Of course I never thought I’d be an “Extra Dad”. I wasn’t even sure if I’d even ever be a father, being in a wheelchair can make that sort of thing a bit up to chance. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the joys of being a father figure to a child but I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
About three years ago I started dating Sloan’s Mom, Carly. We met on OkCupid. She claims I was stalking her, but I see it the other way around (she winked first). Let’s just say we hit it off and talked quite a bit online, she was actually the first online date I ever had (hopefully the last too). There’s that little throwaway line in someone’s profile that says, “Has a Child”. I was focused more on her at first, and didn’t really think too much about her child when we started dating. She deemed me, “Sitter-Worthy” as she calls it and we went out on a few dates and really hit it off. A few months go by and more talk was devoted to him and I asked when I could met him. She is such an awesome Mom and it was such an affirmation when she decided that on a Sunday we should all meet up at the Hillcrest Farmers Market.
I had no idea what he’d think of “Mommy’s Friend” Andy, much less me being in a chair. I love kids and I love how they are always honest and direct with disability, but this was different. Within 5 minutes, we were thick as thieves and he was riding on my lap. I’ve been in a chair for over 20 years now (sheesh!) and little did I know that guy in a chair + cute kid = free loot. Booth vendors were quite literally handing us free muffins, fruit, soap and candy. It was an awesome day.
A few months later the three of us are inseparable and I had one of my very first times alone with him. It was a Karate themed birthday party in Old Town. I was giving him a ride on my lap as we traversed the blocks through the main drag, navigating through tourists on the way to the party. For some reason that persists to this day, his legs “get tired” and “stop working” so he needs a ride… We went down one side of the sidewalk and crossed the street to the other curb-cut on the opposite sidewalk, when at the last second, I noticed that the ramp had a lip a few inches too high. Also, with 40lbs or so on my lap, I couldn’t quite clear it like I normally would as I was front heavy.
We both tumbled forward. Like you hear about car crashes in slow motion, all I could think about was him as we capsized, I wanted to make sure he was safe, I didn’t fall on him, I protected my face with my arms, and that my pants stayed on if I skidded on the pavement (long story, it happened once).
He fell relatively safely to the side as I tumbled face forward. This wasn’t the first time I’d fallen out of my wheelchair, there is a highlight reel my friends can recount of my embarrassing, catawampus moments. Needless to say, the surrounding tourists were aghast, everyone raced to help me up. I think when people see us fall out of our wheelchairs they think we are going to melt if we aren’t picked up off the ground immediately. I got back in my chair and immediately checked on Sloan, he had a slight scuff but was fine. The shocking thing for him was how everybody completely freaked out over me. It jarred him a little. Plus I think he was thinking in his brain “Hey! I fell too what about me!”.
I think that was a big moment for him realizing that things are a bit different with me and even though he sees me as just Andy, sometimes people react to me and treat me differently (especially tourists).
I see him sometimes looking at people looking at me. It’s so amazing he doesn’t care.
Even better. He wants a wheelchair. We have a shared buddy who is Sloan’s age, when we all hang out he feels left out because he doesn’t have wheels! That just blows me way.
At a recent birthday party I was backing off a bit like you do when you are sensing a child wants their own space. I figured he’d want to play with the other kids. No, he wanted a ride around on my lap around the party to show me off.
Sloan now calls me his “Extra Dad”, I love it, it’s a special name that summarizes our relationship. Things aren’t by any means normal or typical, we take our spills, get our free goodies at markets, and try to not make his mother roll her eyes at us. I can’t wait to see what’s next. He’s just getting too big for free rides…
Written by Andy Huesing, the Co-founder and Managing Partner of Tadpole Adaptive, tadpoleadaptive.com. An online retailer specializing in adaptive equipment for children with special needs. He also writes for Tadpole Adaptive’s blog, “The Pond”