Dads come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and temperaments, just like moms. Both mothers and fathers have dreams for their children that begin even before conception. Once a person discovers they are to become a parent, ideas begin to formulate of how things will be with their son or daughter.
Any father-to-be will ponder what he wants to teach his child, what values he wants to instill, and how he will spend his time with his child. By the time his child is born a dad may already have a certain scenario fixed in his mind. These preconceived notions will continue to be shaped as reality sets in after birth.
If part of that reality becomes a diagnosis of some health related challenge, the vision you had for your child is drastically altered. Nothing is more jarring than finding out that life with your child will not be as you expected. This is not necessarily bad, it’s just different, and adjusting to this detour takes time.
This news will impact dads, moms, siblings, grandparents and other relatives, even friends and neighbors. As time passes everyone will eventually come to accept the child’s condition in their own way, and at their own pace. Therefore one cannot expect that husbands and wives will be on the same page when it comes to accepting and dealing with an autism diagnosis for their child.
So, what do we already know about men that will help us understand and support this process for dads? (These are generalized statements that certainly do not apply to ALL men.)
- What do we know? According to gender research, men have a hard time dealing with things they can’t fix. Men take pride in their ability to solve problems and are almost always ready with solutions when a real or perceived problem is presented. Any dad is apt to feel powerless or inept when the usual working harder or smarter isn’t going to fix their child. When a dad comes face to face with a situation such as this, there is, unfortunately no simple ready-made solution that will allow them to undo the challenges their child faces.
What we can do? - With that in mind, try providing a dad with problems to solve. Even though men feel most effective when solving big problems, giving them little things to resolve that can be successfully accomplished will help them feel useful. Placing a dad in a role of trouble-shooter will make him less apt to feel powerless and will provide evidence to the fact that little things really do matter.
- What do we know? Our culture has conditioned men to see anything that is out of the ordinary as a possible sign of weakness. Dads may struggle more with acceptance of a child with a disorder because they may see it as a reflection of inadequacy: “If my child is not OK then I’m NOT OK.” Anything that can be construed as a weakness has the potential to create dissonance within a dad and any real or perceived judgment from a peer can become another roadblock to overcome.
What we can do? This is the time to be patient with yourself and your spouse. It’s a time to focus on the positive - a time to concentrate on the strengths of all involved. Focusing on the negatives will only give them the power to create a downward spiral of doom and gloom. Taking the time every evening to identify the positives that have occurred during the day is a wonderful activity to keep your mindsets headed in the right direction.
- What do we know? Be it genetic or societal conditioning, we all know that women tend to reach out more for guidance and emotional support. Men on the other hand are less inclined to go this route and when they do, it’s often not done in the same manner as women. Typical male discussions are less conducive to heartfelt talks about the issues they face. This makes it less likely that a dad is able to gain any real compassion or understanding from the listener.
What we can do? It’s important to find ways to encourage fathers of children with special needs to discover avenues that will allow them to vent. They need help reaching out to like-minded individuals in order to help shatter these unspoken codes. Finding support groups for men in similar situations will be the best gift you can give any dad.
It’s times like these when it’s important to remember that we are all given the children we are meant to have even though they may not be exactly what we hoped for when we first found out we were going to be parents. This means that we have to let go of our prior visions and focus on connecting with the wonderful gift we have before us. As we focus on the abilities our children do have, we then create the power to change possibilities and dream new dreams.
** If there are any dad's who have a different perspective or something to add, PLEASE contact me, I welcome your valuable input!
Previously posted/published on the website blog of AMG4D (The Adam & Matthew Group 4 Dads & Families) https://www.amg4d.org/ - March 9, 2018 newsletter issue. A great resource for dads – Empowering Fathers to a Better Future!