June 17, 2016

The Truest Meaning of Father’s Day

On this Father’s Day,  I think back 19 years. I had all of the trepidation of an expectant father, plus some.

What lessons would I teach my child? Would I be able to provide my child everything needed and deserved? And, would I be able to physically care for my child given the fact that I had severe cerebral palsy, using a power wheelchair? I was 27 and doing well in life, but are fathers ever really prepared for our first child, not knowing what to truly expect, especially with physical disability in the equation?

However, as the most fortunate of fathers have known, such trepidation and question are resolved in an instant. Moments after my daughter, Emily’s, birth, she was placed in my arms, my being the first to hold her. As my somewhat contorted arms cradled her on my lap in my wheelchair, Emily looked me straight in the eyes with the most reassuring look I’ve ever seen.

Sure, I know that newborns technically can’t see. However, the power of that first glance and my coinciding tears washed away any trepidation I had, albeit fatherly, disability-related or otherwise. That first lock of our eyes told me that Emily and I were in this life together, unconditionally. There was no room for trepidation, just love and understanding.

In the following weeks and months, that unique father-daughter bond proved itself in truly inexplicable ways. It’s as if Emily understood my situation. As with most babies, she fussed and squirmed whenever her mother or anyone changed her. Yet, when I lay her on the bed to change her – wheelchair height! – she was all smiles and still, allowing me to change her with one hand.

As an infant, she was always on my lap, then once walking, she remarkably stayed by my side, never running off as toddlers do. We had that never-ending understanding that she knew, loved, and respected me for who I was: Daddy.

As Emily entered adolescence, I found myself in a new role – full-time single father. Looking back, she was so young, and I had my physical limitations. Yes, it was scary at first when it was just the two of us. But, we had that bond. I picked up my pace and so did she, and together, we built a life of normality and emotional health. That first glance couldn’t be broken.

Father's, Mark E Smith and Emily

Mark and Emily

Emily is now 19 and in college two states from home. We went through all of the milestones that father’s and daughters go through – from learning to drive to proms to boyfriends – and, yes, due to the uniqueness of our life, maybe a few more heartfelt milestones that only we understand. We’ve come along way together, and these days Emily comes home from college to an adoring stepmother, and I awake every morning to an 7-year-old typhoon of joy named Annabelle, who’s as much a part of me as if I was her biological father.


Father's, Mark E. Smith Family

The Smith Family

Along the way, what I’ve learned most about fatherhood is two-fold: the bond with our children, when nurtured and cherished, can never be broken, and we learn more from our children than we could ever teach them.

There are a lot of rewarding ways to live. For me, none beat simply being Dad.

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