As with most fathers to daughters, when my daughter was born, I was filled with an overwhelming excitement, uncertainty, fear, and nervousness, but most of all with an intense sense of duty that I would be the protector to this precious little girl. I was committed to be her “Knight in Shining Armor”, ready to slay the monsters under her bed and wrestle the boogeyman in her closet. More than mythical creatures I took a personal oath to protect her from real world threats. That bully at the playground, the stranger on the street, and that “mean” kid at school.
Before she came home from the hospital I was already prepared to visually scorn that young man on her first date, already signing up to chaperone her first dance, ready to wait up for her on weekends and be on call to mend her heart when a young boy broke it.
Like most new fathers, I imagined being granted this mythical armor only bestowed unto fathers. My armor, my shield, would all be impeccably polished. I would practice rapidly putting it on, taking it off, ready to spring into action at my daughters call. Repeatedly looking in the mirror to ensure I looked gallant to her and formidable to any threats.
This all changed the moment we where informed that our daughter would have life-long complex medical needs. These gallant moments I imagined would never come. I became lost.
I realized that I would never escort her on her first date, share my courting wisdom on her first dance or shoo away the neighborhood boys wanting to serenade her. Instead I became engulfed by therapy sessions, haphazardly trying to keep up with doctor’s appointments (my daughters mom made it seem so easy), deciphering acronyms and medical phrases and fighting off nasty colds, germs and viruses lurking around every corner.
I became too worn out being the parent to a special needs girl with complex medical needs to return to this fantasy of being my daughters “Knight in Shining Armor”.
In waiting for a call to action, my armor lay forgotten, gathering dust, collecting cobwebs and growing rusty. While attending IEP meetings, therapy sessions and doctors appointments I would occasionally run into other dads. With a quick glance and acknowledgement only another fellow dad, stripped of his privilege to don his armor would recognize, we acknowledged each other. We could look at each other’s children and tell who was a fellow, would-be “Knight in Shining Armor” whose dreams of gallantry had also been hijacked.
We became these “Ronin” dads; warriors without a clear master to serve, our armor had all rusted and collected dust, our blades dulled and aged with years of being ignored.
Our fantasy of fighting off bully’s and monsters under beds had been crumpled and thrown aside and replaced with far less adventures events like driving to IEP meetings, managing agendas, calling insurance companies and ensuring family members sanitized their hands.
It was in these brief encounters, recognizing other fellow “Ronin” dads in hospital hallways, school offices, and handicap ramps that I realized our function of being a “Knight in Shining Armor” was not completely dead, but miss-focused. We where no longer “Ronin” warriors without a duty, we definitely could become “Knights in Shinning Armor” to our children. The old, rusted armor had to be polished and donned once again to fight monsters, enemies and foes of a different kind; the school district refusing to provide services, the lawmaker signing off on ill-advised legislations, the abled body disabled parking spot abuser.
I have accepted that my battles are different than I had originally envisioned.
I now proudly don my armor in countless battles for my daughter and have slowly met and formed bonds with other dad’s like me. Although my armor is heavy and cumbersome, I am proud to finally be the “Knight in Shining Armor” that I knew my daughter needed.
Daniel is the parent of a resilient little girl with complex healthcare needs and understands firsthand the joys and trials of balancing roles of professional and father to a medically complex child. He has special interest in educating the Spanish Speaking community about services and rights, particularly empowering fathers to find their own voice in the lives of their children with special needs. He is a Case Manager for the Center for the Vulnerable Child at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and in his free time he enjoys hiking, culinary exploration, and most importantly just being a father. He earned a B.A. in Sociology and Behavioral Science from San José State University, San José California.