Why a site for Fathers
The need for FathersConnect is great. Here is a reason why.
9 years ago a woman was in an electrical supply store in Jerusalem with her son, who has Down’s syndrome. When the young sales manager saw the boy he told the woman that five days earlier he had become a father for the first time. To a boy. With Down’s syndrome. His wife had come home from the hospital, he said, but the baby was still there. His wife didn’t want to bring the baby home. She refused to even hold it. The father’s parents could not accept that their first grandchild, especially a boy, was not typical. They actually encouraged their son to abandon his child. The father told the woman: “Hashem has given me a son and I want to be his father.” The father was not present at his son’s bris. He stayed at home to be with his wife who refused to attend. This was a father in great emotional pain with no one to support him.
The woman got involved. She arranged for other mothers of Down’s syndrome children to give encouragement to the new mother. Three families were found who offered to adopt the baby. Joan Shransky, the founder and then director of Gan Harmony (the Jerusalem pre-school for inclusion) brought the young couple to the Gan to see how Down’s syndrome children learn there. With Hashem’s blessing these efforts finally paid off. When their son was 4 weeks old the new mother and her husband walked on Shabbos from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo to Shaare Tzedek hospital to see their son. That day the mother held her baby for the very first time.
Every Purim the family, now with 4 children, comes to visit the woman as a gesture of thanks. Their son is beautiful, speaks fluently, is very social, and is the source of great pleasure to the father, the mother and grandparents alike.
As women are wont to do, they connect. In a relatively short time the efforts of a group of women helped a traumatized mother connect with her herself, her baby, and her husband. But who was there for the father? He had no one to advise him when his wife was devastated. No one to help him relate to his parents who were so insistent on abandoning their first grandson. No one to inform him of what to expect or what to do next. No one to put an arm around his shoulder and say: “I see how hard this is for you.”
FathersConnect understands fathers and is ready to be there for them when needed. We understand because we have been there ourselves.
One Last Point.
The effort to reach out to families of children with special needs is almost exclusively directed to mothers. Pitifully little effort is made to reach fathers. There is a perception among professionals, agencies, and even the general public that fathers of special children do not get involved so much with their children. That we are too busy. While we may say publicly that we are too busy, what we keep to ourselves may be something quite different.
Sometimes our retreat from involvement is because we don’t know what to do. And being men we think that we are supposed to know what to do in all situations. If we don’t know we usually shift the responsibility to someone else (in the case of our special child, most often to our wives). Or we do “something” just to be doing something but not with confidence that it is the best thing to do. Or we do nothing and we let the situation take whatever turns it does, sometimes creating even bigger challenges for us, and for others.
It may be that we haven’t been reached because we haven’t opened ourselves up to being reached. Have we taken the easy way out and left the management our children and much of the decision making to our wives? It is true we have commitments to chavrusas, to bosses, to bank loans, to all manner of demands. But after 120 years we may have to answer some questions that will be asked of fathers like ourselves: “You spent a lifetime with a child who was given specifically to you. Did you do all you could to support your wife? What did you do to build your special child? And, were you receptive to how he could build you?”
How will you answer?