15 and counting…
I haven’t missed one yet, and I don’t plan on stopping.
We had our annual IEP meeting this week for our 17-year old son.
This was number 15. I’ve been to all of them.
I read every word of the draft copy of the IEP prior to the meeting. I asked questions and I proposed solutions.
I don’t need to be given a copy of my rights and responsibilities. I can quote them.
I thought about that as I looked around the room and across the table this week at IEP meeting number fifteen.
I vividly remember our very first ever IEP meeting when our son was first eligible to receive school-based services.
Before that first IEP meeting began, I had looked across the table at the bevy of therapists, teachers, administrators and others. Speech therapists, physical therapists, vision therapists, and occupational therapists sat around the huge table, and stacks of papers and forms adorned the table.
I’m not sure but I swear I even got introduced to the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Transportation at one point.
At that moment, before the meeting even began, I said to myself, “I will never, ever, send my wife in alone to one of these meetings.”
Or as Tom Cruise said in the movie Top Gun, “I will not leave my wingman.”
I have been to every single IEP meeting since then.
I often write of the role a special-needs father plays in his household. I believe there are five distinct parts of being a dad to a child with special needs.
The dad is a warrior, protector, provider, encourager, and equipper to his children, and to his wife, if married.
Nowhere do these five roles come together more congruently than the father’s role in his child’s IEP development.
The dad is a warrior fighting for his child’s services and developmental opportunities. He is a protector, never sending his wife alone to fight the battle for his child. He is an encourager who pours into those working with his child, affirming them and helping them maximize his child’s potential with strategies that are fully utilized to equip his child. He makes sure his child is receiving all available resources to equip his child.
Listen, question, absorb and respond as a member of the team.
If a dad has the ability and opportunity to get off work and attend his child’s IEP, and he chooses not to attend, he has NO EXCUSE.
If he chooses to just let his wife “handle it”, here’s what he is implying to his family.
“There are other things in my life that are more important to me that my wife and child. My needs and desires are more important to me than those of my family.”
To the dad who refuses to go, let me be the first to say to that dad, “Welcome to being a vacant dad. It’s a large and rapidly growing community.”
Want to prove you’re not a vacant dad? Go to the meeting and do more than check Facebook on your phone the whole time.
I have heard of dads who leave the whole IEP deal to their spouses, because of the “mental stress.”
It’s not called “mental stress.” It’s called being a parent. Comes with the job description.
There is another phrase for mental stress. It’s called life. The two are inseparable.
In the military, beginning with basic training, there is an emphasis on having a “battle buddy.”
Soldiers are always paired up in battle with someone who “checks six” or “watches six” for their partner. “Check six” is a catchphrase for watching and having each other’s back.
The only way to parent a child with a disability is for each person to “check six” for their partner. Back to back supporting each other in all things.
This morning I heard of a dad who drives 95 miles each way, losing a day of work, every time his daughter has an IEP meeting at her specialty school. He wouldn’t dream of sending his wife alone.
The people who work with his child can’t help but notice his commitment and passion. He inspires them to go the extra mile for his child in the way they treat her. The educational providers can’t help but go the extra mile when mom and dad both show up together wanting to be team members for the best interests of their child.
He’s involved and engaged. He is a warrior, protector, provider, encourager, and equipper.
He’s a battle buddy.
That’s the guy you want in the parenting foxhole with you.
Throughout your life as a special-needs couple, the glue that will bind you together over and over, is to stand back-to-back with your spouse in all things.
Emotionally, financially, relationally, stand back-to-back. In all decisions, all roles, all matters.
Start with the IEP.