Testimonies, Tips, and Tricks from Blind Student Fathers by Gerald Meredith and Bryan Baldwin

From the Editor: One aspect of the National Association of Blind Students that makes the division such a dynamic population of the national organization is the different lenses that student affairs can be experienced through. With respect to Father’s Day having just passed, NABS is proud to provide you with the stories of one blind father and one blind father-to-be, both of whom have served NABS and their individual student divisions proudly and effectively. Being able to understand each other is an aspect of empathy that NABS prides itself on, and we hope that the stories and advice given by these three amazing men will provide an understanding of possible ways to better relate to them and other members of the blind community who are also fathers.

Contributor: Gerald Meredith

Former President, Virginia Association of Blind Students

I've been asked what it's like to be a blind parent and student. I have to remind people that I could see before I went blind. I was working for the Department of Corrections when I decided to return to college and obtain my bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. I graduated in 2012. Working and going to school was hard enough but add being a parent. You still have to take kids to football and cheerleading practice, attend football games, and parent-teacher conferences. The happiest moment was when my daughter walked across the stage and received her diploma.

My blindness journey began in 2014 when I failed the weapons range at the Department of Corrections. I went to the eye doctor, and following an examination, I was told I was legally blind. The next doctor I was connected with was a neuro-ophthalmologist. After testing, I was diagnosed with lebers hereditary optic neuropathy. I went to Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Hospital and began receiving services from Visor. I would receive all my services in one day. One day I lost it because I thought I was getting nowhere. I later attended the Richmond Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired. The Center taught me the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be an independent blind person. That year, my son graduated from high school on a Saturday, and I graduated from the rehabilitation Center on the following Monday. My educational journey continues on the campus of Virginia State University as a Graduate Student. Changes had to be made at home once I became blind, but I am still a father of two kids and a husband. The only slight difference is that I became blind; but I'm still an effective father. My tip to future blind fathers is to remember that parenting comes from your heart, not your eyes. You have the skills and your community and fellow Federationists will always be here for support.

Contributor: Bryan Baldwin

Former President, Colorado Association of Blind Students

My wife and I learned we were expecting our son at the very end of March. This was a surprise to us and came at an inopportune moment. We took time to talk to one another and express our feelings about the situation and really get to understand each other's state of mind and thought process. This was a scary time. I was fresh out of a job and unaware what my next step would be, as well as dealing with some very important medical issues. I would learn shortly thereafter that these things come and go.

One thing that I've learned is that it is normal for any father, whether you’re sighted, blind, a student, employed or whatever else, to experience excitement and fear. Sometimes the fear outweighs the excitement, and that's completely normal. On top of balancing whatever you have in your life, you now have this whole new thing that you aren't sure you're going to be good at, And that's perfectly normal as well. I have been fortunate enough to have a great support system of friends and family that can answer questions, of which I had a million. On top of that, I immediately did research on a lot of it. I consulted YouTube, Google, Audible, anything I could get my hands on for information on parenting. I knew that I could think outside of the box and turn things accessible, it would just take a bit of thinking.

I've also learned of several resources that can help out fathers and families who are first time parents. But I was only finding so much on blind parenting, and that's where my support system of friends, family, and my NFB family has come in to help.

Knowing that there are so many people who have done this before me, and done it successfully, raising great kids who became great adults, gives me confidence. Being able to send out an email to a list serve with any number of questions and have so many answers come back to me gives me a sense of security.

I have definitely gone from a father to be that's freaking out a lot, to a father to be that's excited and feels prepared. Do I still get scared? Sure. But a sighted friend of mine told me that he'll let me know when the scared feeling goes away, and he has two kids. Emotions are normal. My recommendations to any father to be would be reach out, do your research, and be a part of the pregnancy. Many of the books and videos I've gotten a hold of are aimed towards moms, and the few for dads are usually filled with just football references and typical non-active dad tropes. Don't be that guy. I have found that reading about everything, the good the bad and the ugly, talking to people, and researching my resources has helped me feel more confident and comfortable as a parent to be. The feelings of excitement and preparedness are a million times more frequent than anything else.