Sunday, June 21, 2015

A (special-needs) Father's Day Reflection

Today being Father's Day, our house was probably like many others. I was awakened by two little girls with a gleam in their eyes as they wished me a Happy Father's Day. Soon to be followed by presents and many hugs and kisses. A special song was even sung to me by my youngest daughter, Amelia, as my oldest daughter, Olivia, strummed a play guitar. Morning turned to afternoon and I was off to work. Olivia kissed me goodbye and as she hugged me, there were tears streaming down her cheeks just because I was leaving.

As I drove to work I thought about my father who I recently lost in March. I thought about how he was always there for support or just to talk things over with. Then my thoughts switched to Olivia and her special-needs. I thought about how far she has come and how far she still has to go.  I thought about how much she needs her mother and I and what would happen to her if we weren't here.

It was almost eight years ago when I became a first time father. Although I was older than most first time fathers, I was still nervous and a little apprehensive. I also knew it would be a life changing event.  
        Little did I know how life changing it would be.

Less than twenty four hours after Olivia came into this world I was told that she had a stroke prior to birth. My knees went weak and my life was forever changed. After breaking this devastating news to my wife, who was in a hospital 40 miles away, we learned of the extent of the damage and the limits the the future might hold for her. We soon entered a world unknown to us. A world of doctors and therapists, educators and aides. From this specialist to that specialist to physical therapy to occupational therapy to speech therapy to Easter Seals and back, we soon had a team surrounding our little Olivia that had her best interest at hand. 

Behind every good father there is a great wife and mother. As a father I am thankful for my wife Anna. She has made it her mission to help Olivia be the best that she can be. And her mission has become our family's mission. One doctor told us not to expect a full recovery but to hope for one. He also told us that if we didn't hope for a full recovery that we wouldn't do the things necessary to facilitate it. I believe this became our family motto. 

Olivia met some of her milestones during her first couple years. And she surprised us with the way she was progressing. It probably wasn't until the birth of our second daughter that we fully realized Olivia's deficits. All that we knew was that we wouldn't have a second chance to go back and try a different path for Olivia's recovery. So when it came to doctors and therapists we chose the "all hands on deck" approach. 

After nearly eight years we still stick to that master plan. Therapy sessions come in many forms. From scheduled sessions to constant correcting and teaching at home, we continue to push Olivia forward. Even Olivia's little sister helps her along the way with everything from helping her dress to correcting her speech. 

But all along this 8 year process Olivia has also turned the tables and taught me many things as well:

Olivia has taught me how special it is to hear your child say "daddy".
Olivia has taught me how special it is to hear your child say the alphabet.
Olivia has taught me how special it is to get shoes on the right feet.
Olivia has taught me how special it is to run to first base.
Olivia has taught me how special it is to ride a bike.
Olivia has taught me how special it is to go to a dance recital or a school program
Olivia has taught me how special it is to welcome family and friends at the door.
Olivia has taught me how special it is just to be able to sing Happy Birthday or today say "Happy Fathers Day"
And most of all...
Olivia has taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.

As a father I want the best for my kids. And like most fathers I want my kids to be perfect. But I have learned that "perfect" is a comparative word. Olivia is perfect in my eyes and she gets more perfect every day. My wish for her is that she continues to improve and amaze us with her infectious personality. My promise to her is that we will do everything necessary and never quit striving for a life without limits.

Love you Livi ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️