Thursday, June 14, 2018

The invisible labor dads of children with disabilities do

Moms tend to take credit for a whole lot. This is because we do a lot. Me, I am the person who basically keeps our household running, who clothes our children and schedules their appointments, activities and carpools, who organizes their school stuff and so much more, as I detailed last Mother's Day. Research, in fact, found that women handle the bulk of intellectual, mental and emotional labor of childcare and household maintenance—so-called invisible labor.

Of course, this isn't true of all parents—especially those who are raising children with disabilities. Dave and I are equally likely to pitch in with the physical, emotional, social and mental care of Max. And I will admit that Dave doesn't always get full credit from me, or society, for all that he does as the father of a son with disabilities.

Dave may not know Max's shoe size, but he is there to slip Max's orthotics on his feet in the morning. Dave may not know all the teachers' names, but he is always there to work with Max on writing up his weekend news report. He may not notice when Max is almost out of toothpaste or shampoo, but he helps with showering. This, too, is invisible labor. Where's the documented proof of that?

And then, there are the unique responsibilities that come with raising a child who has intellectual disabilities or autism. This can involve anything from listening to a child perseverate on a topic; indulging fixations with Minecraft, car washes, fire trucks, trains, traffic lights, bus timetables or just about anything; and generally catering to that child's unique psychological makeup.

Keeping children with disabilities calm, content, comforted, occupied and happy is a unique kind of mental and emotional care—one that our culture largely fails to acknowledge dads do. 

In our family,  there is one significant responsibility that Dave handles weekly: a trip to Home Depot to shop for the fantasy house Max wants to buy.

When we visited Jamaica in December, Max got it into his head that he was moving there. Once we returned from our trip, he found a beautiful house online that he informed us he was moving to. Then he and Dave went on an errand to Home Depot one weekend, and Max decided to pick out appliances for his fancy new house. After that, Max wanted to visit Home Depot every single week.

Although Max has recently changed his fantasy destination to Orlando, Florida, his HD visits remain the same. First, he grabs one of those carts that looks like a car and pushes it over to Appliances. He gazes fondly upon his objects of desire, including a Samsung refrigerator with a screen that shows the interior of the fridge and a Whirlpool microwave. He hits the flooring department to ogle dark brown tile that looks like wood. He hasn't yet decided on cabinetry or a washer/dryer (tough choices, to be sure). He notes that he is going to need a very large moving truck, as evidently he would like to support our local Home Depot and stock up his future Florida home there.

Dave typically takes Max to HD on Sunday evening, after the two of them put out the recycling. Sometimes, Ben comes along. It's never me that Max wants, just Dave. Are there any other number of things Dave would rather be doing than wandering around the appliance area? Um, yeah. But he knows that Max loves these trips. And so, week after week, he heads to Home Depot, without complaint.

I may keep up with a whole lot of to-dos, yet Dave puts a lot of time and effort into an equally important one: keeping Max happy, whether he's taking him to Home Depot, playing kickball in our backyard, unrolling the avocado roll at the sushi restaurant and mashing it up so Max can eat it, letting Max sit in his car and pretend to drive it or typing up a list on Max's iPad of what he'll do at Disney World when he hopefully-soon-pretty-please gets to go there again. Keeping our children happy is, perhaps, the ultimate to-do. It's a form of labor invisible to most everyone but me (and the Sunday staff at Home Depot).

In absence of a Father's Day card that reads, "I love you for taking our son on joy trips to Home Depot every single week," I'll just proclaim my appreciation. Here's to you, love, and all the dads out there for all that you do for our children. Maybe we moms don't say it enough, if ever. Perhaps we get on your case too much about not putting your dirty clothes in the hamper or leaving empty milk cartons in the fridge. But we appreciate you. We need you. Our children need you. And we are all are so very lucky to have you.


  1. Love this post. Dave is THE BEST Dad. Happy Father's Day!!!!

  2. A perfect tribute to a truly amazing and one-of-a-kind dad!!!

  3. This truly brought tears to my eyes.
    My husband passed away 6 years ago, about 6 months before our son's needs became evident. My son talks frequently about missing his dad.
    However, his big sister has stepped up. She helps in ways I can't even describe. I joke that he loves her more than me but I love the relationship they have built. Now that she is an adult, I feel truly confident he will be well cared for if anything ever happens to me.


Thanks for sharing!

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