Redefining Fatherhood: Parenting a Child With a Disability

a woman smiling
Curated by
Kristen Sachs
Content via In The News
In The News
Curated by
Kristen Sachs

Like many new fathers, Mel felt like he’d reached the pinnacle of manlihood when his daughter was born. He foresaw milestones like first steps, schooling achievements, graduation, and even a wedding day for his daughter. But things changed for Mel when he found out his daughter had been diagnosed with a severe intellectual disability.

a father puts his arm around his daughter who has an intellectual disability

Everything Mel had imagined for his daughter suddenly faded away, and he was left with questions he didn’t immediately have answers to.

“What should you do? This isn’t what fatherhood is all about. Or is it? News to you. This is what your fatherhood is all about. You have just boarded a roller coaster that makes few stops. Fathers of disability—take note. A difficult life awaits you, and your family needs you.”

With Mel’s idea of fatherhood now turned upside down, he decided he had to do three things to right his notion of what a father is and how he was going to be a great dad to his daughter.

Redefine Your Manliness

“What truly defines a man?” writes Mel. “True manliness has no specific criteria or definition but is more a measure of one’s ability to provide.” And adapting to your family’s needs is essential. “The difference in Fathering Disability is that you will need to set aside your pre-conceived definition of provider and learn to do whatever comes before you.”

Reset Your Goals

Setting realistic goals is another necessity in this life. “Give some serious thought to the idealistic goals you may have set for your child,” shares Mel. “In lieu of a picturesque romping childhood filled with playful and happy-go-lucky Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties, you may find yourself dredged in endless appointments with any number of specialists.”

Renew Your Commitment

To be fully engaged in parenting a child with a severe disability, a high level of commitment is necessary.

"Fathering Disability requires a degree of dedication and commitment uncommon in a “normal” household."

You will be your child’s advocate. Together with other family members, you will navigate the waters of this unexpected life. And educating yourself along the way will make the journey a little easier. Life doesn’t always pan out the way we expected. Sometimes it takes a little soul searching and a mental reboot in order to face the new path before us. 

What tips do you have for others who might be facing a fork in the road? Share them with us for a chance to be featured on AbleThrive.

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ParentingKids with Disabilities