Sometimes the Heart Will Not Be Bullied
Updated: May 19
by Allan Shedlin
Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
For a moment, it was hard to distinguish whether the wail of the siren was coming from inside or outside my head as the ambulance made its way from the small birth hospital to one with more sophisticated equipment to keep my newborn alive. She was five hours old and had already stopped breathing four times.
After months floating quietly in the protective warmth of her mother’s womb, her frail five-pound body was now surrounded by the hard edges of a portable incubator resting on her father’s lap – the blare of the siren interrupted periodically by the cacophony of city streets and the glare of a sunny Sunday morning.
This was not at all what I imagined becoming a dad would be like.
In hindsight, the immediate parenting lessons learned are not particularly surprising: being a dad is more than just who you are, it's something you do. The adventures and challenges are unpredictable and can be very different than envisioned. But one lesson took me completely by surprise: becoming a dad triggered a depth and intensity of love, unlike anything I'd ever experienced. It was an almost irrational feeling that compelled me to protect this vulnerable newborn, struggling to stay alive.
Before calling for the ambulance transfer, the pediatric neurologist began to prepare me for the worst, saying "We'll do whatever we can, but I’m not sure she is going to make it." With a newly earned master's degree in special education, I was well-aware of the myriad complications for a newborn who had been strangled by an umbilical cord that cut off the flow of oxygen to her developing brain during an extended delivery.
With the fog of sleep deprivation, an overdose of adrenalin, the sobering words of the neurologist echoing in my ears, and my recently acquired knowledge as a special educator, I wondered momentarily if it might be better for her to die rather than face a lifetime of struggling with profound handicaps and before we'd grown attached to her. But this new daddy love prevented my head from over-riding my heart. For the first time in my life, my intellect could not bully my emotions. There was nothing – absolutely nothing – I would not do to assure her survival.
Arriving at the hospital, hurriedly carrying the portable incubator up two flights of stairs to the neonatal ICU, I ignored the emotional whiplash of my new daddy excitement versus the dire prognosis. Once arrived, my tiny newborn was poked, jabbed, and connected to an array of apparatus to keep her alive.
After 10 days in ICU, she was released to our care with the tentative assurance that she would survive but she "may be so severely damaged that she will be uneducable." Tough words for any parent.
That fragile newborn earned her master's degree in bilingual education 30 years later and just completed her 26th year as a uniquely empathic teacher with an acutely sensitive gift for special education students.
That daddy love continues unabated and, indeed, intensified.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, and now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.