My brother-in-law drove a pick-up truck for many years with this bumper sticker in the rear window. He is an incredible dad. I looked up the quote recently and found it credited to Wade Boggs, former Red Sox third baseman. The quote goes on to say, “You taught me the game and you taught me how to play it right.”
With Father’s Day fast approaching, I am remembering my own dad and his example to our extended family. And I am thinking of other dads I have met through Vinfen’s Family Advisory Council. I am awed by their love, patience, grit, creativity, humor, perseverance, and heroism.
My parents welcomed child #6, my sister, Eileen, in 1975, two days before Dad’s 44th birthday. Eileen was born with Down syndrome, which was evident from the moment of her delivery. One of the attending doctors consulted with our parents and told them they should put Eileen in an institution. I wasn’t there, but the story is my father said something like ‘over my dead body.’
In the months after Eileen’s birth, Mom had some serious complications. Dad took over household duties and increased his share of the parenting (even with me, the one who was a college freshman). With five kids at home, there were many activities, intersecting and conflicting schedules, and logistics to manage. Eileen’s schedule alone must have been daunting. There were medical appointments, early intervention, and physical and occupational therapy.
Dad was a sales representative for a surgical instrument company. During that time he was doing his job on the phone, rather than in person. Pretty creative, I would have thought, but face-to-face contact was the expectation. They laid Dad off after about 15 years with the company. It was small consolation to learn he set sales records in the last months of his time there.
Our parents are “find a way/make a way” people. Mom recovered and she transitioned her nursing career toward disability services. Dad found other work and (eventually) another career, as a burn technician and operating room assistant at Boston Shriners Hospital in Boston. Both made sure Eileen could pursue anything and everything she was capable of doing. They challenged the status quo with special education directors, service coordinators, and legislators. Both parents insisted Eileen was included in all family activities and neighborhood goings-on, which continues to this day.
Each month, I sit at a table with dedicated members of Vinfen’s Family Advisory Council, including two dads who advocate tirelessly for their own and others’ children. Phil and Neal are wise listeners and advocates. They share their own points of view with clarity, good humor, empathy, and authenticity. The Council is fortunate and stronger for their contributions.
At our Annual Celebration of Family Partnerships, dads often have a starring role. We hear inspiring stories of family heroes nominated by Vinfen staff, who find a way and make a way for their loved ones to have abundant, meaningful lives. Two recent keynote speakers, Dick Hoyt and Pete Earley, entertained and informed attendees with their experiences as fathers and with advocacy. This year, on October 26 our Keynote Speech will be delivered by Michael Plansky, who founded You’re With Us. He was inspired to start the program by his son Max, who has cerebral palsy and plays on the Northeastern University men’s basketball team. I hope readers will consider attending this year’s event.
Dad passed away in 2002 and my family and I think and speak of him often. We can see his influence on succeeding generations. My brothers and my brother-in-law are dads who show their children how to play “the game right.” My nephews and nieces are all supportive and loving of Eileen. And I just found out my brother-in-law and sister will become grandparents later this year. I can’t wait to find out what a great dad their son will be.
Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads we know and love!