I recently became acquainted with a businessman who started an organization that supported special needs dads through a mentorship program and various other resources. I was excited to have become connected with him through a mutual friend, but was truly excited when he invited me to a board meeting for the organization to hear their ideas and get my opinion about how to successfully reach more dads with their programs. I traveled downtown to his office where I was personally escorted up to his floor, and there was welcomed by him and several of the other professionals who contributed on the team, and treated to a nice lunch.
During the meal, I was introduced to the program and how it was structured, and the founder put forth both ideas but also questions about how it could be improved. I was glad that I was able to share my own unique perspective as a special needs father, but also as a teacher and someone who has worked with parent and life groups for special needs families as well.
After the meeting, I stayed to speak personally with the founder, and we had a wonderful opportunity to share our lives, goals and visions for how to better support families like mine, specifically the fathers. Towards the end of our conversation, he presented me with an envelope, and tucked inside was a “merit coin”, similar to what those in the military or police force would receive.
He explained that this was an idea he had developed to honor special needs dads, and this would be given solely for the work of being a good father to his special needs child, everyday, all the time in all facets. He said that he gives them out at a variety of events and will many times pick someone randomly from a crowd, but he said the most important part of this gift was how it was given to the father, with a handshake, holding the coin inside the palms of both hands. As he shook my hand and gave the presentation, I beamed with pride and emotion.
I realized right after he had passed it on to me, that this gift was not so much about me, but about me doing it for another. I had been given more than just an award for my good parenting, I was also given a template for how I might lift up another father with my words and actions, and what it could mean to another, especially in times of hardship and struggle.
I now carry the coin with me everywhere I go, and know what a great gift it truly is, as it can serve as a reminder for me in my own times of stress and doubt, but also a light for another, when they are in a dark place, I can share hope for them, that they might be who they are meant to be.
Written by John Felageller
John lives in Northbrook, IL with his wife Elizabeth and his son Christopher (ASD), and is currently an Elementary Teacher at a Charter School in Chicago, IL. He is a regular contributor to Key Ministry’s Special Needs Family blog, and is both a live presenter and on Key Ministry’s Facebook page. He coordinates a Special Needs Dads meet-up in his community and works with several other local Special Needs organizations that serve both parents and children.
Connect with John on his Facebook page here.