The other day, my son had a “Breakfast with Dad” event at his school. Naturally, I went with him because I wanted to see his new school and meet a few of his teachers.
While most of the dads and kids stood in line to get breakfast, I navigated his wheelchair around the cafeteria, found a quiet space, and sat down to start feeding him breakfast. I could tell he was truly enjoying having me there, and it was fun for me to see how many kids and teachers knew him.
It was, however, strange to see how many people were looking at us.
Whether looks or glances of curiosity or confusion, I found myself feeling a little bit self-conscious. They weren’t bad looks—there were just so many of them!
As I finished up breakfast, I started cleaning my son’s face and walked him to his classroom. I dropped him off, gave him a hug, and walked back to my car.
I wondered if that’s what my son’s life was like all the time.
How does he deal with the self-conscious feelings, the stares, the glances?
But I stopped myself. What I realized is that I felt self-conscious because I was not used to the glances. They aren’t a part of my daily life, but they are for my son. He’s used to people looking at him. In that moment, while I was a little bit off-guard and nervous, it was my son who was the pillar of strength that I needed.
The bigger, broader lesson that I learned and appreciated is that my son is infinitely more prepared to navigate this world than I am. While part of me is still trying to normalize his disability, he’s internalized it and it has become part of who he is—but it’s only one part.
He’s a happy, good-looking kid who happens to have impairments. But it’s not something that he notices—even when people stare. People staring is just a part of his day. He happily ignores them and goes on with his life.
That was a light bulb moment for me: My son has the inner strength to adapt, ignore the glances, and not let his disability define who he is.
He’s got his life well-handled. Perhaps I should recognize that and draw my strength from him.
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