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I’m a special dad. For 14 years, I’ve walked through the journey you’re experiencing now.
The thing is that no one really tells you what to do, and old school men like me don’t really ask because we feel we have the responsibility of being the provider of the family come what may.
You may be starting to accept your child’s diagnosis, or searching for elusive answers with Google. But nothing can help you as much as being with other special dads, knowing you’re not the only one trying to make sense of the turbulence ahead.
As one special dad to another, this is what I think you should prepare for.
1. Planning Finances
Having a special needs child can mean redesigning our whole life for therapy schedules, doctor visits, tests and other related appointments.
Besides the financial strain due to these extra costs, some special dads (or our wives) have to give up career progression or quit altogether to accompany our child to appointments.
Suddenly we have a double whammy — higher expenses and lower household income.
In my earlier years, I had held fast to some simple accounting principles of ensuring I invested and diversified the money I earned. I left the purchase of cars, clothing and holidays to a later date because I had an extended family that impressed upon me on what I needed to do when I grew up.
Today we have the internet, financial consultants, and even government portals such as MoneySense to advise the best for our needs at different stages of our lives. I would encourage you to reach out and use these avenues so that we can educate ourselves enough to be able to help our families.
2. Managing wife’s expectations
There will be days where your relationship with your wife may become strained due to the stress of caring for your special needs child.
Not everything has to be an equal game. Everyone has strengths at different points of time.
Look at things objectively. If your wife is in a better position to put bread on the table, could you step up and be a hands-on father to your special needs child? This is what I decided to do five years ago when my son grew bigger and needed a more present father.
Our marriage is still a “work in progress”. We deal with challenges and each other’s sensitivities the best we can. There are so many permutations to getting it to work and there is no “best” or “logical process” to make it work. Every day presents new challenges and opportunities.
I’ve learned that no matter how angry, sad, disappointed or let down I feel, I don’t need to take it to heart, and I try my best to be empathic. Even this may not work all the time, so I then take it as life’s journey. We can still choose to see how we can make things work better and learn from the experience.
This makes for a happier “me”, and a happier “me” can then back down, smile and not let the situation escalate further unnecessarily.
3. Do I have to solve everything?
We men have an innate habit of going into problem-solving mode. But special needs isn’t something you can cure away.
That said, there are some things that you can solve, such as planning ahead, creating a safe space for your family to walk this journey together, and spending time on self-care for yourself.
For everything else that is out of your hands, learn how to adjust and outsource to experts. For example, Centre For Fathering runs programmes for fathers on parenting and adventure camps to promote bonding with your child.
4. Be prepared to start from ground zero
As we learn from scratch how to become a father when our first child is born, we also start from ground zero when we first realise we are special needs dads.
Centre For Fathering has a growing community of special needs dads who have walked in your shoes and know what it’s like.
Find your tribe and take it step by step.
5. Making the best of what we have
When life throws us lemons, make lemonade.
Being a special dad ironically came with blessing to me. I discovered I have so many untapped skills as a father and that our special child brings out in us.
In my years of being a father, I feel I was accorded the privilege of being a father to a special needs child simply because my son has made me a more resilient, patient, emotionally connected father. This is something I wasn’t always (and to a large degree) felt capable of doing.
About Anand Lal and the Centre For Fathering’s Special Dads Group:
Anand Lal is a special dad to a fourteen-year old son with intellectual disabilities and apraxia. He quit his full-time job five years ago to spend more time with his son, such as taking him on adventure trips and indulging in swimming, his favourite activity. Anand has also upgraded his skills to become an Inclusive and Neuro Diverse Water Safety and Swimming Coach, and actively volunteers at the Centre For Fathering’s Special Dads Group.
Anand is also a CaringSG CAREconnect champion and is the Head of CAREbuddy.
All photos courtesy of Anand Lal.
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