Dear Steve, circa 2011 (and any other dad who is as scared as I am):
3 years ago, your first child, Maya, was born. She lit up your life and changed you forever. You became a dad and joined a select fraternity with the understanding that you now had a job that was larger than life – and you had no clue what to do! You muddled through the best you could and learned on the fly, improving (hopefully) along the way. You dreamed of Maya growing older, how you would raise her to be kind, generous, smart, independent and fierce…. just like her mom. You dreamed of her future….where would she go to college, what career path would she want, what type of person would she marry, would she get married, where will she choose to live as an adult…the sky is the limit. You thought, this is going to be one awesome ride!
Fast forward three years…2011. Your son, Max, is born. He lights up your life. For the second time, your life is changed forever. You join a new fraternity as a father who has a son with Down syndrome. For three years you have been dreaming and playing the role of “dad.” It’s been fun and exciting watching Maya grow up, walk, talk, play, learn, and make friends. Max can’t breathe correctly, he has 5 heart defects, he aspirates on his food, needs oxygen 24 hours a day….and on and on and on. Instead of dreaming big dreams, you are fearing big fears! How do you raise Max, what will he be able to do, will he survive heart surgery, will he be able to ride a bike, catch a ball, learn to talk, how will he grow up, how will the world treat him? The fear is very real, and sometimes paralyzing. I’m writing to let you know you are not alone.
Brittney and you will set out to find others like you. You will talk to anyone who will listen. You will start down the path so many others are on, not knowing where the next turn will take you. You will meet with financial planners, attorneys, families, schools, therapists, community groups…. the list is endless, but you will feel you have to do it all. You will try to ensure Max is provided with anything and everything to give him the best chance of success. You will slowly start to allow yourself to see what Max could be, and just how special he is. He survived heart surgery at 8 weeks and 8 pounds! He lived with an oxygen tank within 10 feet of his body for over two years! You will watch him grow up, walk, talk, play, learn and make friends. The fear is still real…. but maybe it isn’t so paralyzing.
By 2014, Britt and you will be old pros. You know the groups, you know the families, you know the specialists, you know a little of what Max is capable of. All dads know one thing…. our primary job is to do everything in our power to pave the way for our kids to realize their full potential. In 2014, Max will be 3 years old. He’s funny, vibrant, HEALTHY, and wild. You dream of him growing older, raising him to be kind, generous, smart, independent and fierce…. just like his sister! You dream of his future, where will he go to college, what career path will he want, what type of person will he marry, will he get married, where will he choose to live as an adult …the sky is the limit. Just as you did with Maya, you will think, this is going to be one awesome ride!
That same year, you will be introduced to an amazing team of individuals who have the common vision of students with disabilities gaining access to higher education at colleges throughout Colorado. This will be your chance to impact change….to help pave the way for all kids to realize their full potential! You will ask to join the IN! Board of Directors and will be accepted with arms wide open.
Five years later, in 2019, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be enrolled in three institutes of higher education in Colorado. For the first time in the history of Colorado, students are achieving THEIR personal goals and have THEIR sights set squarely on THEIR future dreams. There will be CNA’s, writers, advocates, movie producers…. you name it, there will be one of those too! The dream is no longer yours, Brittney’s and Max’s. The dream is for all of us…. our entire fraternity to see the vision through. In fact, it’s no dream at all…it’s a responsibility. We are the dads who have been lucky enough to get an invite to join this ride. We are the dads who have the responsibility to create a fraternity like no other.
Next year, Colorado will be welcoming our first graduating class of students, the pioneers of inclusive higher education. IN! has its sights set on expanding its footprint. We have our team and our resources lined up to serve our community like never before. We need more help…. we need more support….we need more people who are ready to impact the lives of every Coloradoan! I hope you and all the other dads out there, will join me in supporting the expansion of inclusive higher education across Colorado!
Are you IN!?
Happy Father’s Day….Let’s dream big dreams!
President, IN! Board of Directors