The goal of socializing children with disabilities into life in society and in the Church was addressed by the late Dr. John Boojrama of blessed memory in his book “Foundations for Christian Education.” (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) Dr. Boojrama identifies the father’s spiritual health and the health of the parent’s relationship as the key factors in successful socialization of all family members. And this certainly applies to families with members who have disabilites as well. So one would think that it would be easy to find Orthodox Christian resources that focus on supporting the spiritual health of fathers (of families). But I am not finding this. Am I missing something?
Actually it could simply be that when I search for “fathers” in Orthodox websites, I get barraged with so many sites on the Holy Fathers of the Church, that I can’t find anything addressing family fathers in they haystack!
So where are fathers of children with disabilities to go for support for the issues they face? Some with children whose disabilities are more severe really need this. I have found reources for support, but they are not Orthodox Christian resources. The insights and guidance received in these would need to be discussed with one’s spiritual father and other trusted mentors in the Church.
And this principle has wider implications. In our society there is pressure to abort babies shown by pre-natal testing to have disabilities; there is also the expectation that family members who are “a burden” will be institutionalized. Individual rights and individual fulfillment are emphasized; sacrifices for the sake of family members are questioned. 15 years ago a counsellor, when I told him that my father, near the end of his life, asked me to take care of my mother when he died, (I was their only child) asked me if I resented this expectation. Now I’m not exactly sure where he was coming from, but isn’t it a strange question? And this was a Protestant denominational counselling center.
So if a father of a child with disabilities, out of need, seeks out a support group outside the Orthodox Church, I certainly would applaud his effort to fortify himself for his uniquely crucial role. I would only add, verify that the support received is in harmony with Orthodox Christian values.
UPDATE– A search on “fatherhood” yielded some Orthodox results for fatherhood in general. The Orthodox Church in America’s online Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries offers an article on the “Spiritual Aspects of Fatherhood: http://yya.oca.org/TheHub/Articles/TheChurchonCurrentIssues/FatherHood.htm Additionally, Touchstone Magazine, whose editors include Orthodox Christians, including Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, held a conference a few years ago entitled, “Return to the Father’s House: God the Father & Human Fatherhood,” which was recorded and available through Orthodox Christian Tapes: http://www.orthodoxtapes.org/touchstone.html#fathershouse Some of the talks Touchstone has available in written form online: http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:kvRtNOX7kDAJ:www.touchstonemag.com/archives/issue.php%3Fid%3D91+Orthodox+Christian+OR+Church+%22fatherhood%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=98&gl=us
These resources offer Orthodox perspective on the more specific resources & writings for fathers of children with disability listed below.
Here are some potentially helpful non-Orthodox support groups for fathers of children with disabilities:
National Fathers Network www.fathersnetwork.org A national program dedicated to fathers of children with special needs. (The support groups are limited to certain regions, though online participation would still be possible)
Twelve Books for fathers of special-needs kids: http://specialchildren.about.com/od/inspirationalbooks/ig/Dads-Speak/index.htm
http://www.ldonline.org/article/5935 http://www.fathersdirect.com/index.php?id=15&cID=259 http://www.schwablearning.org/articles.aspx?r=734 http://www.cafamily.org.uk/fathers.html http://www.parenttoparentofga.org/spring0401.htm http://www.fathersdirect.com/index.php?id=15&cID=259