Minnesota Author

Dads Like Us: A Survival Guide for Fathers Raising a Child with Disabilities

Steve (left) and his son, Andrew Harris.
Steve (left) and his son, Andrew Harris.

“Every 4 ½ minutes in America a child is born with a disability. Many more become disabled through injury or illness. That’s a lot of kids. Lots of parents, too, including many fathers. You may be one of them. Or know someone who is.”

(From “Dads Like Us,” by Steve Harris)

I became a “dad like us” many years ago. More than forty, in fact. It was not something I expected, wanted or ever dreamed would happen to me. The birth of my first son, Matthew, with spina bifida (and what turned out to be a host of other life-threatening conditions), became a pivot point in my family’s life and in mine. A life-changing pivot point in every dimension.

Eight years later my second son was born. Andrew’s arrival seemed perfectly normal in every way, and ignited quite a celebration as we enjoyed what we had “missed” the first time around. Within a fairly short time, though, we noticed him struggling to hit the benchmarks our pediatrician was describing. Many tests, MRIs and discussions later we learned the diagnosis: cerebral palsy. Another pivot point, it seemed, or at least a confirmation that what we were facing as a young family was going to be far from “normal.”

I did become a “dad like us,” a father who was raising a child (in my case, two) who had serious, life-altering disabilities and special needs. My wife was facing her own reactions and responses to the care-taking needs in our home. Honestly, for me, while trying to do my best as a dad—and to do the daily routines of going to work, paying the bills and all that—it didn’t go well.

How does a parent do all this, I wondered. Is it different for a dad? Does the way we’re “wired” present unique responses and challenges in parenting a child with special needs? Do other people treat dads differently? Do they know what to do with them at all? What is it like to be a “dad like us?” How can I do it well?

Many years of trying to do it, thinking about it, struggling with it. and adapting to it led me to write this book: “Dads Like Us: A Survival Guide for Fathers Raising a Child with Disabilities.” It has now been published and will soon be available in bookstores and on-line.

This book tackles big questions in brief, conversational chapters, including:

·         How do I accept being a dad like us?

·         How do I handle feelings of sadness, grief, isolation, and anger?

·         How do I manage the “parade” of doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists, and other professionals who come into my child’s life—and mine?

·         How do I cope with—and overcome—the unique stress I face?

·         How can I balance the demands of marriage, family and career as a dad like us?

If you are a “dad like us,” I hope you will read this book. I hope you will find it helpful, practical and encouraging.

If you know a “dad like us” or are related to one, I hope you will help them get this book.

(I hope other people will read it, too. Anyone who cares about these kids, their families, and their dads will learn about the world they are living in, and may be inspired and guided to offer help and support. They need it.)

I say this quickly in the book. I cannot say it enough. I am not an “expert” in all this. I do not consider myself the role model to follow. My road has been bumpy, my struggles real, my humanity apparent. So I have sought to write all this in an honest and helpful spirit, wanting what I have experienced to be authentic and encouraging to other “dads like us.”

Some fathers may discover this book on Day One in a delivery room. Others may read it after years of their own, perhaps bumpy, journeys. Whatever the timing, I believe it will have something to say to all “dads like us,” and the people who care about them. I certainly hope so.

I will say this again as well—our kids are the heart and heroes of our stories. What they have gone through, are going through, and most likely will go through, is the center of all this. Helping them, caring for them, supporting them, advocating for them, hanging in there with them, is what we can bring. That is not always easy. But it is what we want to do, most of all. Even on the hardest days.

Our kids are amazing. They need so much. They need healthy and strong “dads like us.” I hope this book will help us be the very best dads we can be.


Steve Harris

January, 2024

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Steve Harris

Steve Harris is a freelance writer and the author of two books, “Lanesboro, Minnesota,” and “Dads Like Us: A Survival Guide for Fathers Raising a Child with Disabilities.” A graduate of Bethel College & Seminary, he and his wife, Sue, live in Minnesota.

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