Most dads look forward to Father's Day with thoughts of a nice dinner out, or maybe a cookout, and perhaps some handmade artwork they can display at the office. But for special needs dads, Father's Day is often just another reminder of how fatherhood, and their child, have turned out like nothing they ever imagined.
If you're a father who has been struggling since the diagnosis of your child, there is a book that can give you hope. If you're a special needs mom who is struggling to understand your husbands response to your child's diagnosis, there is a book that can give you that insight. By bringing together the stories of ten Catholic special needs fathers, including himself, Randy Hain has created a wonderful resource with Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for fathers of children with special needs (affiliate link) that can help dads embrace their roles as special needs parents, and find the joy in life, even when things, like a Father's Day picnic, don't always look the way we planned.
In a recent interview for Accepting the Gift, Hain said men are often reluctant to talk to their wives about their feelings regarding their child's diagnosis and it frequently becomes an area of no communication or miscommunication between couples. Following a diagnosis, Hain added that, "Women dial in quickly and tend to jump in feet first. Dads are often reluctant or resistant. There's a disconnect." Hain hopes that by having dads read the stories of other fathers in the trenches, it can help struggling men realize they too could have the same joy as the book's contributing writers. "We love being the fathers of these wonderful children," Hain said. "We've all learned amazing things from our our kids. I want other dads to think, 'Wow, that could be me', and help change their thinking."
One thing Hain noticed as he started meeting other special needs dads following the autism diagnosis of his son Alex, was how so many were reluctant to share their experiences and feelings. Hain surmised that many fathers felt embarrassed or defeated by their child's diagnosis, since it meant their son or daughter could never live up to the hopes and dreams the father had for him or her.
"Many of them would withdraw and lose themselves in their careers, justifying it by saying, 'I need to work and make money to get everything my son or daughter needs.'" Hain said. "It's a misapplication of love and emotion and a misunderstanding of their vocation."
Even though Hain felt at peace with his son's diagnosis, he shared how a brief conversation with a priest after Mass one Sunday helped move him to a new level of acceptance. "He asked how he could pray for us, and we said please pray for Alex and his abilities and healing. And he said, 'I know you love your son, but you're praying for the wrong thing.'" Hain continued. "Pray for acceptance. Instead of sending this gift back to God, ask to accept this gift and all the fruit that comes from it." Hain said this exchange helped him understand the power of acceptance.
Hain's book does a wonderful job of sharing other tales of acceptance, and the personal stories of Catholic dads who've learned to look beyond their child's limitations and see the blessings and joys that come with a difficult diagnosis. Struggling fathers could find not only hope, but comfort and understanding between the pages. Special needs moms living with a spouse who has emotionally and/or physically pulled back from caregiving and parenting can do more than simply leave a copy of Hain's book lying around and hope for the best.
"I suggest moms really start with the foundation of marriage," Hain said."Go back to the building blocks and the commitment you made to one another. Ask how you can best serve each other rather than asking what you need as parents." Hain added that moms can admit the situation is stretching everyone to their limits, and focus the conversation on what husbands and wives can do for each other, rather than simply demanding a husband step up and do more.
Hain admits some parents get stuck, and can't get past the initial pain of diagnosis, and the realization that life is not going according to plans. "I hope that any dad that reads the book will really come to the understanding that, if they're not there yet, that it's a gift. What you do with the gift is up to you," he said. "You've been given a special responsibility and I hope anyone who reads the book can embrace this reality more fully."
Knowing that many special need families may have additonal concerns during and post- quarantine, Hain added, "In this time of being home more, and wrestling with bills, stop in the moment, and look at your child as a gift and accept the gift. Instead of being angry think, 'Wow I am chosen to be this child's father-what a gift! I must be on this earth to do something for this child.'"
Hain's book is published by Emmaus Road Publishing and is available on their website, as well as Amazon and other major book retailers. All royalties from the sale of Special Children, Blessed Fathers are donated to the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities.
Kelly Mantoan is the founder of Accepting the Gift and blogs at This Ain't the Lyceum every Friday.