Future Reflections March/ April 1983, Vol. 2 No. 2

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GROWING UP: SOME REFLECTIONS OF A BLIND FATHER

By James D. Walker

The notion of parenthood and the impact of my attitudes and behavior upon the children which I influence is always of eminent concern to me. Not only is the way that I act a reflection of my parents' attitudes toward me as a blind person, but the attitude of those in society in general.

For the most part, I believe that I have been given a fair shake in growing up comparing myself to the average person. My father loved me, and did all that he was able to in providing me with a good upbringing. To a significant degree though, my growing up was altered by the concept of "legal blindness." Other kids made fun of me. I didn't get dates sometimes because of the label, and because I didn't drive a car. But fishing, mowing the lawn, washing the car, scraping and painting the house, cleaning the basement, assisting with automobile repair, sports activities (except where there was a fast-traveling object, such as in tennis, baseball, and the like), and an occasional stop at the tavern (after majority age) were among many of the typical kinds of skills and activities in which my father guided me.

However, "legal blindness" implied limitation, and quite often certain activities were limited or nonexistent because of what my father thought I could, or could not do. My father prohibited me from using the power drill and the power saw. His prohibition was the direct result of what he thought I could see or not see. This was an "obvious" and probably "normal" kind of prohibition for a father of a blind child. However, I knew from experience in the shops in schools that I could operate power tools. Additionally, I was disobedient. I used the very equipment at home which dad told me not to use and I still have all of my fingers and there are no holes in my hands. I always felt that common sense and safety measures were essential to the operation of tools. Furthermore, common sense and safety sense are not limited to the sighted. Blindness does not affect the brain.

I believe that part of the indoctrination which my parents received is that which the so-called professionals imposed. I speak primarily of the ophthalmologists and the rehabilitation counselors. The protective and patronizing effect of the professionals and my unknowing parents kept me from developing competence and confidence at a more significant point in my life. My parents knew two years before I did, that I would lose the rest of my sight. I had always been told that my sight would be stable, fluctuating slightly sometimes. But when I was in college, I began to notice a change in my vision. What I thought were shadows turned out to be holes, and holes, shadows. I began to walk into things. Finally I went to an ophthalmologist who told me I would be "blind," that is, have no measureable or functional vision by my mid-30's.

It was then that a friend of mine told me how my mother had called her in tears two years ago because our family eye doctor had told her I was going to lose the rest of my sight. I believe that if I had received appropriate services in cane travel, Braille, and other skills rather than protection from "trauma," the whole process of vocational choice, education, and social existence would have come to me at a more reasonable point in my life.

Even then, the rehabilitation agency refused to teach me cane travel (mobility, they call it) or Braille. They said I had too much vision. I dropped out of school for awhile and taught myself Braille and how to use a cane. It was another blind man who really helped me the most.

Now that I am a father of two children and one on the way, I have the opportunity to educate my children about blindness as my parents were not able to do. One of my children is of another marriage and is now of another state. He is a boy of eight years who I would like to take fishing, show safety on the use of my power tools, and all of those fatherly things. But I have a beautiful daughter of almost twenty-one months whom I can teach those things if she is interested. And I can teach my new baby, due this November.

I will not have to teach them necessarily how to read Braille just because my wife and I are blind, but I can teach them what it means to be blind. Two of the most annoying misconceptions on the part of the public with regards to Barbara and me as blind parents are those which infer that someone takes care of our daughter for us, and that which infers that she will take care of us as she grows up. I, as a father, do not intend to make my daughter mow the lawn, wash the windows, clean the basement or do other kinds of domestic chores which I now do, simply because I am blind, and she is sighted. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for our children to participate in maintaining a household and earning an allowance as well as learning responsibility. This responsibility will be taught by us. We shall continue to hire readers and drivers and not expect that our sighted children drive for nothing or read for nothing. If they are able to, without taking away from their personal activities, they could be hired as well. And I hope that through this kind of guidance and example my children will learn, as I have, that blindness is a nuisance, but need not be a handicap.

Jim Walker is currently the state president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, and works at the Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired as an orientation counselor. He is also active in his local community. He is the immediate past president of the Lincoln Bethany Lion's Club; a member of the Task Force on Scouting for the Handicapped, Boy Scouts of America, and was recently appointed to the Honorary Board of the Lincoln Hilton Hotel Jim states that, "My philosophy about blindness, and more importantly, what I do to live that philosophy, can be attributed to personal involvement in the National Federation of the Blind,"

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