GREENFIELD — Rich Emery has been attending groups and workshops for parents of children with disabilities for nearly 20 years.
In those two decades, the Greenfield father noticed something odd — moms represented nearly all of the parents going to support groups and events hosted by Families United for Support and Encouragement. And when other male caregivers did attend, the dads seemed uncomfortable opening up, Emery said.
So he stepped up, joining leaders of the organization in creating a casual support group aimed at bringing together dads and male caregivers of children with disabilities. FUSE leaders hope a laid-back environment will allow fathers an opportunity to open up and connect with one another.
FUSE executive director Denise Arland said she’s noticed male caregivers think differently than female caregivers. Some tell her they often want to find a solution for anything they identify as a problem. When they are raising a child with a disability, whether it’s cerebral palsy or an autism spectrum disorder, it can be difficult for some fathers to accept that their child’s disability isn’t something that can be fixed, she said.
And that struggle can be isolating, Arland said.
“A lot of the dads are in denial when their child is very young,” Emery said. “After that, they are looking for answers. FUSE is a really good resource.”
The new support group, called FUSE-D, will hold its first meeting 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at Mozzi’s Pizza, 2221 W. Main St., Greenfield. Leaders plan to host the meetings the third Thursday of every month through the end of the year. There’s no cost to attend, though each person will be responsible for paying for their own meals, Arland said.
She hopes the laid-back atmosphere is a comfortable place for fathers to unwind and talk about the concerns they have.
“We want to reach them on their terms and connect them to one another,” Arland said. “They need support and help, too.”
Emery believes interest in the group will be strong, pointing to a survey he conducted during FUSE’s Inspiring Abilities Expo, an annual event bringing together caregivers and service providers for children with disabilities, last spring. About 20 fathers and other male caregivers of children or young adults with disabilities said they’d be interested in an informal support meeting especially for men, he said.
The dads group was devised by FUSE’s six-member parent advisory board, of which Greenfield resident Rusty Schaekel, whose son lives with Down Syndrome, is a member.
Schaekel attends the Indianapolis-based Dads Appreciation Down Syndrome, a group bringing together fathers of children with the condition. Schaekel said he wants to create a similar organization closer to home.
A leader of the new group, he plans to keep the tone of the FUSE-D meetings light and comfortable, he said.
“There’s a lot to learn from other parents,” he said. “You’ve just got to be around the other parents to do it.”
The education and support offered by FUSE has helped Emery to better understand his son and be a better parent, he said. He believes other dads deserve that opportunity to learn and connect with each other, he said.
Emery thinks they’ll feel better once they share their experiences.
“I think dads need pointed in the right direction, and this may be a good way for us to do that,” he said.
FUSE-D, a casual support group for dads and other male caregivers of children with disabilities, is planned for the third Thursday of every month.
The first meeting is slated for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 21 in the Fieldhouse at Mozzi’s Pizza, 2221 W. Main St., Greenfield.
For more information, call Families United in Support and Encouragement at 317-462-9064.