We have all been through the ringer over the last 16 months. This Father’s Day is a good time to really check in on the dads in our lives. 

Society has conditioned us to see men as strong and stoic. No tears or fears allowed. They are the provider, the rock. 

They are also human. 

“10% of new dads experience paternal postpartum depression (50% when mom is depressed!) and tend to need support of their own. However, the stigma against experiencing difficulties in early parenthood is even higher for men than for women,” according to Postpartum International. 

The pressures of daily life as we pull out of this pandemic are spectacular. For families like ours, that’s piled on top of parenting a child with a disability, which comes with a whole set of unique challenges that our friends and family fail to understand the depths of. There are so many factors we must deal with that our parent peers are clueless to: medical needs, behavioral difficulties, financial woes, societal bias, ableism, lack of inclusion in school and everywhere else, frustration with services, sleep deprivation. This list could go on for pages.

When you look at parents of children with disabilities, rates of depressive symptoms are even higher. Much of the data we see focuses on mothers, not fathers. According to a study in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, depression in mothers of children with developmental disabilities is a condition that’s not being addressed on a wide scale. Fathers were not included in the survey.

While statics are lacking, anecdotal evidence abounds. The men in our lives stay silent. They typically don’t talk about what’s bothering them. In fact, men suffering from depression show it in different ways then women. They exhibit anger, irritability, lack of affection, and higher levels of criticism toward themselves and others.

In the process of writing this article, my husband saw a fact sheet about Dads and Depression up on my computer. It made him uncomfortable. He immediately said, “I’m not depressed, you are!” 

And I am. This pandemic and other life events are taking a toll. I’ve been completely transparent about seeking treatment and acknowledging I am not OK. Many of my “mom friends” admit the same. We talk about it openly. We’ll text and email. We escape for walks and let it all out. I don’t see these sorts of interactions with the men in my life. Many of them (NOT ALL!) change the subject, check their phone, or quietly leave the conversation if it veers into analyzing our feelings.

There’s been a lot of buzz about how women carry the mental load in heterosexual relationships. While that needs to change, so does the way we treat men’s mental health. 

The stereotypical gifts we give parents on Mother’s and Father’s Day are a perfect example. For moms, there is a focus on self-care and relaxation. Dads typically get a tie, tools, or a grill set. I asked a receptionist at a day spa if they get a lot of business for Father’s Day, she said not at all. She added that it’s strange that massages are more of a Mother’s Day thing, after all, men need relaxation and pampering too.

This Father’s Day, which is also International Father’s Mental Health Day, let’s take a moment to really see the dads in our life. Let’s give them a safe space to speak up when needed. Let’s honor them. Let’s remember that the traditional parenting roles do not come close to representing everyone. 

Keith Snow is one of those dads. He became a single parent of a newborn daughter and 4-year-old son when his wife died suddenly two weeks after their baby girl was born. Five years later that daughter was having difficulty with her vision. By nine she had lost all of her vision and was having seizures. Somehow Keith managed to juggle work, raising those children, therapies, and medical appointments. He rarely missed a milestone. 

His daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Battten’s Disease when she was 11, after she started having difficulty with speech and balance. It was about that time when he got connected with other local families. That’s when he met the Center for Family Involvement’s Dawn Snow. They married a few years later and blended into a family of 6. 

In early 2018, they lost their daughter at the age of 18 to Batten’s Disease.

Keith and Dawn with their blended family on their wedding day.

Dawn asked Keith what he wished people knew about fathering a child with a disability, he said, “It changes your life for the better! It’s very rewarding but also takes a lot of mental, physical and spiritual strength, and patience.”

Here’s what else Keith had to say:

On the ideal Father’s Day: “On the water. Relaxed, stress free, surrounded by family feeling loved and valued. “

On the hardest part about being a father: “Making sure we’re financially stable.”

On the favorite part of the day: “Being with my family in the evenings.”

On what drew Dawn to Keith…

Dawn: “His loving and kind nature. The love, patience, and dedication he had with his family. The same kind of love, patience and dedication he has now with our blended family. I love seeing the joy he brings to the girls and the joy they bring him.”

What their daughters love about Keith being their dad:

Kim: “He has a huge heart and is extremely funny. My favorite thing to do is snuggle with him on the sofa.”

Kelsey: “He’s like one of my best friends. He’s always there to listen to me.”

Thomas Gorman is a father and grandfather. We asked him about the ideal Father’s Day and the good, bad, and ugly that comes with the best and hardest job in the world.

On Father’s Day: “The ideal Father’s Day isn’t about getting gifts. It’s just being able to spend time with my kids and grandkids. Doing something special together, spending quality time is the most important thing to me.”

Thomas with his family at a wedding on the beach.

On the hardest part of fathering: “Raising kids never ends! Even when they are grown and off on their own, you still worry and offer advice and assistance.”

On the good: “Seeing them succeed and grow into fine adults.”

On the bad: “Frustration of helping them navigate mistakes and challenges they have as they grow older. “

On the biggest challenge: “The challenge I have had raising a son who is blind is dealing with his hyper focus on things. It becomes very overwhelming at times being ‘stuck’ on one topic or thing. Raising a child with a disability extends way beyond them. You have to deal with IEPs and Social Security and insurance. The worries I have for him are way different than anything I worry about with my other kids. You worry about them being happy and productive and challenged and independent as they become adults. “

On having a child with a disability: “Having a blind son has helped me ‘see’ things in a different light. There is a great deal of trust and strength that he has versus my kids who do not have a disability. It has been an experience, though I would not change it for anything!”

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and father-figures out there from all of us here at the Center for Family Involvement!

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