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A positive approach to fatherhood

Mohammed Rashid is a visually impaired father of three sighted children aged 10, 5 and 3. Here he talks to Disability, Pregnancy and Parenthood Information Officer, Gill Lea-Wilson, about being a father and role model to his growing children.

Mohammed Rashid with hid daughter

Cutting the cord

There was quite a big gap between the births of my son, Iftikhar, and my first daughter, Laiba. My wife's third, and unexpected, pregnancy followed on closer, and at this birth I was able to cut the umbilical cord for the first time. Although no-one suggested it, I asked the midwife if I could and she said ‘why not?’ I had not had the confidence to ask when the first two were born. I am very glad to have done it, to have had that involvement. Having no sight does not mean a father cannot have the same experiences as other fathers.

A father of three

I do feel very close to my children, and they all understand my visual impairment and try to help me. If they know I am trying to find something, such as a pair of shoes, they will go and get them and put them at my feet for me. When they have anything new, such as new clothes, they will bring them to me to feel – particularly the girls.

It has been hard having two young ones so close together. Eeman, my youngest, is the liveliest of all my children. Laiba is always willing to hold my hand when out, but when Eeman started walking at around 18 months, I was concerned she would run off. So I started using reins for her to keep her close to me, and I have found them to be essential for her safety and my peace of mind. She has started to sometimes ask me to let go of the reins, but I do not think she is ready for that yet!

Father and son bonding

My son is a caring, sensitive boy, and very protective of me. I try to spend time with him and we usually go swimming together on a Sunday along with my support worker. I want my son to feel free to enjoy himself and not to worry about me, so I make sure I hold on to the support worker rather than him and encourage him to just enjoy himself.

A couple of years ago, my wife took the girls to Pakistan for five weeks while I stayed home with son ‒ then nine years old. It was challenging to be in charge of everything for the two of us, but I enjoyed learning to cope and just spending time together. I helped my son to get showered, and to be organised and ready for school. I also had to deal with the laundry and cleaning. We either ate meals at my mother's house, or had takeaways. My son made his own breakfast and also helped me to make cups of tea.

Having no sight does not mean a father cannot have the same experiences as other fathers.

Although we do have a close bond and can talk to each other about many things, he does sometimes keep his feelings bottled up, and this has led to some difficult behaviour at times. He now goes to a local young carers' service called 4 Kids Who Care, which runs activities to give kids a break, and I think this is helping him.

I hope to do more activities with the girls as they grow up. I spend time with them at home, sometimes looking after all three children if my wife goes out, and we do go out together as a whole family.

Raising awareness

Iftikhar is now in year six at school. He has at times found it difficult to cope with the reactions of other children when I came to the school. They would sometimes stare at my white cane and also my face, and he was quite upset by this. When he was in year three, I spoke to the school about the problem, and as a result agreed to go in and talk to the children about being visually impaired. I also read them a story from a Clearvision book. I think it really helped for the children to see what I could do, and so things were a little easier for my son.

Learning curves

Laiba is also at the school, in year one, and Eeman is just starting in nursery. Working with my children's primary school to find ways for me to access information and be able to support my children in their education has been a learning curve for both me and them.

I have always made a point of introducing myself to the new class teacher each year and explaining my needs to them. The school have usually been willing to help when I ask, such as by sending letters and reports to me via email. However, I have found that I had to ask repeatedly to ensure it was done consistently.

When Laiba started school, she started getting behind in her learning and I was concerned that she may have a learning difficulty. I wanted to be able to support her more, but was unable to access materials she was bringing home. I asked the school to make some adjustments to enable this, but at first they were unwilling. However, I kept asking, and then when I threatened to talk to the local authority and Ofsted about it, the head teacher agreed to meet to discuss what could be done.

The school use a ‘word box’ containing various laminated words, and the children would each take some words home for spelling practice. I asked the school to invest in a Dymo label printer in order to make tactile words for me to feel, which they have now done. Since then they have also purchased some tactile books from Clearvision, and have agreed to get some more from the Living Paintings Trust. These adjustments have enabled me to support my daughter with her homework, and now her learning is coming on in leaps and bounds.

I do hope that as both the school and I understand more what is needed that things will be easier with my youngest. Initially I would have a meeting with the head teacher only when a problem arose, but I have learnt that it is better to be proactive. I now have regular meetings every term with the head teacher to discuss how things are going and whether anything can be improved.

I like to get involved at school when I can. As well as speaking to my son's class about visual impairment, I have assisted them in a mask-making workshop. I have also helped out in cooking workshops for both Iftikhar's and Laiba's classes.

A positive approach

For me, being a father means I need to build strong relationships with my children by spending quality time with them, to help them grow and develop by getting involved with their education, and also to provide them with a strong role model that they can be proud of and look up to. This is what I aim to do, and when I encounter a problem or have a difficult day, I try to take a positive approach and find a way to solve it.

I think the key for parents supporting children at school is to be proactive in seeking help. Try to build a rapport with the staff. Accept there will be problems but don't be afraid to ask for help ‒ just be polite and respectful.

My advice to school staff would also be to not be afraid to ask the parent, “How do you read to your child?” or “What can we do to help?” If the school doesn't have the experience then this may be an education for them too, a two-way learning process!

Published: 22 October 2013

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