Wheelchair Fatherhood

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“A pessimist sees the difficulty in any opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” - Winston Churchill

To say that paralysis is a difficulty is an enormous example of understatement. I’ve heard it said that paralysis either makes you or breaks you; I disagree. Paralysis definitely breaks you, there’s no question about that. The truth is that it is ultimately up to the paralyzed individual to remake themselves. I have been living with paralysis for almost seventeen years. I’m a C6/7 quadriplegic as a result of an auto accident. I am also a father.

I was forty when I was injured; my daughter was twelve. Up until my accident we had a very active outdoor life. We sailed, windsurfed, ran 5ks, rollerbladed… Right before the accident we had become very fond of climbing on the giant boulders near a local river. I remember thinking in the hospital: I won’t be able to climb on the rocks with my daughter anymore. This was just the beginning of an avalanche of painful thoughts of parental loss: I’ll never be able to dance at her wedding, I’ll never teach her to sail. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my accident it’s that negative thoughts like this can lead you down a dark road. If left unabated they will never let you return.

In parenting, just like every other important endeavor, it is essential to focus on what one can do and not on what one can’t do. Accepting one’s limitations is not the same as giving up. 

Quadriplegic man next to a wheelbarrow statue with his grown daughter crouched on top

Over the course of time I had to learn to accept that many of the things I’d loved doing with my daughter were lost forever. Dwelling on their loss would not help to bring them back. In fact, focusing on the losses will prevent one from being able to find new activities to enjoy together. We worked together to find ways to enjoy life. We started small; going to the mall, maybe going into the city to explore accessibility. We invented games, watched movies. We created ways of playing wheelchair soccer and went on wheelchair rolls together where she used my backup wheelchair. Do I wish I could windsurf? Absolutely. But we accept my physical limitations and move forward.

In reality, the most important roles of parenting have little to do with physical abilities. The ultimate role of any parent is to teach our children to become exceptional adults. The lessons of compassion, ethical behavior, financial responsibility, the importance of a good education, a positive work ethic and personal responsibility are paramount and don’t require any physical abilities. What better way to teach perseverance than by the example of facing life in a wheelchair with a positive attitude?

The going is rough, at times impossible. There are numerous setbacks and failures. The race is hard and long, but incredibly worthwhile. When it comes to wheelchair parenting it’s crucial to focus on and do those things that one is capable of doing, accept the fact that there will be things one will be unable to do and challenge the things that may be possible. Just because life is hard doesn’t mean it can’t be great. And for the record; I danced at my daughter’s wedding.

Broken Dreams

Waste no tears on broken dreams. For those dreams were never yours.

Mere fantasies borrowed from future days, that can never be restored.

For those broken dreams are not to be, they are mist in the morning breeze.

Let them drift away on the gentle wind, as it rustles through the trees.

Rather weep for present moments that are lost and thrown away,

On mourning what will never be, as life goes slipping by.

Paul J. Martin, January 24, 2007

Share this post with a father who’s transitioning to a life on wheels to share hope and motivation.

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