"Are those your children?"
Years ago, I took my three daughters shopping. Nothing fancy, no special occasion. Just an average day as a father with his kids. In the midst of this everyday moment, a father with his children, a stranger approached me and with suspicion in her voice asked, "are those your children?"
I don't recall how I responded but I do remember brushing off that punch in the gut feeling and proudly going about my day with my daughters.
As a disabled father, the stigmas are always there. It doesn't matter how many hours I spent in helping my daughters with homework or, volunteering at their schools. It doesn't matter that I coached my daughters competitive softball team or, taught my oldest how to drive.
Even now, as a divorced father experiencing parental alienation, it doesn't matter that I long to hear my daughters call to say, "Hi Dad." Our ableist society views my disability as an impediment to being a great father.
"A lot of people assume that disabled people are either unemployed or destitute," said Jason Dorwart, PhD. "They end up wondering how I could support a child and assume my wife must do all of the childcare, earn all of the income, and be my caretaker and guardian. They assume that I must be a burden on my wife and my daughter."
Jason is a Professor at Oberlin College and is a Father to 22 month old Ruth. As a quadriplegic, he's adapted some components in order to care for his daughter.
"When she was still sleeping in a bassinet, my wife and I found one that I could roll under so that I could pick her up more easily… I also got a changing table that I could roll under," Jason explained. "A lot of the modifications are just a matter of planning ahead."
"Also, since it’s difficult for me to get on the floor and play with her, I will transfer out of my wheelchair onto the bed and play with Ruth there. That way we can still have time together away from my wheelchair and on the same level."
One of my personal anxieties I experienced as a younger Father was, how will my child respond to my disability. As Jason describes, children tend to be refreshingly open.
"She is very aware and accepting of my disability," Jason stated. "My fingers are curled up because of my quadriplegia, so when I ask her to give me five, she will uncurl my fingers first. It’s really funny, sometimes, after she gives my wife five, she will then curl up my wife’s fingers afterwards so that they end up like mine."
Jason shares, "She has figured out that there are certain places that are difficult for me to go and she heads towards those when she is trying to avoid me. She also loves to use me like a slide — she climbs up the side of my wheelchair and then slides down my legs. I’ve been amazed at how smart and adaptable she is!"
Smart and adaptable. Without society's bias and ableist attitudes, our children see us for who we are; their Disabled Dads.
"I love my daughter, and she loves me just as much as other children love their dads," Jason said.
"When I pick her up from daycare, she yells “Daddy!” runs across the room and jumps up into my lap just like every other kid. We have a lot of fun together. Disabled people can father children, can parent children, and can love and be loved."
So, to answer the question posed by that stranger years ago, "YES, those are my children and YES, I am a Disabled Dad!"
is a Disability Rights Activist
and Disability Culture & Lifestyle Writer out of Denton, TX
He can be found on Twitter