An Open Letter to My Hero[es] on Fathers Day 2014
“The most important…work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.” Harold B. Lee
I’ve been working on this post for weeks. I find that the hardest topics for me to write about are the ones that matter the most, and this is no exception.
Most little girls idolize their father, considering him their hero. That’s not the case for me. Growing up, I was not only ‘hero-less,’ but in many instances, I had to be the hero — protecting younger foster siblings from the abuses of our pathologically negligent and abusive caregivers. For the longest time, I had no hero so I became the hero: somebody had to do it. Growing up without love, I never really learned how to be affectionate.
Recall the controversial landmark study in 1960 that Harry Harlow, an American Psychologist, conducted, in which he demonstrated the devastating effects of deprivation on young rhesus monkeys. The monkeys were severely psychologically disturbed — and, yup, in a lot of ways that describes me too*. As a result, it’s hard for me to verbally express the appreciation that I have for my real-life, honest-to-goodness, hero.
The purpose of this post is to tell the world about my hero. He’s nobody famous: you likely won’t ever see him at the Oscars, but, it’s a safe bet you can find him at O’Reilly’s with oil on his hands. He’s traded in his cape for a pair of chevrons on the collar of his navy-blue coveralls, and makes those coveralls look good, too. Kinder than any of your Marvel drawings or arachnoid-super-hero, the challenges that he faces on a daily basis make him far more of a superhero than any of your avengers. This post is dedicated to all the hard-working, dedicated fathers out there of children who are challenging or have special needs; and in order to really understand their super-powers, you have to do more than meet them: you have to get to know them.
My hero is my husband.
As I researched this post, my thoughts were drawn to the incredible sisterhood that is found in the online autism or special needs parenting community. There are countless mothers’ support groups, and even the online “parenting” support groups [which state they are for both moms and dads] are maternally dominated. We have coffee and wine together, we laugh and cry together; and, as parents, we grow together, as women tend to do.
But what about our partners? What about the men who pick us up off the floor when we are sobbing; the guys that step in to protect us when our melt-downing teenager attacks us; and the men who carry around the hurt, frustration, and overwhelming responsibilities around, inside their chests, while their hearts are physically aching; all while still working through their own (very different) grieving processes? Fatherwork is an online collection of articles and research on Fatherhood. In regards to parenting a special needs child, they state:
“When fathers learn that their child will have lifelong special needs or that they have a dangerous illness, their reactions can range from shock, to acceptance, to greater love. Fathers often try and meet these challenges with courage and ingenuity. Many fathers are highly commited to their special needs children and devote long hours to the physical and emotional care of their children (Brotherson & Dollahite, 1997).
“While there is relatively little research on fathers with special needs children [this is shockingly accurate], in most cases, whatever the nature of the child’s handicap, there is a much greater likelihood that the children with attentive, encouraging fathers will eventually make successful adjustments, cope constructively, and develop healthy self-esteem than children who suffer from lack of paternal support (Biller, 1993). Brotherson & Dollahite (1997) also add that generative fathering has a profound impact on the development and happiness of the father, as well as the special needs child (Fatherwork, 2014).
This post is for my superhero, as well as all the other special needs dads out there that are superheroes every single day.
Friday was a tough day. Cassius had an impossible day (read about that here: http://wp.me/p4x45i-b2), and I thought I was going to drown in my own emotion. After one of the most challenging meltdowns I’ve endured, I was emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted. I mean, wiped completely out. I couldn’t imagine giving any more — I had nothing left to give. Nothing. Nada. Rien.
I needed to be rescued.
As always, my best friend rescued me. He quietly attended to our still very upset child. Under the surface he had to be furious: nobody treats his wife that way! Nobody disrespects her that way — risking her life in the car is completely unacceptable. Instead of being furious, and further disrupting an already unbalanced family dynamic, he was gently supportive and kind to my equally emotionally wiped-out child. He could see that I didn’t have anything else to give, so instead of pushing, he gave our son what I could not give (at that time), but what Cassius so terribly needed: Love. Acceptance. Forgiveness.
While I drowned in my own exhaustion and self-pity, he gave me the space I desperately needed. I started thinking about the times that he has rescued me over the years — and how much of himself he has given to me, well, to us, really. As I buried myself in these words — these words that I use to heal my wounds, to stop the arterial bleeding Cassius’s meltdowns inevitably cause — I realized that I write a lot about myself, my experiences, my son, and my experiences as a mother: in fact, that’s all I write about. My husband likes to tease that in all my stories I wind out being the hero (meh, maybe I have a hero complex*), and I realize that it is just my pride alone that prevents me from writing the truth. So here it is the truth:
You know how they say behind every amazing man is an amazing woman? That’s not the case. Totally a lie.
Behind this strong (ish) woman is a truly amazing man.
This post is dedicated to him. But it’s more than just a post to one hero: this post is dedicated to all the dads out there with kids that are challenging or have special needs. This is for every dad that has ever rescued his wife, who has ever been there when we needed you the most. This is post is for each dad that, likely, gets hugely unappreciated, but somehow doesn’t even care.
Dear Handsome SuperHero,
So many times I don’t tell you what I should say. I think it’s because I want to be tough; or perhaps it’s not that at that I want to be tough, but that I just don’t want to be weak. Either way, so many times I don’t say the things that are on my heart or mind. Recently, we were harshly reminded that life is fragile, and sometimes you don’t get the chance to say everything you want to say. So on this Fathers’ Day, I’m not leaving anything out.
The past 10 months [since our son’s autism diagnosis] have been pretty tough, with everything that has been going on with both my health and, now, everything that is happening with Cassius.
- [He was with me through 4 years of being deathly ill, and at the hospital every day for over 75 different hospitalizations. While playing super-dad.]
I wanted to tell you that there is never a world in where I could ever be as great of a mother as you are a father. I know it’s not a contest, but if it was one, I would lose. Miserably.
- He wanted Cassius to experience playing football, but while understanding Cassius’s social challenges and tendencies to get easily over-stimulated, he knew it would be tough on another coach. So, he coached the team (While working full time. And taking care of me, while I was super sick). Exhausted, he ran on caffeine and prayer… and made it look easy.
I know that we are different people. If I say something is black, you’ll think it is white. I lean towards the left, while you lean towards the right. I know this causes a lot of conflict, but in many ways, I’m grateful for it. When I am feeling weak, that’s when you are the strongest. I couldn’t do this — or anything — without you.
You are a better person than me. You make me re-think things that otherwise I would have never considered. You have always believed in me, especially when I don’t believe in myself. You make me want to be a better person.
You make me strong.
The past year has been one of the most difficult times in our lives as parents. I have seen you accomplish and overcome the impossible. Unbelievably, not only do you overcome unbelievable odds, you do do it without even breaking a sweat, without recognition, and without complaints.
I have come up with a list of reasons why I know you are the best husband and father in the world.
You always know how to make us smile.
Piggy back rides. I LOVE them. Especially when they are in Wal-Mart or up and down the stairs.
You may not be a “Registered Nurse,” but your medical knowledge base outweighs most of the RN’s that I know. And, you have crazy IV stick skills.
You make the best pancakes. Ever.
You are amazing with Legos and model cars. If it was just me, Cassius would be in trouble*.
Without you, no jar would ever be opened. Cassius might starve*.
You understand Cassius in ways that I cannot. You understand his sensitivities to smell and textures.
Roller Coaster King — or perhaps, jester?
Dancing barefoot in the kitchen. Need I say more?
That time you brought home flowers and a card, just to say “Thanks.”
I have watched you build a four-wheeler from a pile of 1780 different parts and pieces. Plus or minus a couple thousand*.
Okay, okay. You are almost always right. And I can always count on you to point that out to me with the “I told you so,” look.
You understand electrical circuits. If it wasn’t for you, the house surely would have burned to the ground in one of my many hairdryer-electrical-experiments*.
You are able to be much tougher than I am, when we need to be tough.
I can always count on you to do the right thing. Unless the Saints are playing. Then I’m in trouble*.
You can cook! Sometimes better than I can.
You have the patience with our kiddo when I have none left.
There is an ongoing wrestling match inside our home. And a fishing competition. And a four-wheeler competition. And a checkers-competition. And don’t forget the board game “Sorry.” (There are a lot of on-going competitions). Sometimes you even let Cassius win.
You always know the right, or wrong, thing to say. If you say the right thing, my heart melts: if you say the wrong thing, it makes me laugh and shake my head…
The countless hours you’ve sat in the waiting room waiting on me (my medical stuff) or Cassius (his autism stuff), and you never complain. Well, at least not too loudly*.
The time you picked me up off the floor because my heart was broken. Again.
Your never-ending selflessness.
Your never-ending faith that everything will be okay.
- Something about watching you play with Cassius at the beach restores my faith that everything will be okay.
“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” Joanne Friedrich von Schiller
The biggest thing, babe, is that you have sacrificed so much for our family. You’ve already given 14 years of your life doing a job you don’t particularly enjoy because that was what was best for all of us. You are currently getting ready to give another six years to the same cause — you give so very much of yourself, and rarely get anything at all in return.
- The first time he re-enlisted. For us (in 2004). In a few weeks he’ll re-enlist again. And, once again, it will be for us.
“Father!- to God himself we cannot give a holier name.” William Wordsworth.
I am gladly in your debt forever.
While you are an amazing husband, you are an even better father. Cassius may not realize it, but he is the luckiest kid in the world to have you as his dad.
Thank you for being there for me when I need you the most, for being kind when I’m short-tempered, for making me laugh when all I really want to do is cry. Thank you for, well, everything.
Your wife, for always and forever;
For all the other special needs superheroes out there, thank you. We love you, we appreciate you, we see everything that you give to us, and we couldn’t do this without you.
You make us proud.
Without you, we’d be lost.
Sidenote: For clarity purposes, “*”always denotes the use of sarcasm in this website.
Biller, H. B. (1993). Fathers and Families. Westport, CT: Auburn House.
Brotherson, S. E., & Dollahite, D. C. (1997). Generative ingenuity in fatherwork with young children with special needs. In A. J. Hawkins & D. C. Dollahite (Eds.), Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives (pp. 89-104). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Fatherwork (accessed 6/13/2014). Fathering Special Needs Children. http://fatherwork.byu.edu/specialNeeds.htm