Fathers carry a heavy load. For centuries, if not since the beginning, men have juggled the roles of manhood and fatherhood. Some fathers walk that carefully balanced walk; others simply fall off, most accepting themselves for what they are: men first, father second.
David Williams happens to fall into the first category. He walks the walk and seems to do so with collected ease. A father of four, including two foster children with special needs, Williams shows no signs of stress or indifference.
The youngest child, Nina, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects body and muscle coordination due to abnormalities in parts of the brain.
"Nina’s mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol, which led to premature labor. But she refused to accept she was pregnant and the delivery was delayed. It was the delay that caused Nina to suffer a stroke in utero, resulting in Nina’s present condition," Williams explained.
Nina was born prematurely and weighed three pounds and four ounces. She had to stay at the hospital for more than a month before the Williams family adopted her.
"We had been doing foster care since 2001 and we had already adopted one child, Rebecca. The foster service called Pam one day, said they wanted a family with experience with babies. Pam gave me a call and told me all the details. It was hard to say no," he said. "The first night she came home, she was really tiny. I couldn’t believe they would let babies out of the hospital that small."
Nina has also been diagnosed with failure to thrive, which is a condition where children are unable to retain and utilize the calories needed to gain weight or grow as expected. Most babies double their birth weight by four months and triple it by age one, but Nina currently only weighs 30 pounds at four years old. Doctors have also labeled her as "medically fragile," which would make her easily susceptible to other illnesses.
Regardless of her limitations, Nina manages to carry on, bright and cheerful. Her interests are no different from any other child at that age; she loves her cartoons, loves to paint and cannot get enough of the outdoors.
The bond Nina has with her family is undeniable. She endearingly refers to her brother and sisters as "Bubba" and "Sissy." Before bedtime, she makes the effort to wish everyone in her family a good night and give them a "kiss-hug." Her relationship with her father is especially warming.
"When I come home from work — it’s the cutest thing — I’ll come in the door, she’ll come up and she’ll hold out her arms and say "Daddy, give me a big hug, squeeze hug." Williams said, with fondness. "Anything I can do with her, she likes. And it’s just the littlest things that will excite her, like taking her outside with her walker or even going to the grocery store or Wal-Mart, which she calls ‘shopping.’"
Despite maintaining a job that sometimes requires him to be away from the family days at a time, Williams manages to find time to spend with Nina every chance possible.
"It’s tough, because I work during the day, so I don’t get to see her and spend as much time with her as I like, but in the evenings, I’ll usually try to help out with her," he said.
After he helps Nina with her homework, both will watch cartons or play. He gives her a bath and helps put on her pajamas. She brushes her own teeth, but insists on him applying the toothpaste to the toothbrush. He is the only person she wants to tuck her into bed.
"She has a specific story that she wants read to her every night — Tolee’s Rhyme Time," Williams said. "It’s the only book she wants read to her. So she almost knows it by heart now, so if a word is skipped, she’ll be quick to add it in. She’ll finish the sentences in the book."
Recently, Williams took Nina to Carson & Barnes Circus held at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. Nina was enthralled by the petting zoo and clapped along with the thrills of the circus performance.
"We usually don’t do a lot of crowd events, because Nina can be very sensitive to the noise. But she took to the circus really well," he said. "Only thing was, she was a little freaked out by the clowns."
As Nina progresses, Williams looks forward to the day she will be able to walk completely on her own. Having seen her grow in the last four years, he is anxious for her to gain independence.
"She only recently moved from a crib and to a regular bed," he said. "She’ll never be able to control the muscles in her feet, but I think through braces and physical therapy, she’ll learn to be able to walk a little better, at least on her own, in the future."
The Williams have also had five other foster children that have temporarily stayed with them, sometimes for just the weekend or for couple of months. They have also helped some of their friends, who were unable to bear children to go through the proper adoption channels to find a child. Those friends now have four foster children with special needs.
"With Nina, we’re all she knows," Williams said. "She’s always smiling and she’s always excited. We couldn’t love her more."
For the Williams household, plans for Father’s Day will be low-key. A hearty breakfast, time spent with the family and a few "kiss-hugs." What more could a father ask for?