It’s those last few months before you child is born that he dreams go into high gear. You imagine the engineer, ballerina or lawyer your child will grow up to be. As the delivery date draws near, these thoughts gather momentum, fed by parents, friends and co-workers, until you almost expect to see your child born 18 years old, highly educated and physically attractive.
It’s humbling how dreams that build up over so many years can blow away like so much air from a balloon. In the time it takes for a doctor to say “Oh, no,” dreams can turn to nightmares and hopes to fears. Long held thoughts of perfection melt away into short-term prayers and frantic thoughts: Will the baby be all right? What will we tell our parents? Why us? In a matter of moments, you have traded bar exams for brain scans, ballet shoes for blood tests, rock-solid normality for ground-breaking lunacy.
I watched helplessly as m baby was poked and prodded b strangers who did not have the time to answer my questions or allay my fears. I coped with a day-to-day roller coaster ride of good news, then bad; hopeful signs, then puzzling questions. I found myself unable to dream, unable to see past the next doctor’s visit or test – each time hoping that someone would be able to determine what was wrong or what would happen in the future. Instead, my frustration deepened as each test revealed only the need for more. Worse still, no prognosis for the future was forthcoming – everyone finally said that only time would tell.
Very slowly, I realized that I would never know exactly what was going to happen until it did. At first, I was angry; I wanted answers. But it dawned on me one day that I was really no different than any other father. No doctor or specialist can tell any of us how bright or physically capable our children are going to be. The most that all parents can do is to make the best of what is given to us. This new realization liberated my wife and me. We began to look toward the future again, and started doing things that would give us and our child choices.
I began to dream again. These were not the same dreams as before, but they were just as important. I dreamed of my daughter’s firs steps, and when they came, no parent was ever prouder. My wife and I dreamed of including her in a regular classroom at school, and after many battles, her first regular education teacher assured us that this was where she belonged.
I continue to dream of the future, of my daughter working, building meaningful relationships, and accomplishing great things for herself and others. I know that she will never be a lawyer, doctor or ballerina, yet I dream about what she can become, cherishing each step she takes along the way.
All children are a gift to their parents, grandparents, teachers and everyone who comes into contact with them. And they all teach us something that we would not have learned without them. For me, it was to slow down so I could take pleasure in the details of my children’s lives. I learned to take an active part in all my children’s activities and cherish each of their accomplishments. I am richer for the experience of having a child with a disability. I would not wish it away.
A few years ago, I wondered what my daughter would have been like if she had not been born with a disability. I grieved for the loss of my ‘normal’ life, somehow assuming that the one I had embarked on would not be as fulfilling. I don’t think that way anymore. I am proud of my daughter’s accomplishments, and like any father, I am looking forward to future accomplishments as well. I should not have worried as much as I did. Looking back, I see now that few others have been as blessed as I.
John Cox is a sales supervisor in Los Angeles. His wife Shelley is the coordinator of the Exceptional Family Resource Center and works for the HOPE Infant Family Support Program in Oceanside, California. In addition to Kristina, they have two other children – seven-year-old Kimberly and four-year-old Travis. Kristina Cox, now 10 years old, was born with Cerebral Palsy and other significant challenges.
Fathers’ Voices is a regular feature of EXCEPTIONAL PARENT magazine. This column, coordinated by James May, Project Director of the National Fathers’ Network, focuses on fathers’ experiences rearing children with special needs. Your contributions to this column are encouraged.
For more information about the National Fathers’ Network (NFN), or to receive their quarterly newsletter, write or call: National Fathers’ Network, The Merrywood School, 16120 NE Eighth St, Bellevue WA 98008, (206) 28201334. NFN is funded by a grant from the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau and works in collaboration with National Center for Family-Centered Care, a program of the Association for the Care of Children’s Health, Bethesda, MD.
Note: this article is from the April 1994 edition of EXCEPTIONAL PARENT magazine.