Man Talk

Back to blog2 years ago by Jodie
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Man Talk
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As the dad of a daughter with cerebral palsy, Stewart Thornton reveals that a good chat can be just as therapeutic for men as it is for women.

I was thrilled to bits when I found out I was going to be a dad. Marelle and I had been married for a number of years, we were living in our own home and it felt right to start a family.

Katie was born at term weighing 2885g.

Over the next few months, we both noticed she wasn’t developing as she should and began to see various professionals who dismissed our concerns as ‘unfounded’ or ‘ridiculous’. Katie was officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy by her paediatrician at the age of nine months.

My first reaction was disbelief followed by concern for Katie’s future. I didn’t know much about fatherhood, let alone raising a child with a disability. Like many men, I like to feel I can ‘fix’ things. I wanted to make things right for Katie and our family – I still do.

When Katie was little, it was hard to see her miss out on some of the things other girls her age were doing. That’s still hard, even today. I think the turning point for me came when I accepted that there were no ‘quick fixes’ for cerebral palsy. I realised that by working as a team with my wife Marelle, I could still take care of my family and be a good dad for Katie. You can be so strong together as parents when you don’t judge one another and make the time to talk, listen and look after each other.

The first few years were a testing time for our marriage. Our emotions peaked and troughed every time we explored new territory as Katie grew and her needs changed. We had an excellent extended family, but felt different from many other friends with families. We met a lot of families through the then Spastic Centre. They were an important emotional outlet for us both, especially because we felt comfortable with them and together, we could all share our highs and lows.

Men don’t often confide in each other the way women do with their friends. In the early days, I kept my emotions to myself. It wasn’t until I met other dads in similar situations that I began to openly discuss my feelings.

A lot of us dads also got to know each other through The Centre’s Fathers’ Day Work program where we painted, mowed and did general building maintenance. I made some great friendships, some of which I still enjoy today – the friendly banter and camaraderie proved to be very therapeutic.

Some of my favourite memories of Katie’s childhood involve reading stories together, watching her play dress ups with her little friends and the time when she ‘drove’ down the church aisle as a flower girl in her new electric wheelchair. Although Katie’s all grown up now, she will always be ‘my girl’. I feel so proud when she does the ‘unexpected’ like when she went on her first holiday without us and didn’t even turn around to wave us goodbye – that was a real milestone!

Making the big decisions about which way to go and what to do with and for Katie over the years have always weighed heavily upon us.

The options seemed endless and we were never certain that our choices were the best. Age, experience and a lot of help have meant that we can now make decisions and future plans with greater certainty for Katie and for us.

I think the community’s acceptance and understanding of disability have improved, but men still need to get together and simply talk. It really does help.

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