The following story was published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle-a Northern Michigan newspaper:
Disability Is Illuminating
Father's blindness makes whole family stronger
BY INGA DIETLINSpecial to the Record-Eagle
'But I will never see her face."
This comment was made in 1991, nine months before my birth.
While the births of my siblings had been joyous occasions, mine was mixed with sorrow. My father has a degenerative eye disease called Retinisa Pigmentosa, or R.P., which was diagnosed at a very young age. This disease slowly stole his eyesight, making him almost completely blind at the time of my arrival. Although his blindness has been a trial in many ways, it has also blessed both him and our entire family with the joy of having guide dogs, viewing other disabled people in a more compassionate manner, and in spiritual growth. When I was 5, Dad received his first guide dog, Mischa. The 1-year-old German Shepherd only had basic training. But with the help of a local dog trainer, he quickly learned how to safely lead my dad around obstacles.
Before we moved to Michigan and had Mischa, my family lived in Chicago, where Dad worked as a piano tuner. Since he maintained a large clientele there, he continued to travel back and forth every other week, while my mom stayed with my siblings and me in Michigan. Mischa aided Dad in traveling on airplanes and navigating through city streets. After Mischa had been working for almost seven years, my dad realized he would need a replacement dog. We soon received an 8-week-old puppy and named him Bartok. Bartok watched Mischa work for two years, which contributed greatly to his excellence in leading. Bartok began to guide Dad when Mischa was about 9 years old. Almost two years later, after Mischa had been sick for many days, I received the news that he had been put down. This was one of the most emotional moments my family and I had ever experienced, and it was very heart-wrenching for Dad to say good-bye. No dog can replace Mischa in our memories, but Bartok is a great helper, keeping Dad safe both in Michigan and Chicago. Although it may seem like my father's trips to Chicago are perfect, he still encounters many rude people unwilling to even help him navigate a busy street, or move from their seat on a crowded bus. It is obvious that my dad has a disability and may need assistance, but most people seem too busy to realize he exists. Through viewing his attempts at obtaining a seat on crowded Chicago Transit Authority buses, the whole family has become aware of people with disabilities, and we strive to help those who may be in need. Many who see another person with a disability such as blindness simply gawk as though the person is contagious. Dad has aided me in realizing that even though the person is disabled, they are just like me. Because of this, I am often one of the few to leave my seat on a bus in favor of letting a disabled person take the chair. The obstacles that Dad encounters through his blindness, whether it is simply steering himself through a throng of people or being denied a seat on the bus, have all been formidable. But he is able to overcome them through his sturdy believe in Jesus Christ. The sorrow that my dad expressed when told I was going to be born was short-lived, but powerful. Although he was thrilled at the idea of having another child, the notion that he would miss seeing me grow into a woman left him somber. His eyesight has slowly degenerated throughout most of his life, but by becoming a Christian at a young age, his faith helped him cope with the impending blindness. After becoming completely blind, it seemed that studying the Bible would be impossible, until he received the treasured gift of a Bible on CD. This has allowed him to continue reading as well as memorizing. Because of this passion for memorizing the Bible, he has inspired my siblings and me to attempt the same feat. His attitude is also a product of his faith. While many people who have disabilities are bitter because of their misfortune, my dad is well-liked by everyone because of his inner joy. Dad's hardships have threatened to dismantle his faith and good attitude, but he is always able to return to his faith and discover the promises held in the Bible.
Disabilities can tear families apart, but my dad's blindness has made our stronger. We connect over the faith that we share, and enjoy the dogs that have made his mobility possible. Throughout my days, I am constantly aware of the impact his blindness has made on my life, whether it be increased awareness of other people or thankfulness for my many blessings. I know that my dad has never had the chance to see me growing up, but I recognize that he has helped me become the woman I am today.
Inga Dietlin is a sophomore at Elk Rapids High School