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LD Advice for Fathers—From a Dad Who Has Been There

John and Charlie
John and his son, Charlie, at
Charlie's high school graduation.

Financial executive John Langeler’s life changed on the day his son Charlie was born. Unlike most parents who discover their child’s learning disability (LD) at least a few years into parenthood, Charlie’s struggle was apparent on day one. Doctors explained to John and his wife that Charlie had been born with a neurological condition that would result in severe LD. From that moment forward, John geared up and became an advocate for his son. Although some people are prone to think of mothers as the point person for LD decision-making and advocacy in the family, John always saw it as integral part of being a good father to Charlie.

Charlie graduated from the Threshold Program at Lesley University in 2010, and is now employed and living independently with a small group of young adults. John has taken his LD advocacy to the next level by advocating for all people with learning disabilities and difficulties as a member of NCLD's Board of Directors.

In this excerpt from NCLD Chairperson Emerita Anne Ford’s book “A Special Mother”, John looks back on the experience of raising Charlie and offers advice to fathers who are just beginning on the LD journey. John’s words are an inspiration for all parents and the NCLD team joins Charlie in wishing him a happy Father's Day. (For more from “A Special Mother”, check out our Reader’s Guide to the book.)

Our Special Father, John, answered some questions posed by a young man who is having trouble dealing with the fact that his child has a disability. John prefaced his remarks by saying, “From my own experience, I can’t understand why anyone would deny it. In my case, we knew about Charlie’s disability on the day he was born, but if my other son had been tested in third grade and found to have LD, my first reaction would not have been to deny it. It would have been, “What are we going to do to solve the problem?”

Q: Young Father: But I don’t want my son to be labeled. I am afraid of the stigma.
A: If there is going to be any stigma attached, it will not help to hide from reality. If you do, the stigma will come anyway. It will come because of the child’s behavior. I don’t have an issue with labels. My only issue is with people who would not do whatever it takes to bring their child as far along as possible. If the child isn’t going to make it to the finish line as a typical adult, bring him as far through the race as you can. If they don’t make it to the end, where they become a partner at Goldman Sachs, well, so what? My son Charlie would be very happy to spend the rest of his life as a clerk in the hardware store, and he will think he has achieved. And he has! If fathers think, “If all he does in life is to be a clerk, what am I going to say?” it won’t help at all. Relative to what could have happened to him, Charlie has achieved. It’s just on a different scale. You cannot judge how well your child is doing based on a peer group composed of children who don’t have special needs or LD.

Q: Young Father: I’m not sure I believe my child has LD at all.
A: Again, you have to think first about the child before you think about yourself. Nobody’s view matters so long as your child gets help. Learning disabilities are not a function of a failure on the part of either parent. Failure to deal with them is. You can’t be blamed for the fact that your child has LD, but you can certainly be blamed for the fact that you didn’t do anything about it. Denial is detrimental to the well-being of your offspring—and why would you do that? It doesn’t make any sense.

Q: Young Father: But I don’t have time. I’m working too hard. I just can’t deal with this.
A: You have to make time. If you are working a job where you really are working many, many hours, and if you can’t actively participate, then make sure you provide the emotional and moral support to the partner who is participating. If you can’t give that time, give encouragement. Give support. Do whatever you can to help facilitate the process.

Q: Young Father: How can I do that?
A: Be supportive. Be there emotionally. When you get home after a long day at work, ask your wife what happened that day. Ask if there is anything more that you can do. Give what you can. If you can’t give time, give moral, emotional, and financial support. This can be expensive stuff.


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