NOTE: This is the second blog post in a ~ monthly series of an unknown amount dedicated to Special Needs Dads and the journey we are all on together.
“Be strong!”. If you’re a special needs Dad (or a guy) there is a good chance you have heard this many, many times. It usually starts when we are young kids maybe when we skin our knee for the first time or our sports team loses or we get a bad grade on a test (or pick your example). As we progress into our teenage and early adult years maybe it’s when we don’t get a date to the dance, that job we wanted or we lose a pet or a loved one. Our Dads, uncles, brothers and friends (and dare I say, society) seemingly have been trained to teach/tell all of us other guys (and special needs Dads) to simply “be strong”. Well, I think it’s time we re-define strong, at least for special needs Dads. Being a SND is a role unique to any other I have experienced and I agree it certainly requires all of us to be strong; I’m only suggesting it requires a different kind of strong.
I grew up very modestly. I was far from sheltered and by the time I became a teenager I had already experienced my fair share of heartbreak, loss and grief. I knew what it was like to live on welfare and not know where my next meal was coming from and how it felt to lose my mom before I was 16. Many people had/have it much worse than I did, but let’s just say I faced a moment or two that required me to be the traditional form of “strong” at a very young age. However, I also had some really amazing experiences as a young person that enabled me to not only survive those times, but to do so with great hope and usually with a smile on my face – experiences that would ultimately shape who I would become as a special needs Dad. I have too many coaches, friends, family members, mentors, kind strangers and especially my older brother to thank for helping me thrive through all of the tough stuff and I bet you all have somebody that has given you your inner “strong” too (don’t forget that).
If you are still reading this, there is a good chance you are a special needs Dad or you know somebody who is. And your child probably (possibly) has a feeding tube as well. I know it’s tough. I know you are probably scared…maybe frustrated, angry and/or
confused. I was, and many days, I still am all of these things. I come from a big Italian family and a long line of eaters – food has been and is very important to us. Not just for the food itself, but for the experiences, memories and traditions that surround the cooking and the meals. I truly love to cook and eat and my son having to get all of his nutrition via a feeding tube is really tough for me to accept many days. I appreciate his feeding tube very much, but it’s still a great challenge for me. It’s required me to change my thinking, expectations and how I handle the daily realities of my son’s medical complexities.
No matter what challenges your child is facing or how you have been taught/told to handle things in the past, I’d like to suggest the situation and role we find ourselves in now doesn’t require us to simply be “strong” in the sense that we have been trained to think of that word, but that it requires a new form of strong; a new form of leadership if you will…servant leadership and Special Needs Dad Strong! This doesn’t mean you/we can’t cry or that you can never show emotion like a robot because everybody else in your life “needs” you. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything or figure out every doctor situation while you work full-time and be the “rock” 24/7 for every other living person around you. I’m sort of calling BS on that version of “strong” for us SND’s. Special Needs Dad Strong is:
– (At times) Servant Leadership
– (At times) Assertive
This is how I choose to define “strong” now. I’m sure each of you could add to this list or make your own unique list and that’s exactly what I think you should do; define your own version of “strong”. Now that you find yourself in this position, what are you actually willing to do for your child? “I’d do anything for you” really must mean, anything. It’s time for us to be a new kind of hero, a new kind of leader and a new kind of strong for our special needs children, our wives, our other children, our family members, our friends – and for ourselves! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and continue the conversation with you. Email me at SpecialNeedsDad@RealFoodBlends.com or leave a comment below. Thanks!
About Tony Bombacino
Tony Bombacino is the Co-Founder of Real Food Blends, maker of 100% real food meals for people with feeding tubes. He is husband to Julie and Dad to Luca and AJ. When he isn’t working or chasing the kids around the house he enjoys cooking, fishing, traveling, golfing and rooting for the Bears, Cubs and Bulls.