Single Dad Disabled Daughter: August’s childhood memories
©bernardbodo / Adobe Stock
Single dad, disabled daughter: memories of my childhood
A true story about being growing up as a disabled daughter of a single dad.
My parents separated when I was three years old. Fortunately, I was too young to remember it, and they lived in the same city, so living the dual-custody life is something I’ve never had to have difficult transitions with or anything like that. They also did everything out-of-court, leaving out all those legal obligations and red tape.
From shortly after the separation, until I moved to Georgia for college, I was at my single dad’s house every Tuesday and Thursday night and every other weekend, unless one of us was on vacation, sick, or for whatever other reason there was.
Being a disabled daughter, I heavily relied on my family and other people to help take care of me. Naturally, it’s mostly my parents who do care for me. I’m also an only child if you don’t include the four-legged variety, which means that I’m pretty close with my parents.
Growing up with a single dad as a disabled daughter, there were several things my dad has had to figure out. Most fathers help take care of their children when they’re babies, then let them take care of themselves as they become more independent. Because I can’t be 100% self-sufficient, there are a lot of anecdotes from various points that make my relationship with my single dad different from many single dad-daughter relationships.
Getting ready for school was an ordeal. I’ve always been an extremely girly girl who’s meticulous with my outfits. When I was around age seven, I started not wearing certain things because they didn’t go together. If I had a Maya and Miguel shirt (anyone else remember that PBS Kids cartoon, US readers?), the only acceptable thing I could wear on the bottom was a Maya and Miguel skirt.
My sun neurodivergent AF t-shirt absolutely had to go with the embroidered jeans I got with it. No ifs, ands, or buts. Of course, at eight in the morning, this isn’t something my dad had much patience or energy for. My mom understood. My dad? Not so much.
More than once, I brought shorts for me to wear. However, my single dad didn’t see that there were two leg holes and would put both legs through one hole, thinking it was a skirt. This would be something amusing for my mom or whoever was helping me in the school bathroom to discover.
One time, he was putting on my underwear and said, “I think you need to get bigger underwear.” Later that day, my teacher was helping me in the bathroom and asked, “Did your dad dress you this morning?” It turns out he put my body through one of the leg holes and not the bigger one.
In grades four and five, I went to a school that had a uniform, and I was in the afterschool program.
If I was wearing my favorite represent sweatshirt, I usually took it off once I got to the cafeteria, where those in the program gathered. One of my favorite things to wear as part of my uniform was a jumper. For those who use British English, a jumper in the US is a dress you’re meant to wear over a shirt. In my case, I wore my jumper over a white, collared shirt. Sweatshirts are intended to go over the jumper.
Single dad disabled daughter: getting ready for school
My single dad, however, thought that the sweatshirt went under. I didn’t notice until I went to afterschool and was ready to take it off. How come I didn’t notice when he was getting me dressed? Because school started at seven and I was half-asleep. Anyway, I was hot, so I had to take the top part of the jumper off and maneuver the sweatshirt out of it.
When I started middle school, I had to go on a shopping spree since I didn’t have a whole lot of non-uniform clothes. My dad was relieved that I was adding colors other than pink to my wardrobe. At the time, a lot of camisoles and baby doll tops came with built-in bras, which were a pain in the butt (or chest) and my aunt would cut them out. Limited Too listed their camisoles as camis, which is what I called them.
Because I have a soft voice and he can’t hear well out of one ear, he kept on calling them “shamis.” There was one top I had, which was a pale blue baby doll with pink plaid straps and top band. My aunt forgot to cut the bra out, so when I was getting ready for school one morning, my dad pulled it up and out of the top because he thought that’s how it was supposed to be. That would’ve been quite a look if I’d gone to school like that!
I started wearing makeup frequently in high school after I binge-watched beauty tutorials until the early hours of the morning on YouTube. Being a newbie, blending my eyeshadow and drawing on my eyeliner took a long time. I previously mentioned doing my makeup beforehand, but it still threw my dad for a loop when I said that I had to do it before leaving.
He often tells me how he had to redo our morning routine to allow me time to do my makeup, or else I’d be late for school. When I was in grade school, he was very meticulous when it came to getting me to school on time, while my mom was more chill about it.
Another thing I liked to do in high school was to try different hairstyles, as most teens do. My mom usually did this for me, but one day, I wanted to wear a bun on a day when I’d spent the previous night at my dad’s. I had spin pins, which are corkscrew-shaped bobby pins that make making buns easier, so I thought my dad wouldn’t have a ton of trouble with it. By the end of the school day, my bun was halfway undone and looked more like a fancy ponytail than an updo.
When I started wearing bras, I had to teach my dad a lot. Putting on a bra is much different from putting on a shirt, but he would just put it on over my boobs, the bottom band squishing the tops of them. The cups would also be lopsided, with one nearly under my armpit. I had to shift the bra and boobs into position, which was a little tricky for me, but I still managed to get it done.
I was a late bloomer, so my dad didn’t have to deal with my period much, but he still has had to manage it sometimes. During my heavy days, I stay with my mom, though I’ve still had surprises when I was visiting my dad’s. For the first few times, he handed the maxi pad to me so I could unwrap and unfold it.
Some people may find it uncomfortable that my single dad has continued to help care for me – his disabled daughter – during and after puberty, but he’s a good guy. Just a little eccentric.
When my parents separated, they wanted me to spend a somewhat equal amount of time with each of them. My dad was just doing what he was supposed to do: be my dad. Aside from all the mentioned things, he’d take me to the bookstore to get me whatever book I wanted, put my pjs in the dryer so they’d be warm, and get ice cream all the time.
I never thought there was anything unusual about the relationship I had with my dad when I was growing up. It’s just the way I live my life. I’m really happy when I see single father-daughter relationships normalized in the media, because it’s the reality for many people, especially for disabled daughters.
August Pritchett is a disability advocate, a young adult historical fiction writer, obsessed with the 19th and early 20th centuries.