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Accentuating the positive

Steve Pendleton, who lives in Rochester, Kent, UK and is a disabled father of three girls, concentrates on what he can do, rather than what he can’t do, in his parenting role .

Before I was left seriously disabled, I had a number of views about what a good father would provide for his family. These views were based on my own upbringing, and these ideals were: taking the children to the park; reading the bedtime stories; making sure my wife and children were provided for financially; and a list of other activities based more around fun and enjoying the children. The more routine parts of parenthood I would leave to the wife!

Very sexist, I know, but this was the way I had been brought up, or perhaps dragged up as some mothers out there will say. The things mothers did were cooking, cleaning, ironing, school runs and all that sort of thing. I should say future wife, because these were my views before I was injured and before I had even been married and had children of my own.

Unimaginable

As a young 22-year-old soldier, I was left blind, minus my left leg above the knee and totally deaf in my right ear, plus a chapter of other minor injuries that some 15 years later have started to come back to haunt me. These disabilities were a result of a helicopter crash while I was serving in Northern Ireland.

The thought of having children was a long way off for me then. But it couldn’t have been that far from my mind, as one of my first questions to my doctor in the military hospital illustrates quite well. “Because I am blind, does this mean that my children will be born blind?” I must admit that this question seems ludicrous to me now, but was of immense importance to me at the time. The other thing was, I didn’t think that any woman would ever look at me again! I mean, what woman in her right mind would settle for a guy who could not see, had only one leg and was partially deaf? The fact that I might meet a woman who would love me enough to have children with her seemed quite unimaginable to me at that time.

It’s nice to look back at those early days of disability and realise that my initial fears were not realised. In fact, I never had any trouble in finding girls. One in particular would go on to become my wife of six years and my constant partner for 11 years. Her name is Michala, and she is, without doubt, my one and only for the rest of my life. She is also the mother to our three children, Bethany aged nine, Shannon aged eight and last, but by no means least, our little terror, Amy, aged three.

Maximising my role as father

Obviously, when my first daughter was born, I wanted to be as involved as I could. But I also had to be realistic because of my disabilities!

The first thing I wanted to do for Bethany when we got her back from the hospital was to give her a bath. But there was that constant thought in the back of my head: “Because of my leg, will I slip up in the bathroom when I am carrying her?” Because I wanted my daughter to be safe, I decided not to give her baths, leaving this job to Michala. In fact, like all parents, we put the safety of our children first, so this limited my involvement in their early upbringing. But I don’t feel at all guilty about this, simply because I was doing what all responsible parents do – putting the welfare of my children first. And in some ways I have made up for the shortfall in this area by maximising on the activities that I can do with my children. I feel it is important to realise one’s limitations by not bothering about what I cannot do but by concentrating on what I can do.

I would be there ‘always’

There is no book out that tells us how to be a good parent; we all just have to muddle through as best we can. When my first child was born, I tended to look back at my own early childhood, for some sort of inspiration. What did my own father do when I was growing up? The more I asked myself this, the more I realised that I didn’t want to bring my own children up anything like my dad brought me up. My father had been in the army also, and my early memories were of me being dragged around from camp to camp, forever changing schools and I certainly didn’t want this for my own kids.

Because my father was always at work, I never saw him much. In reverse, therefore, I wanted to be there for my children, so early on in their lives I decided that I would be there ‘always’. The thing that really wound me up about my main disability and my children’s upbringing was that I could not read them bedtime stories. I managed to get round this problem by making up stories in my head and telling them by memory. But then I learned Braille, which also proved to be very useful in this area. I find that sharing those last minutes before the children go to sleep is a good time to talk with them and recap over the day, concentrating on all the great things we have done together that day. This I hope gives the girls nice things to think about before they go to sleep. I feel this is very important.

That’s what dads are for

I see my main role as a father, even a disabled father, is to make sure my wife and children are safe. I am the protector of my family. I am the one who has the responsibility to make sure there is enough money to pay the bills and keep the fridge and freezer stocked with food. All these things I do very well. The reason I know I do this well is that Michala doesn’t have to or want to go out to work. This means she is where she is supposed to be – at home, looking after the kids! I am also the ‘rough and tumble man’. When the children want to play fighting games, I am the man who gets it. I have lost count of the number of times my girls have pulled my leg off. Sometimes these games can get quite serious, but what the hell, that is what dads are for.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 57, Winter 2007.

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