The Men and Mental Health Blog features some curated content from online resources. This post originally appeared on the Fatherhood: Reloaded website and was not written by Good Dads staff.
Being a dad to a child who has special needs is a uniquely rewarding but lonely role.
There are many moments, days, or nights that, frankly, you feel you’re on an island alone.
Fatherhood is viewed in a multitude of conditions that are based on who is looking through the View-Master. They’ll just continue to click the lever until the proper view falls into place.
Parent, partner, provider, babysitter, and sperm donor are just a few of the labels that fathers are handed, both with and without cause.
So when you add on the extra layer of having a child with special needs, well, you’re cornered into a relatively lonely place by many.
It’s interesting because even though my son is as much mine as his mother’s, I’m deemed the lesser parent. Because I’m the one who has to get up in the morning and go to work, leaving my son for the day, leaving all the tasks of medical contacts and therapies on my wife’s shoulders, I’m somehow viewed as less involved.
Does no one ever have a thought regarding how guilty I feel having to leave all that to my wife? Never is there a passing thought of how I wish I was there at therapy with him? That I could shoulder some of the burdens my wife bears.
Never am I the parent that people look towards when sharing medical information or asking questions. If I am able to come to an appointment, I’m typically viewed just above the baby holder and chauffeur.
I’m no longer allowed to have a bad day at work. I’m never allowed to have my own struggles or fears.
My wife, rightfully so, gets praised for being so strong, for being brave, and determined. For doing things and handling things other moms feel they cannot. Never am I praised for being so brave and being such a strong parent for my son. No one ever thinks to include the father in such things.
Yes, we have people who say that our son couldn’t ask for two better parents, or that God knew what parents our son deserved or needed (I hate that by the way), but it begins and ends there. It’s a party of three or a party of two with I being the third wheel.
It’s just how society views things.
No groups of Dads to join together and chat. To share stories or what they’ve learned going to different specialists.
Hell, the awesome people at AMC Support don’t even find it necessary to offer a Zoom call for just Dads like they do Moms. They simply give one to “Parents.”
I assume that comes from the fact that as Dads, it’s almost labeled as weak or selfish for us to have emotion or need to talk. The mentality of perceived weakness leads to choosing to isolate rather than congregate. What Dad and Fatherhood groups you can find online, especially on Facebook, tend to lean towards immature or venomous, with most men worried more about proving their macho-ness by mocking others, rather than helping or admitting their own issues.
As awesome and amazing as my wife is, and believe me she is, she still feels the need to thank me and point out how I’m a great Dad when I keep my son for a few hours Saturday morning so she can sleep in.
Great Dad? I’m just wanting to spend the morning with my son. Something I don’t get to do on the daily. Yeah, I’m letting you sleep in, but it’s for me too because while my wife spends every day with our son, getting hours and hours of alone time, just the two of them, these short moments are the only time I get. I want to soak them up and enjoy them. Those few hours with him alone help me maintain composure amidst societal pressure to be steady.
My wife and my son are both truly amazing. I love them with all my heart. I do not blame my wife for anything. I don’t have sour grapes about things. She allows me to have my time, which allows me to decompress and maintain. It keeps me grounded, and where I need to be. It allows me to be strong for my wife and son. My wife is selfless through and through for our entire family. She is amazing.
Society already views fatherhood as the weaker end of the parenting spectrum, but being the Dad to a child with special needs is being on an island alone with your thoughts. Isolated from everyone and everything else, left with the burden of carrying the weight alone because it’s what we have to do.
Michael Parsons is a father of three and husband to one. He started the Fatherhood: Reloaded blog after he and his wife got successfully pregnant during the pandemic. Now essentially “starting over” as a new father 12 years after the birth of the next oldest, Fatherhood: Reloaded is home to funny posts and entertaining articles about being a dad again after 40. See fatherhoodreloaded.com for blogposts covering reviews, entertainment, health & fitness and stories about his special-needs son with Arthrogryposis. The views and opinions expressed by guest writers outside of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Good Dads.