Sara blogs at Life’s Recipe about a lot of things, including the BFF status between herself and Adele and her awesome weekly meme aptly titled “Life’s Lessons”. Today, Sara’s here to talk about what it was like growing up with her father, who became a paraplegic from an alcohol related accident. Sara’s father passed away recently, and I am so proud and honored that she’s chosen to honor her father through awareness. Please make sure we show her lots of love today!
According to MADD.org, one person is injured from an alcohol-related crash, every minute.
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Several years ago, I was set up on a blind date. It was going fine, until he pulled into the restaurant parking lot and tried to park his (tacky) mustang in a handicap spot. I immediately pitched a fit and made him move.
He had the audacity to be upset.
Needless to say, we never went out again. But when you grow up with a handicapped parent, you learn that parking in a spot that you don’t need is one of the rudest things you can do. This was just one of the many “bonus” lessons that my brother and I had to learn.
When I was 18 months old, just a short time before my brother was born, my father was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. At 22 years old, he barely survived an accident that should have killed him.
And I’m sure, at times, he wished it had….
The anti- drinking and driving messages in school were unnecessary for me. As a family, we lived every day with the consequences of what happens when you go to a bar, drink away your paycheck, and then get into your car.
Growing up, he never seemed to us like he was “less than”. My brother and I were too young to remember him any other way, and so it was just our “normal”. Looking back, I see what it affected and how, but in those moments, it just was what it was. Sometimes when we went places, people, especially other children, would stare. We never said anything, but I know I learned to stare back until they just looked away. Occasionally, a child would wander up to my dad and ask him what was wrong. I remember just pretending to not hear the question, or my dad’s response, which was just usually along the lines of being in accident and his legs not working anymore. I know now that those children were just curious, and that’s ok, but at the time, it just felt rude.
My dad was fairly active; he hunted and fished and coached my softball teams. I actually hated that…. Not so much because of the wheelchair, but because he was hard on me, and because I had to carry the heavy equipment bag. I usually played catcher (which I also hated), and sometimes in practice, to get back at him, when I would throw the ball back to him, I would throw it a little to the right.
You know, to make him reach for it.
Not my most mature moment, but I was 11…
While my father participated in select activities, he was not active in any kind of “wheelchair group”. He’d been asked several times to join the local wheelchair basketball team, and always declined. He spent very little time with other guys in similar situations. It wasn’t until my parents divorced 12 years after The Accident, that my dad finally joined some of these teams. I will never forget right after my dad’s first road trip with the team… My brother, who was 11 at the time, had gone with them to Boston, and when they got home, I asked him how it was. He replied that it was great and that he had made ten bucks. When I asked him how (my dad was notoriously cheap, and so I knew it hadn’t come from him), Andy proudly said “well, I carried Mike’s extra legs around for him all weekend”.
My fafter also learn to ski, and to water ski; he purchased a racing chair and participated in 5 and 10K’s, He even eventually bought a motorcycle and joined a clean and sober biker gang (yes, really). He worked at the community college, helping disabled students, and he served on the board of a non- profit group that helps handicapped people do outdoor activities. He made tons of friends, handicapped and able- bodied, and seemed to be making the best of his situation.
It was finally embracing his circumstances, that set him free from them.
I wish that my dad had done all of that stuff when we were kids. It would have set a good example, and it would have made his wheelchair a little less the elephant in the room. My brother and I grew up almost being too aware of the problems that could arise. We were always on the lookout for something in a store that would make getting down the aisle difficult, we felt we had to tell friends about the chair before they came over (the one time I didn’t, my dumb friend freaked out and left). We were probably the only two children on earth who didn’t enjoy Disney World, because we knew he was hot and bored and couldn’t ride a lot of the rides. We learned to anticipate what could frustrate him, and even as children, tried to eliminate any extra difficulties.
That’s a lot of responsibility.
My father passed away in July of this year. It was, and still is, sudden and unexpected and awful. As I sat in that packed room, and looked around at the people who came to say good-bye, I realized how many lives he touched. And, how much he had to overcome to do so. I realized that even the crappy parts of his handicap were put to good use. He was a teacher, a coach, a mentor. He was brave and strong and while he didn’t always handle his consequences the best way, in the end, for so many people, his disability was the tool that he was given to reach all of those people. I realized that it is because of him that I know there isn’t something “special” about being any kind of handicapped.
Sometimes, it’s just the way you are.
Talking About Awareness: Sara talks about all the things her father was, above and beyond being in a wheelchair. What defines you?