I had a greatest generation Dad. The kind of guy who worked, went to church and had a chair that was reserved, by law, for him in front of the tv. You didn’t see this type of Dad much unless you were in trouble or he needed a socket wrench. Except my dad didn’t use a socket wrench ever because he was legally blind.
My dad had retinopathy of prematurity and ocular albinism which meant that he was totally blind in one eye and had limited vision in the other. It was my job to tell him who was calling out to him on the street when we walked at his usual breakneck speed to church or the corner store for his Pal Mal Golds.
I grew up not knowing or caring about my dad’s diagnosis until the day my infant daughter was diagnosed with ocular albinism. I know this seems crazy but when my daughter’s eyes were involuntarily scanning the room like a kit cat clock (a congenital disorder called searching nystagmus) which I had seen my Dad do all of my life I just never linked the two.
Nurse: does anyone in your family have vision disorders?
Me: well, my dad is legally blind.
Nurse:Oh? what is the diagnosis?
Me: I never asked him.
Nurse: (hands me the phone)
He grew up with other challenges besides his poor vision; a few years in a tuberculous sanatorium, hearing loss, and he grew up inner city poor with a Welsh immigrant Father and an Irish Mother. He, and his dozen or so siblings, went to no less than 15 different schools over his life. My Dad never graduated from high school.
He also had a nagging sense of inferiority about not being able to serve in the military like his Brothers so he dedicated most of his professional life to public service. He served on local city council for years and worked in state politics as a hack. No shame in his game, he was very proud to call himself a career politician.
My Dad, Frank (on the left) getting his “young democrat of the year” award with some other political hack. Always thinking of others, my dad grew his hair in solidarity with younger folks. He died 23 years after this picture was taken from liver cancer. He never sought treatment for cancer which he had probably been living with for some time.
Although he never went to college, he lied on his resume and gave himself a MA in history, no one checked his bona fides.
He never had an IEP, or a job coach or filed for disability. He would have qualified for all of that these days. People simply accepted his limitations and my dad accepted that he had to work a little harder than everyone else.
If you asked any of my relatives if my dad had a disability they would say “why because he couldn’t see?” He was the living embodiment of what we call in the disability world Person Centered thinking.
Godspeed, Frank Ryan. You were a sweet Father and a great man.