Catch up on what D.A.D.S. members have to say...<
Welcome to D.A.D.S. We’ve come a long way Baby!
As we approach the 6th anniversary of the first D.A.D.S. meeting (May, 2002), I think it’s important to look at history. While Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome, to my knowledge, is the first organized, father-specific group in the “BIG” Down syndrome community, we are almost 50 years behind the FIRST Down syndrome support group.
Long before the majority of children born with Down syndrome were taken home from the hospital, before the clinical name of the majority of individuals with Down syndrome was Trisomy 21, and DECADES before the concept of person-first language……there was M.O.M.S.; Mothers of Young Mongoloids.
The Virginia Slims slogan form the early 70’s springs to mind: “We’ve come a long way, baby”
Those of us with children, Ds and TDK’s (typically developing kids), born in the last generation have witnessed a tremendous change in the role of fathers. Our involvement, unlike OUR fathers, started in the delivery room (OK…I’ll concede we could have a separate blog to discuss the merits of witnessing childbirth). Society recognized the increasingly visible role of fathers; we take our kids to school, we shop with our kids, we take our turn with pediatrician visits, we don’t baby-sit our kids, we parent them, and society responded by installing changing tables in men’s rooms. Diaper bag designs became more unisex and we were taught about wash cycles and stain-sticking. (I never said ALL of these changes were good!)
As fathers of individuals with Down syndrome, we “fight” for a world of inclusion and acceptance for our children. I think it’s important to note WE are the first generation of fathers to become recognized as MORE than bread winners and soccer and little league coaches. Society views us differently than our fathers were viewed, BUT, how has our perception of OURSELVES evolved?
WE still view ourselves as “fixers”, we “think” we are supposed to have the answers and we hold our emotions close to the vest….JUST like OUR fathers.
We are often challenged by that perception and feel the weight of failure when we have a child with Down syndrome.
Welcome to D.A.D.S, Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome.
I’m Joe Meares and I’m generally referred to as the “founder” of D.A.D.S. I’d like to say I had a vision or a master plan for D.A.D.S., but, the simple truth is much less grand. Peyton, the youngest of my four daughters has Down syndrome. She turned 10 on 12/26/07. I became a first time parent in early 1992 and I was a “progressive” father of the 90’s. I had my own diaper bag, I took my kids to all the pediatrician visits when shots were involved, I traveled solo by land and air with my kids and I asked to speak to the manager of every establishment without a changing table in the men’s room. (OK, I did realize I was taking that plight a little too far when I questioned the manager of a “gentlemen’s club”!)
I WAS ten feet tall and bulletproof, I HAD all the answers and I WAS Super Dad.
I was cut down to size when Peyton was born. I didn’t know how to “fix” this “failure”.
I often talk about the three stages of D.A.D.S. The moment I found out Peyton was born with Down syndrome, I went into the fist stage of D.A.D.S., a Dad AGAINST Down syndrome. Not against my child or individuals with Ds……..but, against this damn diagnosis that showed up, uninvited and I couldn’t FIX it. It was like 20 cubic yards of springtime mulch dumped on my driveway and I didn’t have a shovel!
But soon I realized Peyton shared more similarities with her sisters than differences. Different became unique and special didn’t always have to be followed by the word NEEDS. I was moving into step 2, I was becoming a dads ACCEPTING Down syndrome. I realized there was no failure and nothing needed fixing.
Somewhere in step 2, I started regaining my confidence as Super Dad, blew the dust off my cape and became ready to, if not FIX Down syndrome, get some ownership of Down syndrome.
As a dad looking for this “ownership”, I got to know a lot of………………..Moms. I got involved in the Down syndrome community and found a void. I felt MY place in the Down syndrome community and in the experience of having a child who is “differently –abled” had been predetermined. I wasn’t getting the ownership I sought by grilling hotdogs at the Buddy Walk and the Down syndrome movement was driven my mothers. There is certainly no one at fault. I think EVERY Ds support group began with some mothers around a kitchen table. EVERY Ds group’s mission, as it should be, is programs that serve individuals with Ds and support the family. I was looking for something more!
In March of 2002, I started collecting email addresses for the other hot dog grillers and invited the guys to a “just dads” meeting. Eight of us showed up with no real agenda other than the idea that we might benefit from a private forum. Something almost magical happened that night. Business cards and bank statements were left outside. We didn’t discuss football or golf. We just talked about our kids, our feelings, our personal journeys, our fears and we discovered EACH of us had pretty much the same void, that “ownership” component. We also had FUN! We agreed to meet monthly and eight became 12, then 16, then 20, 30, 40 and six years later we usually have at least one new father show up for his first D.A.D.S. meeting.
At about our forth meeting, in typical guy fashion, we realized we didn’t have a mission statement. We tackled this without haste, and in 15 minutes, our mission became:
“To assist and support, through fellowship and action, the fathers and families of individuals with Down syndrome”
At that meeting, we were just happy we completed the task. We had a really cool brand with our logo, now…we had a mission too.
It took a year or two before I realized, we’d actually put together the perfect mission. It didn’t compete with our family Ds group because OUR goal, OUR consumer is the father first, then the family. We had the three equal “pillars” of our foundation, SUPPORT, FELLOWSHIP and ACTION! Each of these components plays a key role in meeting the diverse needs of our members.
I strongly believe “The attitude of the father becomes the attitude of the family”. I’ve seen the attitude in fathers change again and again once, through D.A.D.S., they find that ownership and THEIR sense of belonging in the Down syndrome community.
This ownership is not only found In the monthly meetings, but at D.A.D.S./kids events, family social activities, our online list serve, fund raising, taking legislative action and learning what we don’t know and sharing what we do! Most importantly, the ownership comes when we find out we’re not alone. There IS a place we can openly and safely share our concerns and fears, we can BRAG about our child’s victories and accomplishments………and do this with others who TRULY understand.
Welcome to D.A.D.S., Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome
This is NOT a “support group” in the stereotypical mold: church basement, folding chairs, bad coffee in Styrofoam cups. Just as the roles of fathers have changed in our lifetime, D.A.D.S. addresses the changing roles of fathers in the Down syndrome movement with FELLOWSHIP, ACTION and SUPPORT.
Oh, BTW, step 3, becoming a Dad APPRECIATING Down syndrome, hit me about seven years ago. My wife called me at work to tell me friends who were expecting a child went in for a routine ultrasound that displayed makers which indicated Down syndrome. I replied, “THAT’S GREAT”! We were both silent for a moment and after reflecting on what I said, I repeated…."that’s great”. Why wouldn’t I wish for my friends this wonderful experience I have. At that moment, I realized I’d developed a profound appreciation! (The child was not born with Down syndrome, but, because of his mother, is genetically predisposed to take his own silverware into restaurants…which puts him in need of a totally different support group!)
Enjoy our website. Share what you know, learn what you don’t and just be a dad!