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June 11, 2016

When it comes to raising children with developmental disabilities, mothers receive well deserved attention for their parenting. They are considered the primary caregivers and nurturers. They interact with teachers, health professionals and case managers. They are always on the front lines advocating for their child’s rights, and they are vigilant concerning their health and safety. But although they may not receive the same amount of attention, fathers of children with intellectual challenges also play a crucial role in the life of their child.

When a man finds out his son or daughter has a developmental disability, he adjusts his expectations but not his love. He realizes and accepts the fact that life is going to be different than what was planned. And although he cannot know what the future holds, he is willing to face whatever comes because he believes in the right of his child to live a meaningful life.

Through all the struggles and challenges that life throws at them, this man is there for his family. He stays the course. He can be counted on to provide support and encouragement to help his child thrive. He knows that being a father is a responsibility that never ends. For the rest of his life it will be the title he cherishes most.

While he often remains in the background, his importance in the fabric of his family cannot be underestimated. He holds things together when stress and disappointment seem overwhelming. He never loses hope, and he does not give up. He offers steady judgment that can make the difference in a difficult situation. Day after day he is a living example of fortitude and strength.

Over time he develops great patience. He understands that his son or daughter will face issues and obstacles that other children are spared, but that only makes him even more proud when they accomplish a difficult goal. It makes him appreciate the skills and talents they possess. He learns to praise every small improvement and every step forward. He realizes that the amount of effort they give to learn to do the things that come easier to others reflects their character and their desire to do everything they can for themselves. He feels an immense sense of pride in his child. Even though milestones may be significantly delayed, it does not diminish the joy he feels when he watches them achieve something that took great persistence and perseverance. He will always be more proud of their accomplishments than his own.

The father of a child with a developmental disability is wise, strong, understanding and forgiving. He is honest, funny and gentle. When they are young he makes them feel safe, and when they are adults he makes them feel respected. And even though he may sometimes have difficulty verbally expressing just how much he loves his child, he will clearly demonstrate it in a thousand different ways.

He will sit in a tiny chair and have a tea party with his little girl. He will teach his teenage son how to shave, even when there is not a whisker in sight. He will attempt to play house with his young daughter while being told he is not doing it right. He will be quick to play catch when his son becomes discouraged because no one picked him for their team. He will proudly go to a father daughter event where he feels blessed because he gets to dance with the most beautiful girl there. He will teach his little boy how to tie his shoes, or if that is not possible he will show him how to fasten Velcro straps. And if he does not get to repair tricycles or bicycles, he will be just as happy to fix broken walkers or wheelchairs.

Each year on Father’s Day, just like every other dad, he shows warm appreciation for the ugliest socks, shirts and ties imaginable. But what truly touches him are the personal gifts that his child has struggled to create in an effort to show their love for the most important man in their life. The crudely drawn pictures, the hand painted artwork and handwritten cards, complete with misspellings, all become keepsakes he will treasure.

This father wants the same things for his child that any parent wants. He wants his son or daughter to be as happy and healthy as possible. He wants them to be understood and accepted. He wants them to be treated just like other children. He wants them to participate and to enjoy inclusion in all areas of their lives. He wants them to have the opportunity to reach their potential. He wants them to receive the dignity and respect that they are entitled to. He wants them to be treated as equals.

The father of a child with a developmental disability understands that the greatest gift he can give his son or daughter is himself. To share his time and be fully present in the moment means everything. He knows that his undivided attention is what his child needs, what they crave and what they deserve. Because of everything they have overcome as a family, he knows that nothing is more important than being there for his little boy or girl. It keeps him from taking for granted all the small things that make up this special relationship. He learns to value the simple quiet moments that will one day become heartwarming memories. He takes each day as it comes, and attempts to focus on the positive wherever he finds it.

When a father looks into the face of his child, he sees himself. They are his flesh and blood, and he has the privilege of experiencing the purest form of unconditional love there is. That is why he steps up and accepts all of the additional responsibilities that come with having a son or daughter with a developmental disability.

This is a man who will never give up and never lose hope. He will consistently withstand the pressures of making a living, while he willingly makes personal sacrifices so his child has the opportunity to live the most fulfilling life possible. He will set aside his own ambitions to help his son or daughter fulfill their dreams. He will always put their needs ahead of his own. He will exercise discipline when necessary in a way that does not threaten their self-esteem and that never makes them feel insecure. He will do everything he can to increase their self-confidence. He will instill a sense of self-worth and make them feel good about the future. He will refuse to rest in his efforts to provide them with the best life possible. His world will revolve around their happiness and well-being. There is nothing he will not do for them.

The father of a child with a developmental disability provides a shoulder to lean on during difficult times. He gives them courage when they are scared, so they can be braver than they ever thought they could be. He supports them, inspires them and lifts them up when they fall. He is their protector when life is unfair and their greatest defender when they face injustice. He makes them laugh because the sound of their laughter warms his heart like nothing else can, and when they cry he holds them tightly because their tears bring him pain. And although he is a strong man, his son or daughter can melt his heart with a simple hug.

He is their role model and their best friend. He is their dad.