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Celebrations Big and Small: Father’s Day from the Perspective of a Special Needs Father

Our family doesn’t stray far from tradition on Father’s Day. Most of the day is just like any other Sunday, but we finish it off with steaks, potatoes, and a salad to celebrate Dad – me. It’s an easy menu and we enjoy time as a family around the table. Sometimes there’s even a handmade card from my children – if I remember to ask them to make one. Luckily for me my daughter with Down syndrome’s favorite food is steak. Ask her what she wants for dinner and you are almost guaranteed to get the same answer every time – steak. I can’t blame her.  It’s hard to beat.

The funny thing is I forget about Father’s Day until it is just about here. No one can forget Mother’s Day is coming. We are flooded with advertising reminding us to buy cards and flowers, and to make breakfast special. Father’s Day comes later. The end of the school year and the start of summer activities conspire against Dad getting as big a celebration as Mom. I think most dads are OK with that.

I’m taking a different approach to Father’s Day this year – maybe it’s because of Covid-19, maybe it’s because my kids are older. Whatever the reason, this is the first time I feel like I’ve earned the whole day of Father’s Day.

In the past, Father’s Day felt like a day to celebrate a different person – my father. He is a great dad, my mentor and still someone I go to when I have important questions that need answers. He was there for my soccer games, coached my baseball teams, and was part of every important event as I grew up. He treats everyone with respect and kindness, and I have sought to do the same.

This year, it finally hit me that I’ve been as important to my children as he is to me. The times are different and my parenting is different. Dads today spend more time with children as so many households balance two working parents who need to trade hours to get work, entertainment, and personal time completed. Unlike my dad, I’m divorced and have raised my children half of the time alone, from when they were nine, eight, and four. Also, my middle daughter has Down syndrome which means a different path in terms of support, energy, and worry than my parents faced raising their kids.

No one has to earn Father’s Day – it comes with having children. And yet, there’s something to be said as the day approaches this year for taking a moment to remember how much we have done as fathers and to savor that feeling of accomplishment. For most of us, just the last few months of quarantine has shown what we can achieve as dads.    

My daughter with Down syndrome, Sarah, loves school. She walks the hall likes she’s the mayor, saying hi to all with a smile and a wave. Her close friends come from her special education classes and she has made more in her mainstreamed classrooms, too. Staying home for the last two months has been a challenge for her as she misses her friends.

Sarah is developmentally delayed. She can do many, many things. She’s a cheerleader. She reads simple books, texts, and instructions. She knows how to use Tik Tok and her camera far better than I do. To do this she needs time, more patience, and more instruction from those around her – including me. I admit there are plenty of times when I do not have the time, the patience, or the desire to instruct. On the whole though, my response has more than helped me earn my Father’s Day.  I am sure you have earned yours, too.

I’m taking this Father’s Day to celebrate my parenting during the last few months. For parenting Sarah, especially, it has meant being even more present in my roles as teacher, father, mentor, tech support, buddy, and personal trainer. We have worked on daily routines and on how to use email. I have helped her be aware of the clock and to understand the importance of showing up, on time, for online classes and social interactions. I have done my best to explain business basics for an economics class project, even though she struggles with understanding the difference between one dollar and one hundred.

This Father’s Day, I will celebrate along with my children, take a victory lap, and maybe even go wild with Renegade on Tik Tok (look it up).  We will have steak. I will make it.

And I will make sure to celebrate the big and small rewards that come with being Dad.