There’s a rare breed that with some notable exceptions we don’t get to see so much of. A group of people that can often slip off the radar and go unnoticed. A demographic that rarely gets a mention in the chat forums or magazines. Special needs Dads.
In my day job I provide training and conference speaking services in the special needs area, and have spoken with literally tens of thousands of special needs parents over the past few years. I would estimate that at least 80% of them have been Mums, probably more.
We might be in the 21st Century, but the reality for many families is that women still carry much of the responsibility for childcare support. Dads of children with special needs are far more likely to be in full-time paid work than Mums are. Dads can, as a consequence of this, have very different support needs and are therefore statistically and for practical reasons far less likely to be part of training events, conferences or mutual support groups than Mums, but their support needs are just as real. Helping Dads to navigate the special needs journey with their child (and partner) can be key to reducing the alarming rate of absent Dads in families with a disabled child or a child with special needs.
Linking Dads in to support services including The Dads’ Fire Circle (www.thedadsfirecircle.com), Dads Take 5 (www.take5andchat.org.uk) or Who Let The Dad’s Out? (www.careforthefamily.org.uk/faith-in-the-family/wltdo) can help Dads to journey with guys like them who they can share about life with, get tips from, and maybe as a result feel less alone.
I’m the Founder of The Dads’ Fire Circle and the inspiration for it came from an unlikely source. My family and I were watching Ben Fogle, his ‘New Lives In The Wild’ show on Channel 5, have you seen it? It’s about people who have given up the rat-race and gone to live a life in the wild places, it’s really good!
Anyway, during the episode we were watching, there was a point in the programme where the guy from the family that Ben was visiting (in New Zealand) invited him to join him and some other guys who, with their families, were also living the wild life in the area, to something called ‘The Fire Circle’.
Essentially, these guys sat around a fire pit and shared how they were doing, how they were feeling, anything they wanted to get off their chests; they shared their stories, their experiences, their hopes and fears. They had a stick, which you had to hold if you were speaking. The only other rules were that there was no judgement or comments made, and what was said in ‘The Fire Circle’ stayed in ‘The Fire Circle’. It was a really good accountability group and even Ben Fogle said that he ended up talking about stuff that he hadn’t shared before.
It really reminded me of when I did some Dads sessions for Care For The Family a few years back. Dads of children with special needs coming together and sharing their experiences, their worries, their pain, their journey. It was one of the most impactful things I’ve ever had the privilege to be involved in.
It got me wondering whether any of this would translate online, where special needs Dads from anywhere could gather and share stuff, maybe one-off, maybe journeying together for a bit, maybe even meeting up for real sometimes. A bit of a ‘Dads’ Fire Circle’…
We’re a year old this month and have a regular group of Dads that journey with us; maybe you’re a Dad and would like to ‘join us around the fire’, or maybe you know a Dad that might find it helpful. Even if it’s not for you, don’t journey alone, find a bunch of guys like you to journey alongside and do life with. It might just save you.
All the best,
Text and image © Mark Arnold
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