Band of brothers: Birmingham’s Dads of Kids with Special Needs group celebrates first year

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Dads of Kids with Special Needs at Dread River. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

On the first Tuesday of every month, at 6:00 pm, 10 to 15 dads meet up at a local Birmingham area restaurant. They have one thing in common.

Kids with special needs.

Approaching its first anniversary, this informal group, which calls itself Dads of Kids with Special Needs, has forged lifelong friendships and become a band of brothers.

Earlier this month, United Ability’s Director of Communications, David Barry, whose son also has special needs, invited me to the February meeting of this inspirational group of fathers at the Dread River Distillery on Birmingham’s Southside.

The gathering

Dads of Kids with Special Needs at Dread River. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Sitting on a plush sofa and chairs around a table, we drank beers and cocktails and chowed down on Dread River pub food.

As we conversed, David introduced me to the other dads around the table. Brad’s daughter is one of 30 people around the world with her unique genetic defect. Doug’s daughter, an overachiever in everything, suffered a serious brain injury at the age of 18. Stephen nearly lost his child last month.

David then asked the whole group to describe why these monthly gatherings matter.

Why they meet

Garrett, one of the founders of the group, explained:

“Dads are usually not going to get together to talk about these sensitive issues. So we found a place for them to just hang out and let the conversations naturally take their course…to talk about the deeper issues we are facing.

We are confronting some hard ones. A lot of us don’t have any support at all. So having a place where we can get together, have a beer, eat a burger, talk a little bit, and maybe open the door for more conversations about the areas we really need support from each other.”

Life-Changing

Jonathan with his daughter Caroline. Photo courtesy of United Ability

Whether your child is born with special needs or there is an unexpected accident, your life as a dad with a kid with special needs changes, especially socially. It can get very lonely.

“As a special needs dad, we got thrust into this world,” said Jonathan.

Our friends all kept asking us to do stuff. And we kept on having to say no. And kept having to say no because we just couldn’t leave our kid.

Then invites stop happening. You suddenly are stuck at home taking care of your kid because you don’t have anything else to do. With this group, I know the first Tuesday of every month, I’m getting together with the guys. I haven’t been able to do that in years.”

You are going

After 11 months, the Birmingham Dads Group or Dads of Kids with Special Needs monthly meet-ups are now circled on everyone’s calendar and are encouraged by spouses and co-workers alike.

“Sometimes, I’m just tired when I get home,” said Stephen, in between bites of a massive cheeseburger. “I know these gatherings are beneficial. But, some nights, I am really tired, and I ask myself – do I really want to get in my truck and drive downtown? On these first Tuesdays, my wife orders me. You are going!” he said laughing out loud.

Brad Hudson with his daughter Emily. Photo courtesy of United Ability

The meetings are invaluable and everyone—friends, family, coworkers—recognizes it. For example, on the evening we met, Brad rushed back to Birmingham from Mobile to make the meeting at Dread River. His boss made it happen.

“The people in the office get to see my calendar,” Brad described. “I was in Mobile today. My boss sees my calendar and says when is your meeting tonight—6:00 o’clock? He actually cut our meetings short today so I could drive here to make it to this meeting.”

All dads of kids with special needs are welcome

Dads of Kids with Special Needs at Dread River. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

As they approach their first anniversary as a group, Dads of Kids with Special Needs wants to expand. They welcome more dads who need a break once a month, to drink a beer or other beverage, eat a burger and some fries, and just talk, laugh, and be there for each other

Doug added, “This is like a self-care group. We have to take the time to care for ourselves. It’s hard when you have a full-time job and full-time care at home. My wife makes me come to this so I can take care of myself.

Now I’ve got great friends.”

This month’s Dad of Kids with Special Needs is Tuesday, March 3, 6:00 p.m. at  Good People Brewery.

Email or call David Barry at dbarry@unitedability.org or 205.944.3916 if you have any questions or to let him know you are coming so they can expect you. You won’t regret it.

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.