NOTE: This is the first blog post in a ~ monthly series of an unknown amount dedicated to Special Needs Dads and the journey we are all on together.
Before we get started, I thought I would briefly (re)introduce myself, so, Hi. My name is Tony Bombacino, and as some of you know, I’m the Co-Founder of Real Food Blends. I’m also a father. My son AJ is a happy, growing, challenging 4 year-old who also just happens to have a wide range of special needs (tube-fed, non-verbal, brain malformations, epilepsy and more fun stuff like that – more on AJ and this “stuff” in a minute). I also have an almost 7 year-old daughter, Luca, who is my little princess, the most amazing and nurturing big sis to AJ and our family’s rock. I love cooking, fishing, playing (bad) golf, traveling, making people laugh and staying on my wife’s good side. All things considered, most (some) people would label me as pretty “normal”, except I’m not. I’ve had many other labels slapped on me over my first 40 years of life, but I was never really prepared to take on the role/label of Special Needs Dad, except I was – and I believe you are too.
On August 31, 2011 my life changed forever. This is the day my otherwise thought-to-be healthy 6 month-old son, AJ had a 45-minute seizure out of the clear blue. The next week was filled with both moments I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and moments of clarity that brought my wife and I closer together than ever before. These early days were filled with endless questions that seemed to have no answers and, as you would imagine, tears, fear and sleepless nights.
Although I didn’t know/feel it then, there were some key life experiences that had already prepared me for my new role as a Special Needs Dad. Here are a handful of those experiences I wanted to share.
Growing up Poor – My childhood was, how should I say it, “interesting”. However, I think I laughed more and soaked up life more during these years than any other time in my life. I learned to appreciate the smallest of things. I learned how to laugh at myself and how to use humor to re-frame even the toughest and most confusing situations (thanks Mom!). I learned that hard times and change was inevitable, but not final. And I learned that a positive attitude and outlook could truly raise you above almost any situation you are facing. I lean on these lessons almost daily as a Special Needs Dad.
Being a Lifelong Athlete – From the time I can remember (age 4/5) I was playing basketball and baseball competitively along with football and hockey with the neighborhood kids. My older brother was a standout athlete and I did everything I could to follow in his footsteps. Over the years I was blessed with some amazing coaches, teammates and adult mentors (beyond my brother) who helped me not only be my best on the field/court, but also in the classroom and beyond. It was all of the years of team sports that taught me the importance of things like: hard work, trust, keeping your word and how to recover from failure. In the role of Special Needs Dad, we all need a team to depend on, and many still need to be able to depend on us. I draw on these years and lessons often.
Receiving a College Basketball Scholarship – I never thought anybody would pay for me to attend college, let alone offer me a chance to continue playing a game I loved while receiving a great education. I remember feeling extremely lucky, but also extremely scared. I met some of the most amazing people during these years that I’m still friends with today; teachers and teammates. I learned the need for extreme time management, the ability to operate at a high level on very little sleep and the transition from being accountable for 1 thing at a time to being accountable for many things at once. Special Needs Dad 101 stuff right here!
Losing My Mom As a Teenager – I was very close to my Mom. She was crazy and hilarious and was very influential in my life. Losing my Mom so early in life certainly taught me to better appreciate “right now”, to enjoy the little things/moments and to be more present. And most of all, to appreciate and accept people and situations as they are vs. how I would wish them to be – my Mom was far from perfect, but I would give anything to hug her one more time. Regardless of the challenges your child is facing, find peace in knowing you can still hold them and love them as so many in our community cannot.
Losing My Older Brother at Age 40 – I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my brother Scott. From Day 1 he was my mentor, coach, teacher and best friend. He lost his battle with cancer in 2009 at age 40. I draw tremendous strength from all he taught me before and during his final battle. He was always so humble, so appreciative of the little things and so present for the most important things and people no matter what challenges he was facing. In the moments where I feel like everything is falling apart, where I feel like I can’t go on, where I feel afraid and unprepared and where I just want to breakdown – I remember Scott’s example of courage, mental toughness and always finding the good even in the worst situations. As a Special Needs Dad, I draw on these lessons and memories every day.
Before I close the first blog post of this series, I have to say that I never thought I would find myself in the role of “Special Needs Dad”, raising a son with a feeding tube and a number of other special needs, let alone be writing about it and connecting with other guys like me that may be struggling or looking for a place or somebody who can relate to what they are thinking and feeling, but I have and I am. Maybe you have experienced some of what I have or are feeling/thinking some of these same things? That’s what this first blog post is all about and what most of my future posts will be about and aim to do – to provide a voice and connection point not just for Dads of “tubies”, but for all the Special Needs Dads out there. For now, just remember it’s okay to be scared, upset and confused, but also that you are not alone and that you are more prepared than you think and feel!
More to come soon, but until then, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love for you to think back on the life experiences that prepared you (maybe without your even realizing it) to be a Special Needs Dad – and please feel free to share your thoughts on this blog post/series as well. Just email me at SpecialNeedsDads@RealFoodBlends.com and we’ll continue the conversation. Thanks!
About Tony Bombacino
Tony Bombacino is the Co-Founder of Real Food Blends, maker of 100% real food meals for tube-fed people of all ages. 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.