By: Liam Dougherty
Unlike almost everyone else I meet during my day, my two-year-old daughter does not see me as disabled. One thing parenting has taught me so far is that kids do not have a pre-packaged idea of how things are. If Rosie saw a magic trick she would not be impressed at all, because it has not been drilled into her that things are a certain way. She has no understanding of physics or science or thermodynamics that tells her that something should be impossible. The thing just happens. It is not a big deal that the rabbit could come out of the hat, without any preconceptions about rabbits or hats. The only thing she is experiencing is how great rabbits are.
This is how my daughter sees me–not as a disabled dad who uses a wheelchair full-time, but as dad. It is refreshing to have a relationship like this. With other family and friends, as much as those relationships are filled with love, there is always some basic level where disability comes in. Our relationships are mediated by sympathy, compassion, or (best case scenario) empathy. There is always a (sometimes unspoken) undercurrent of “Can I help button up your shirt?” or “Can I cut up your food for you?”
Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing. Empathy is at the core of how adults are able to form just and peaceful societies, and really to show each other love and understanding. And it is something toddlers almost entirely lack (Rosie will slap, kick, or pull your hair without a second thought). Toddlers would not make responsible citizens. But I do believe that I have learned about how I see my own disability through my daughter’s eyes.
Rosie only knows me as someone who is wise and strong (admittedly the bar is lower by toddler-standards). She has an unmediated patience with me in a way that does not bite its tongue or have any kind of second thought. She never seems to think “Mommy [who is able-bodied] could do this better/ faster/ neater”, because she knows I am doing everything I can, as quick as I can. I do want to note that she is not what I would call patient in general, but when she gets frustrated it is not directed at my slowness, but more at how she needs another Fig Newton–RIGHT NOW!
I am not advocating for people to try to overlook disability in a “color-blind” sort of way. I just think it is valuable to be able to take off all the social baggage that disability brings along with it in much of our society. Take it off like a wet sweater and look at it from across the room. Fatherhood has taught me to respect my body and my movements in an unmediated way.
Diversability is doing a two-day series on parenting with a disability. In this series, we have the privilege of learning about two Diversability community members’ lives as disabled parents.