1. Denial

The world has gone ahead and lost its collective mind. People these days are too damn sensitive. This is the evolutionary thought that runs through the heads of fathers. To some degree, we can’t help ourselves. It’s a thought that’s rooted in thousands of years of bearing the responsibility of keeping the pack moving. Problems are things to be solved. Destinations are things to be reached. And so we keep our eyes downrange, beyond the edge of the campfire light to keep the wolves away. We fathers have important things on our minds. The general belief that people who lay…

3. Roles

“A woman’s place is in the home. “ “Men are the head of the household. “ “Gender isn’t real, it’s simply a social construct developed by a patriarchal society to divide and subjugate.” These are some positions a cursory scroll of social media today will reveal along the arc of the 21st century gender roles debate. And while sometimes it doesn’t seem like there are any up sides to the special needs parenting journey, there are. My favorite one is that I get to sidestep this discussion all together. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion. I just live…

4. Faith

In the early days of our journey, the months after our son’s diagnosis and my return from my last deployment to Iraq, things were unimaginably difficult. He wouldn’t sleep. Whatever devolution and regression that was happening with him drove an aversion to staying still long enough to fall asleep. I would lie in his little bed with him, holding on to him as he kicked and screamed like he was lit on fire. Eventually, he would wear himself out and drift off. Sometimes it took most of the night. Sometimes just hours. There was a night, in the depths of…

5. Mindset

I sat down a little while back for a talk with friend and retired Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf on his podcast Cleared Hot. We talked a bit about the journey of parenting and our experiences in the service. Something he told me has rattled around a bit for a few years now. When he was an instructor at BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition School) the legendary SEAL indoctrination training, his job was to make it as difficult for candidates to make it through the program as possible. And the most effective way he found was to get them to expand their…

6. Shame

My son has done embarrassing things in public. They’re so embarrassing, they’re not really worth bringing up. For the sake of the point I’d like to make, you can just imagine whatever cute but embarrassing thing any of your kids have done as toddlers, then project that to a seventh grader. It’s happened. And it will happen again. If you spend enough time around special needs families, you see the pattern. Out in public, someone’s kid or adult child, has a meltdown. The people around them react predictably. First they are startled. Then they’re concerned that something is wrong. Then…

7. Peace

One of the great disruptions of our lives is the arrival of our children. It’s glorious and fulfilling and all the wonderful things people say it is. But it’s a disruption. And for many fathers that disruption finds us horribly unprepared. Many of us pictured ourselves as fathers. We may have assumed that whatever journey we would be on, would include a family and children of our own. But few of us spent much energy picturing ourselves in the throes of fatherhood. No sleep. No free time. No control. The one great determinant on whether we make it through the…

8. Guilt

I was sitting in our group circle, surrounded by other men on the special needs parenting journey when our facilitator made an observation. “Y’all are absolutely wrecked with guilt. I hadn’t expected that.” She was right. Most people outside the special needs parenting journey see us from the outside in, as people dealing with immense unfairness and hardship. We’re victims of circumstance looking up at a lifetime of difficulty. We’re people to feel sorry for. Most of the father’s I spend time with on the journey don’t spend much time feeling sorry for ourselves though. Instead, we spend most of…

9. Hope

I have this recurring dream that my son walks into my room, stops a few steps inside the doorway and starts talking to me. I don’t ever remember what he says. But he’s talking. We’re having a conversation. And then it’s over. Just like that. I don’t have it often. But every once in a while it wanders into my life. I know why. I want to talk with my son. Not to him. Or at him. I want to talk with him. I want to know the sharp edges and soft details of his mind. I want to know…

10. Gratitude

I was gone on Thanksgiving during my last deployment to Iraq. I remember it clearly. It was ten years ago this week. There’s something exceptionally miserable about Thanksgiving over there. It’s a holiday built around gathering together with family to be grateful for what you have. You’re not with your family there though. And most of the time of you’re engaged in the mental gymnastics of keeping your mind off what you don’t have. Happy Fucking Thanksgiving. If you’re lucky someone gives enough of a rip to try to cook something. That tour, we had a barrel-chested mechanic from the…

12. Marriage

Marriage in a special needs family is many things. Easy is not one of them. Around here, we do a passable job at keeping it together in front of other people. We’re awesome on social media. Out in public or at parties or other social events we’re the model couple. We’re helpful, patient and affectionate. It’s not an act. It’s real. But we, like everyone else, tend to signal to the world the best versions of ourselves. Our marriage is no different. We’re a special needs family after all. And it gets ugly sometimes. The honest truth is that I…