What my children have taught me

Ben might have been the first single, openly gay, 21 year old to adopt. He’s now a full-time father to six children, all of whom have complex disabilities. This Father’s Day, we speak to him about the joys and challenges of fatherhood.

I became a parent even before my first son came home. You’ve got to be in that headspace from the moment you start filling out the adoption papers. There’s a lot to start getting ready for.

I started that process when I was 21. It was definitely a contrast to what people expect you to be doing at that age! Instead of going out chasing fun, I found myself committing to the care of a child with complex needs.

But, you know, I adore children. My early career was in care and I have a real passion for disabilities. So, before I knew it, one turned into three, into five – suddenly I had six fantastic children.

A man sits on a sofa with his young children. One son is on his lap, his daughter holds his shoulders, next to him on the sofa are another son and daughter. One son in a wheelchair sits next to the sofa holding dad's hand.
Ben and five of his children in their family home, 2021.

Learning to praise every ability

I can’t imagine my life without my children. Being a father changes you in so many ways. It changes how you see yourself and the world around you.

One of the biggest lessons for any parent is the shift in awareness. You need to be constantly tuned-in to the needs of someone else and be on hand to help. As a dad to children with complex disabilities, I’m there for such a broad spectrum of support – from scratching an itch, to showering and dressing each day.

When you have kids that can’t satisfy their own needs independently, there’s a lot to do. I’ve learned to take each day as it comes. There’s not a single ability or sense that I take for granted. Every ability is celebrated, and each achievement praised.

Finding ways to give your children confidence in themselves is such a rewarding part of being a parent.

My advice for a first-time dad

Having a strong structure in place will support you all the way through fatherhood. If you build a solid routine and family framework, it’ll be there to fall back on, whatever happens.
It’s also so important to recognise your own needs. I have an incredible network of friends and family who find ways to support me. That network is such a key part of being a parent. They are the people you can lean on when you need a break, really!

A loving legacy

Everyone who meets my children remarks on how independent they are. There’s a real can-do attitude in the house. If they want to go ice skating in their wheelchairs, they’ll do it!

That’s a big part of the household ethos. Yes, you have a disability, but we all need to navigate our needs and learn to deal with life. Don’t say you can’t do it, always try your best.

All my children are fantastically aware of each other’s needs. They do what they can for each other – it’s beautiful to see. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but it’d be wonderful to think that they’ve inherited some of their kindness and generosity from me.

They have such love for each other but also for life. That’s all I want, really. If I can make the best of my life, and the best of my children’s lives, then I have a great legacy.

Ben was nominated for ‘Family Carer of the Year’ at the Sense Awards in 2021 – and he won! He told us that being nominated blew him away:

“The thought that other people were seeing my story and might be inspired is wonderful. My award is in pride of place in my living room, it really just feels amazing.”

Nominating someone for a Sense Award can mean so much. Nominations for 2022 will be open soon, so you can give that amazing feeling to someone you know. Sign up for our emails to stay in the know.