstacles and disappointments which require the patience of a saint."
Becoming a dad
Through it all, Eric had a newfound respect and appreciation towards Karalyn, and his love for her grew even more. And on November 24, 2012, Miley was born a healthy baby. The moment Miley was born, Eric immediately became aware of his role as a father – one who unconditionally loves his child and will protect her at all costs. He also admits having anxiety of being responsible for someone else. However, he knew that regardless, his daughter is his utmost priority.
“It is no longer about me, but now about Miley, and making sure she has everything she needs to succeed in life: providing a loving home, teaching her responsibilities, hoping we have done enough so she will make the right decisions when presented with tough choices.”
Being a father with a spinal cord injury does have its challenges, particularly when it comes to physical tasks such as picking Miley up or dressing her. “Having little hand function makes the easiest tasks difficult,” Eric says. “Just picking Miley up without core muscles was difficult, impossible sometimes. Getting Miley dressed was out of the question because the clothes were so petite.”
But over time, Eric found a way to make it work. Besides modifying Miley’s crib by adding a door so that he can get her in and out, he also learned how to adapt the way he does things. As a result, tasks eventually got easier for him. As Miley grew older, she started helping Eric out as well. “The more she grew up, the more helpful she became. At three years old, she is one of the most independent toddlers I know.” For instance, Miley helps by holding her legs up when Eric changes her diapers.
“In the end, being a father is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is also the most rewarding. The pride I feel when my daughter hugs me and tells me that she loves me gets me emotional every time.”
And that is the true gift of parenting.
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