I always giggle when reminded of the very first time I introduced Geoff to my mom. We were still “just friends” at this point, but the word “relationship” hovered closely. Standing on the edge of the soccer field following a match we had coached together, she had already asked me about his height. She then said something to the effect, “Heather told me you were 6’2”,” and without missing a beat, he flashed his blue eyes and dimples replying simply, “I still am.”
And now all these years later, we are surviving parenting. This Fathers’ Day, I want to remind all dads out there — regardless of your physical abilities (or height differential) of the importance of role modeling. The traditional image of a dad only being a good dad if he tosses baseballs or footballs at twilight in the yard, or gives the sex talk to sons “when the time is right”, or holds the shotgun by the front door when the daughter is picked up on a first date has disappeared down the rabbit hole. Yet still, sons and daughters watch their fathers and mothers constantly and subconsciously make notes to consider later in life when finding partners, ditching some and marrying others.
This photo right here of our daughter’s first dance recitals is one of my favorites. She is 3 and Geoff is 43, and they are both damn adorable, right. But it’s the way she is smiling up at him that reaffirms in both of us that Geoff being in a wheelchair is a non-issue for him being her dad. In fact, one might argue that their close relationship, even now that she is almost 8, stems from this kind of unobstructed, direct eye contact. His eyes are always close to hers — to both kids really. Carver is just a hair taller than Geoff now while he is sitting in his chair so that they are literally head to head, and behaviorally this is also true. This morning, for example, Geoff told our son to go out to the car in order to separate him from his sister, as an argument ensued. Carver stared at him, and for a moment I believed Geoff would chase him down in his wheelchair like he did when he was little and liked to run away from his father. Given our broken stair lift, Geoff, sadly, misses out on the bedtime confessional of the often daily “wish I could do over” which happens, you guessed it, at bedtime.
We are figuring out together now that they are physically more challenging and verbally sassier, the moments when to ignore, when to confront, when to take them fishing, when to put their fannies in their rooms for their own protection, when to have big conversations, and when to just listen. Certainly, we haven’t read any manuals on how to do this parenting thing, or at least not since they were babies. But judging by those smiles, which are a great deal like their Dad’s minus all the dimples, they are growing up into some pretty good kids — ones who like adventure and danger and art and nature, you know, life’s important skills. They watch their dad speak publicly on all sorts of issues ranging from disability awareness to adaptive sports to showing someone else (or their partner) how all is not lost just because they have a spinal cord injury. Their dad helps them with math homework, craft projects, anything related to our fish and turtle tanks, all wheeled sports, water sports, boating sports, racket sports sliding sports, sports with balls, hooks or rods, and even splitting wood. They love their dad and know he loves them, even when frustrated. I can picture the first time we are introduced to their college roommate or new love interest.“You never mentioned that your dad was in a wheelchair.”
Both our children would reply with his smiles, charm, and blue eyes and say, “I didn’t know it mattered.”And it doesn’t, especially in the ways that matter most. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, whether sitting or standing, alive or in heaven, those patient, hopeful ones trying to become dads or those experienced, tired ones just doing their best — we are grateful for you modeling what it means to be a dad in so many different ways — whether alone or in a partnership — supportive and loving and communicative. Thank you also to our own dads Tony Ehrman and Phil Krill, as well as all the dads in our lives who help Geoff do those other dad things.
Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 9 and 7.Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.