After a gunshot wound left him completely paralyzed from the waist down, Wesley Hamilton felt his life was spinning out of control. Confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he battled health problems and severe depression. That is, until he won a contentious battle for custody of his two-year-old daughter and found inspiration in it.
“I wanted to be more of a father to this little girl,” Hamilton says. “I got sole custody of her for a reason.”
To be the best father he could be, Hamilton focused on fitness and nutrition. He saw exercise as a way for people with disabilities to push through the limits they had unconsciously set for themselves. A year later, he was lighter, both physically – he had lost 100 pounds – and mentally; and in 2015, he founded the Disabled But Not Really Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting health, fitness, and wellness.
“Once you start to see and do something that you never thought you could because of your physical limitations, you become empowered within yourself,” Hamilton says.
Hamilton then became a member at WeWork Corrigan Station in Kansas City in 2017, which he said opened lots of doors for him. His organization won $18,000 at WeWork’s Creator Awards, which allowed it to purchase equipment for its first adaptive fitness program.
Throughout his parenting journey, Hamilton realized that though the challenges around parenting with a disability are definitely there, it doesn’t impact the quality of his parenting, not does it affect his child in a negative way. Quite the contrary, in fact!
Here are five things that Hamilton wants you to know about what it’s like to be a parent with a disability.
1. Your child doesn’t see you as disabled. “Your child doesn’t see a disability unless you show them, and that’s because their love for you is unconditional,” says Hamilton. “If you allow your disability to bring you down, your child will feel that. If you’re allowing yourself to be defeated by your flaws, they might allow themselves to be defeated by theirs.”
2. Having a disabled parent makes kids more accepting. “Having a disability actually opens up your child to seeing a whole new world of people,” he says. “They start to accept everyone else in the same way they accept you. My daughter has good friends that are kids with disabilities because she doesn’t see any difference.”
3. There’s no shame in asking for help. “We go to the grocery store together and my daughter’s pushing the cart, grabbing packs of water, throwing groceries into the cart,” Hamilton says. “I’m showing her that we can do this together. If we do need help, we don’t hesitate to ask.”
4. Being there for your kids is the most important thing. “Being in a wheelchair can prevent me from being able to take my daughter places or do certain things with her, but I’ve found different places that we can go together,” says Hamilton. “I can’t jump on the trampoline with my daughter, but me being there, smiling and laughing with her while she’s having fun, is the same thing.”
5. We can change the way the world looks at us. “When your child sees you doing what they thought you couldn’t, they gain confidence,” he says. “I do everything with my daughter. I learned to swim a few months ago just so I could get in the swimming pool with her. We have the power to change the way the world looks at us, and sometimes the power comes from our parenting.”
Charlotte Klein is an Editorial Intern at WeWork. She is a senior at Wesleyan University, where she studies English Literature and Creative Writing.