It is when you are a friend in need that you really learn about the people around you. Most of us, as parents will need help rather more than we would care to mention. As the father of a disabled child I’m afraid that I need help probably more than I would care to admit. It is when you really need help and maybe don’t even know it that you really need your friends, family and loved ones the most. How they react tells you a lot about people and about the relationship that you have with them.
To my mind, people fall into one of four categories, that I have modelled on the tale of the Good Samaritan.
Those who walk on by on the other side of the street and shout abuse as they go
Some people are just plain nasty. When they hear of your predicament or need, quite apart from offering to help they ladle out a big dose of schadenfreude. I have heard people comment that disabled children are a burden on society and question whether their taxes should be used to help them. We have even had people comment that the difficulties we experienced during our first pregnancy were because we waited so long before starting a family. I know instinctively what to do with these people and I suspect that you do too. They are mercifully rare.
Those who avert their gaze and walk on by on the other side of the street
We all lead busy lives and it is difficult enough to find the time to look after ourselves properly. So often, when we see someone in need it is so easy to just keep moving and pretend you don’t notice that they need help. A number of our friends have just not been in contact since we have had Arun. The fact is that they just don’t have the time in their lives to make the effort to keep in touch. Now that we are no longer able to engage in an attractive lifestyle and go to interesting bars and glamorous restaurants, they are just not interested. The image they had of Clare and I as a young, successful couple has been tarnished because we have a disabled son. They have moved on and so have we.
Those who offer help from the other side of the street
A lot of people want to help and feel empathy for people in need but just don’t know how to help. There are some folks who e-mail occasionally or ring every six months and say, “So sorry we haven’t seen you, we must get together soon. I’ll e-mail you some dates.” They never do. I know that in their heart of hearts they want to be there, they want to help out, they want to be good friends but they just don’t get round to it for whatever reason. I suspect that they feel worse about this than we do.
Those who cross the street and help
Becoming a parent and the father of a special needs child has opened my eyes to the generosity of the human spirit. We have had help from so many quarters, not all of them expected. There are so many examples of people who have crossed the street to help that I can only begin to scratch the surface here. Be it the relatives who had not visited us in years who now drop by every time they are passing bringing delicious home cooked food; be it the neighbours who help out with baby sitting when we have a clash of medical appointments; be it the friends who come round to our house and cook a meal because they know it is difficult for us to find a special needs baby sitter.
In this journey into fatherhood, I’m sorry to say that I have lost some friends along the way. I know that spending time with me now is harder than it used to be (both in that it is more difficult to fix up a time and I suspect I am not as carefree as I once was). However, those friendships that have endured are a good deal stronger than they were before. What-is-more, I have made a whole raft of new friends whose compassion and vigour has humbled me. My experience has given me food for thought.
I know that in the past I have not always been a Good Samaritan but I also know that in the future I will try and be one of those people who crosses the street a little more often.