DIFFERENT DADS

Reviewed by Paul Lalor

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As a father of a 12-year-old son with Down Syndrome, I agreed to read this book with a sense of unease, wondering what feelings might emerge that had lain buried for so long. Initially I wondered how it would apply to me? But I continued to read it to explore if it would be useful to other fathers in a similar position. The book contains 21individual and quite different personal experiences; it is easily read and the glossary of terms is comprehensive. Although there is much variation between the 21cases, there are some threads that are common to the emotional responses that one experiences in the aftermath of being informed that one’s child has a disability.

The overwhelming need for information specific to the condition, regardless of the individuality of the circumstances, resonates loudly through each of the stories. It would appear that fathers still continue to feel as though they are the only person in the world that this has happened to. As long as health professionals continue to focus their attention on the mother, fathers will remain condemned to feeling as if their role is somehow secondary, and that they are in fact extraneous to the situation. These stories highlight that little if any support is given to assist fathers to cope with initial feelings such as rejection, tinged by despair at what their child will not achieve. Although each story is individual, there was one particular example that struck a chord. One father mentioned how attending one’s church should be a supportive environment, yet the irony was that when his baby made noise during the service he received disapproving looks—an all-too-painful and familiar feeling. The wide variation in the experiences described serves to normalise the multiplicity of emotional responses one can expect to feel; yet each of the fathers described how over time they learned to celebrate their child’s achievements and to bear intolerance with fortitude.

Although one could relate to many of the emotional responses put forward, this is where the similarities end. For example, many marital relationships failed and some fathers actually changed career and/or became fulltime carers. This seemed somehow to be the exception to the rule. Perhaps this is possible in the UK, because of specific financial and health benefits afforded to families in this situation. However, although geographically close, Ireland seems a million miles away, as simple supports such as access to respite care are unattainable for many.

There are many positive aspects to the book, most importantly that it highlights that one is not alone. However, one would suggest caution in recommending the text routinely, as it may raise concerns for parents that they have never yet considered— such as managing challenging behaviour. Therefore, if a health professional recommends this text to parents only recently informed of their child’s disability, informational support should be provided to answer any questions that may arise. If I were offering this to a father, I would suggest that he read the conclusion first. That way he can get a flavour for the individual experiences described and can choose to read those that resonate strongly, rather than perhaps becoming overwhelmed by issues that may never arise in their own circumstances.

DIFFERENT DADS: FATHERS’ STORIES OF PARENTING DISABLED CHILDREN by Jill Harrison, Matthew Henderson and Rob Leonard. London: Jessica Kingsley. ISBN 978 1 84310 454 4

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