Nikki Frittmann is a notetaker and reader/writer for students with disabilities at AUT University. She has Spina Bifida and lives in Auckland with her husband and two cats. Every second month she shares her musings with DPSN.
As I wrote this, Father’s Day was fast approaching. It’s always a painful reminder of our long and, in the end, unsuccessful struggle to have a baby. So altogether, not a particularly happy day in the Frittmann household.
My Dad passed away in 1987. I was 22 years old and I remember that day clearly. Dad was a hard-working man, a veteran of the Second World War, disabled himself. He was a farm boy, growing up in rural South Canterbury, and when he returned from the war so badly injured, his dearest dream was to have his own farm. However, he was thought by the powers that be to be too disabled to even be considered in the running, so he never got his dream. Nevertheless, he taught me not to be a bitter person – he knew I already had a condition that would make some people want to turn away from me (out of fear, prejudice, or both) and he wanted me to be someone who got on with people, who attracted people to her, despite my disability.
Although he was unable to achieve his own dream of rural life, Dad became a farm economist, advising farmers how to keep their farms profitable. Part of this job involved spending time in newly-sprayed paddocks, where the ground was soaked in agricultural chemicals. This came back to haunt him, when questions were asked later about Spina Bifida possibly resulting from contamination with these chemicals. Dad’s pain was compounded further during my childhood, when two of his workmates had children with the same disability – one of them had two children with this condition.
The thing was, Dad never hinted to me that he felt that way. If he had, I would have assured him that I am all right, that having a child with Spina Bifida is nobody’s fault, and that in any case, no-one thought to take extra precautions against such things in the 1960’s. This was well before the days when any link with Agent Orange and birth defects was even thought of. I’m sure Dad took the best measures he could to protect himself from the dangers of contamination, but he couldn’t be expected to think of the effect such a thing would have on his family. You can’t prevent what you don’t know. Dad was a good provider, a good husband to Mum, a good father to my brother and me, and that’s all you can ask. The rest, I know, was beyond his control.
So to all Dads – especially the ones with kids with a few extra needs – don’t let guilt eat you up. You are not to blame. Disability finds some children no matter what anybody does to prevent it. Nobody sets out to give birth to a child with extra needs, but when that does happen, we are lucky to live in a society where disability is largely accepted and help is usually available to anyone who will ask. A child who is born with a disability is most often used to the way things are. Life for them has never been any different.
But most of all, if you do feel those feelings, for goodness’ sake, talk to someone about it! If not family (family is sometimes a bit too close), then someone outside the loop, a counsellor, anybody. I’ll talk to you. Just don’t bottle it up.
Belatedly, Happy Father’s Day.