On September 12, 2015, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 3rd Annual New Jersey Statewide Parent to Parent Conference for Fathers of Children with Special Needs. Approximately 75 fathers were inspired by the keynote presentation, “New Reflections on a Timeless Role: Fathering Children with Special Needs” by Michael Hannon, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling at Montclair State University. Mike and his wife LaChan, parents of a child on the autism spectrum, are also the co-founders of the Greater Expectations Teaching & Advocacy Center for Childhood Disabilities, Inc. in Burlington County, NJ.
This video clip gives you the feel of his talk:
Dr. Hannon urged the men present to consider 4 important themes of fatherhood:
- Our children (with or without special needs) absolutely need and benefit from our presence. He challenged fathers to think about “Who gets your best?” Is it your job, your golf game, your lawn, or your wife and children? The traditional role of being a provider and a protector is no longer enough. Acknowledge how important you are and give your best.
- Know what triggers our frustration and anger in this experience so that we can find ways to address it in a healthy way. What makes you vulnerable and how does it influence you? Developing this awareness and the necessary coping strategies is vital to providing the kind of emotional support our families need.
- Seek and find rewards in the experience that are worth celebrating. Seeing your child accomplish a task that you used to take for granted can be extremely rewarding. Children with special needs learn and grow in their own way and can enrich family life by teaching patience, perseverance, gratitude, and compassion. Learn to appreciate and celebrate their lives.
- Find and connect with a community for support. Connecting with other parents in similar situations can provide powerful support. We are wired to be part of community. Where do you get help and support? Mike talked about how getting together with other families of children with special needs can be an “apology free day”- a term he and LaChan coined because no one needs to apologize for meltdowns or other challenges their children may experience.
After the keynote, the men were eager to participate in a workshop which I facilitated entitled, First Aid for Your Relationship: The Male Perspective on Challenges, Coping, and Enhancing Intimacy. (to be continued in my next blog)