Oh, special needs moms. All of us special needs dads love you. We adore you, we really do. But you’ve got to cut this out.
I’ve written about this before, frequently enough that I am halfway expecting to have to argue with my editor over whether or not this should even count as original material. This time, I’ll try a slightly different approach.
If you are writing about an issue that affects you as a disability parent, and if that issue doesn’t relate to something that is specific to the experience of being a mother, I’m not going to ask you not to address your concerns to “special needs moms” only. But I am going to ask you why you’re making that choice.
Is it because in your experience, mothers are the ones doing the heavy lifting? That makes sense; the statistics certainly back you up to some extent. But if that is in fact your perspective, I have to ask you, do you like it that way? And if you don’t, how do you feel about a societal narrative that feeds this perception? More to the point, how do you feel about participating in the reenforcement and perpetration of this narrative?
Every time I mention this topic, I receive a number of different perspectives. I hear from the people who insist that none of the fathers in their kid’s or their students’ classrooms ever show up or are worth a damn. Dads hit the road as soon as their child’s disability began to physically manifest itself, in seizures or behaviors or whatever. I don’t understand how this supposed concentration of cads happens. Perhaps someone is slipping asshole pills into the municipal water supply, I don’t know.
And then I hear from those who are surrounded by involved fathers, the dads who create their own narrative, one where they don’t emulate Homer Simpson or Walter White. Dads who go to the meetings, dads who rearrange their workdays or even their careers so that they can be present, dads who put specific talents to work creating assistive technology or making documentary films or, sure, writing books. Societal narratives clearly drive public perception, but they only have power over you as an individual if you let them. A lot of dads are rejecting that narrative. I’ll go so far as to suggest that most of us are.
So whether or not you are simply hopeful that one day all us crappy fathers will change our ways, or you believe that we’re doing just fine, I’d like to ask you again how you feel about addressing parenting topics toward special needs mothers. I must say, being the pissy little sensitive baby that I am about this, it is very rare that a “List of Things that Special Needs Moms Want You to Know” goes by without me taking the time to look it over and see how much of it would also pertain to fathers. Most of the time, the issues are pretty universal.
We’re there. We love our kids, so we’re not going to disappear just because we remain invisible in some circles. And those of us who aren’t there? If we are all working towards building a better society and a more effective disability community, isn’t it our job to use our social narratives to create expectations? If you’re addressing moms by default, are you giving the crappy dads a pass?
I truly believe, and I’m not alone, that the most important topic for disability families right now may very well be that of inclusion. Not just in our schools and workplaces, but in the very fabric of our social structures, and in our individual hearts most of all.
There’s an irony in that important struggle taking place, as it often does, in an environment of maternal exclusivity. It’s an irony, but it’s not a cute or a pretty one.
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