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Father’s Day snapshot

I never quite know what to say on the eve of Father’s Day. Sometimes I go for something humorous, and some years I go for whiny and indignant. (Everyone’s favorite, I’m sure.) The truth is, Father’s Day is complicated, both for dads of kids with disabilities and for me. This year, it feels a little more intimate than most. The very state of being a father seems to be changing now.

The days grow shorter with Schuyler now, the responsibilities shifting to her one by one. Being her father today is a very different gig than it was even a couple of years ago; my memories of her early childhood sometimes feel like someone else’s now. Being her dad means always measuring, always balancing. Is this one where she needs me beside her? Is this one where I need to step back, let go a little?

It’s never been easy to be a special needs father, for any of us in our little mostly invisible and unacknowledged club. There’s not much in place for us in terms of guidance, or tradition, and very little in the way of public confidence. I’ve written about that so many times, and maybe it’s gotten a little better. We’re finding our own way, and perhaps we’re caring a little less about what a mom-centric world thinks of that. I think that’s a positive development, but then, as I get older, I find myself caring less about what people think of me, too. This is how curmudgeons are made, I realize.

My own way is changing, growing, and becoming more subtle, I guess. Schuyler and I spend a lot of time together, especially now that summer is here, but our relationship has mellowed a bit. We talk to each other more like friends sometimes. We joke with each other constantly, teasing each other. When things go wrong, she’s grudgingly letting me help her when she needs it, and stepping up when she doesn’t. She’s trying to be less shy with strangers, and less of a rowdy kid with people she knows. She’s growing up, in fits and starts, but she’s getting there.

As for me and my own parenting as a special needs dad, I’m discovering two things these days that seem contradictory, yet somehow are not. I’m finding that I really do know a lot less than I thought or let on, but I’m also finding that it’s kind of okay.

When Schuyler and I walk together, she’ll still take my hand or lean against me. She’s more affectionate now than I probably have any right to expect. I always tell myself “You’d better enjoy this; one day she’ll be too embarrassed to show you much affection in public.” But I don’t know. She’s seventeen now, and while she’s still changing and learning so much as she rockets towards her future after high school, it’s starting to feel like we know the person she’s going to be. Looking at Schuyler now is to see the young woman she’s going to be, and probably already is. She’s got an impossibly big heart, and the hard world seems to be failing in its constant mission to shrink it.

Recently, Schuyler took her cut of the money we earned giving a presentation, and she bought a camera. These primitive little instant cameras are all the rage with teenagers at the moment, which I kind of get. She can take high definition photos with her iPad and share them instantly on social media, but there’s something about the little low resolution pic that spits out and develops slowly as she shakes it. She trades the pics with her friends and keeps them in a little photo album, and she marvels at my old man stories of how back in my day, these were simply the photos we took, with flash bulbs that popped and crackled and then were done. She loves her camera and the stories it lets her tell, of the moments that are here and then gone, except for the strange-smelling, slowly appearing photograph in her hand. And god, do I ever understand.

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