Daddy Loves You: A Reminder for Daddies of Children with Special Needs
Daddy Loves You
Daddies are role models to their sons. They help to guide boys to be respectable, hard-working men. To their little girls, Daddies are the first man in their lives. Girls learn how men are supposed to treat them and what will and won’t be tolerated. There are so many men out there who miss out on being a father to their children—either by choice or because they’re prevented from playing that role. So, it was important to me to be with a man who would take his role as a father very seriously. Steve was that man.
Daddies are a very important part of their children’s lives. As a girl who grew up without her father, I felt very much what I must have missed as I watch Steve with our four children. Steve is an amazing father. It may have a lot to do with the fact he didn’t enjoy a close relationship with his own father but he’s always tried to be a hands-on Dad. And, believe me, it’s been a difficult journey for him at times.
There’s something about Steve that Jaimie wasn’t able to handle. In fact, we still haven’t figure out what it might be. Whether it’s his scent, the tone of his voice or the feel of his skin, after spending any small amount of time with him she ends up screaming, “Daddy, go away!” The worst part has been watching him withdraw from his own child because he didn’t want to make things worse.
When we first brought Jaimie home from the hospital, Steve did everything: diaper changes, walked and rocked her to sleep, even dealt with projectile vomit situations. But, at around three months, when Jaimie started teething, things changed. She simply wanted nothing to do with him. She screamed at his touch, turned her head whenever he spoke to her and wouldn’t even take her bottle if he tried feeding her.
How awful it must have been for him to only hold her for about five or ten minutes to give me a break—and, even then, he had to hold her with a pillow between them or she tried wriggling out of his arms—before having to give her back to me. Of course, as soon as she was back with me, or he put her right down, she settled. When she got older—between one and two years of age—she was more aggressive about her feelings towards him. She pushed him, yelled at him to leave her alone or to let her go, covered her ears when he spoke, gagged when he got too close and threw her cup at him when he tried to just give her juice or milk.
We didn’t understand why. It was one thing to prefer one parent over the other, as our physician stated happened often. But, it was just not normal for a child to reject a loving parent outright. And Steve gave up. He basically backed off and let me deal with her most of the time. In his mind, it was better to have stayed in the background than to have made things even worse.
After awhile, I wondered why we’d even had a child when we couldn’t share in raising her or even loving her. But I admired Steve’s strength. Most guys would have said, “Why the hell even stay, then.” and left. He didn’t. He did his best with what he could do, even when it hurt. God love him.
After Jaimie’s SPD diagnosis, when she was about two-and a half, we began therapy as a family. It taught us how to communicate and relate to Jaimie, as well as, helped her learn more effective coping tools to deal with us. Unfortunately, Steve often felt like an outsider both because Jaimie still rejected his “Daddy-ness” and also because he wasn’t always able to participate in her one-on-one therapy sessions.
One evening, not too long after Jaimie began her in-home therapy with her occupational therapist (OT), Steve and I had made a date to catch up. We hadn’t seriously talked for quite a while and things between us seemed…strained. He’d always been so quiet and had never been very open about his feelings. But, I knew he’d been hurting even if he’d never shown it outwardly. He simply hid behind jokes.
After having done Jaimie’s bedtime ritual three times until she felt safe and satisfied, I came downstairs for our chat. Steve sat on the couch, hiding his face behind the newspaper. “You want to talk now?” I asked.
He put his newspaper down. “Yeah, sure. Tell me what’s going on.”
“There’s not much to tell, really,” I said. “Donna, Jaimie’s OT, gave me this questionnaire to fill out. I’m supposed to rate Jaimie’s reactions to situations, people and other stuff. God, I don’t know about this. I hope we’re doing the right thing.”
“We have to try, hun,” Steve said, picking his paper back up. “What’s the questionnaire for?”
“It’s something we’re supposed to do together,” I said. “It’s going to tell us what Jaimie’s tolerance level is for her environment so we know what sort of treatment to get her.”
“Great,” he said from behind the front page.
I shook my head at him. “No wonder Jaimie is so indifferent with you. You show absolutely no interest in her well-being. You know what? Forget it. Read your paper and I’ll just take care of it by myself….like always.”
He threw the newspaper to the side, startling me. “What am I supposed to do,” he bellowed. “I can’t touch her or she screams. I tell her I love her and she says ‘No, only Mama.’ I can’t even comfort her and my being around just seems to make things worse. Tell me, Chynna, what do I do?”
Only three times in the ten years Steve and I had been together had I seen him cry: When his grandmother died, when Jaimie was born and right then. For the first time during all the madness, he’d finally let his emotions flow. I was proud of him.
I sat beside him, guiding his head onto my lap, then stroked his hair as I said, “You tell her you love her even if she doesn’t want to hear it. You give her your support even if it’s from a distance because she can’t handle your touch. And you tell her you’re here for her even if she doesn’t want you to be. You’re her Daddy and she needs to know she can feel safe with you. You can’t be afraid to show your feelings—that won’t help her. Show her it’s okay to be scared or angry or sad and that you feel those things, too.”
I wasn’t sure if what I’d said made him feel better about the situation. How does one make someone else feel better about his child rejecting him? You can’t. I had been the only person in Jaimie’s world whom she’d trusted near her to do the things she’d needed done. Even though I’d never received physical love from Jaimie either—because hugs, cuddles and kisses were out of the question for a girl who couldn’t handle touch—she’d never pushed me away. I could only imagine how difficult and painful it had been for Steve. I’d felt helpless for years—stuck between the two people I’d loved most in the world and not being able to help either of them.
Then at bedtime the next night, I guided Jaimie up the stairs to her bedroom. Steve reached out to her as she’d rushed past him on her way to the stairs and he said, “Goodnight, Jaimie. Daddy loves you.”
Jaimie stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes widening. “No, you don’t say that. You don’t love me…only Mama.”
Steve held his ground—he didn’t back down nor did he shy away. “Yes, Mama loves you, Jaimie. But Daddy loves you, too. It’s okay if you don’t want to hear it, but, Daddy wants to say it.”
To this day, Jaimie still hasn’t told Steve she loves him. But she knows her Daddy loves her. And she shows him in her own ways: she draws pictures for him, she tells him about her day and asks him about his and will even sit in his lap—facing away from him, but still, a huge step.
One day, she’ll be brave enough to say, “I love you too, Daddy.” Until that day, Steve knows in his heart how she feels. And he never lets a day go by that he doesn’t remind her of his love for her.
This article is an excerpt from Chynna’s memoir, “Not Just Spirited: One Mom’s Sensational Journey with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)”.
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