On Saturday, November 16, 2013, I was part of 50 men opening up at a symposium sponsored by the Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Wallace McLaughlin, President/CEO, recognized first-hand the special needs of fathers when the boy he and his wife adopted was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Through conversations with fathers raising children with special needs, he and his staff recognized fathers’ courage and ingenuity along with the difficulties in their role as partner, provider, and role model. In seeing limited support and resources for men, they made a commitment to step up.
I spoke to these issues in my keynote presentation, “Rethinking Masculinity for Fathers and Families of Children with Special Needs.” Interested readers can check out a shortened webinar version.
As Greg Schell, the Director of the Washington State Fathers Network, observed, “Having the lead speakers offer transparency in their own stories validated the option of speaking freely about their very personal issues. Dads took the signal and ran with it! Dads wanted to discuss their situations, challenges, and triumphs.”
Greg also noted in his workshop how deeply men thought about their personal situations and how they enjoyed hearing what other men had to say. They talked about resources, possible solutions, and simply shared their perspectives. The message, according to Greg, was powerful: “They are not alone! They have strengths to optimize…and, just the joy of being around other dads struggling with the same kind of issues, and celebrating many of the same kind of small triumphs made the spirit of the day incredibly satisfying.”
Rodric Reid, Manager of Annual Giving and Special Projects, reflected that “the temperature of the event utterly gave the men permission to become emotionally naked in a protected environment.” The workshops enticed dialogue and bonding. According to Rodric, “This was perfect for the day for there is no use in giving me tools if you don't show me how to use them. Perhaps the most powerful point of the symposium, at least for me, was the Q&A at the end. As I walked around with the mic, I was able to see the emotions roll of almost every man in the room. All I can say is WOW! That was so powerful.”
As I boarded my plane back to Philadelphia, I felt inspired by the event I had been a part of and enriched by the men I had encountered. The conversation will continue with Dr. Wallace McLaughlin who has been a visionary in developing fatherhood programs at the Fathers and Families Center which bears the tagline, “Building a Noble Legacy of Fatherhood.” The special needs community can certainly benefit and look forward to the contributions of his fine team.
Tune in this Sunday to “Guy Talk” at www.autismbrainstorm.org at 9:00 PM. Wallace McLaughlin will be our featured contributor as we discuss the issue of helping fathers connect.