A Secretly Handicapped Man
For the past twenty years my father has been writing a book about his life. He started writing it on our commodore 64 and finished it on his modern PC. I have helped him, we have fought over the title and our two very different views on the meaning of his life.
Finally he has finished his book and we agreed on a title. A Secretly Handicapped Man: A Memoir
At 86, he really doesn't understand how inspiring his story is and I would really like to help him see his life the way that others are now seeing it.
He went to college with Andy Warhol, was arguably the first Art Director in what became Public Television, created the first sets for Fred Rogers' land of make believe, worked tirelessly for educational broadcasting and taught Martin Scorsese, Menahem Golan and many other of the 70's wave of media artist while at NYU.
I've attached the forward I wrote to his book and a link to the new trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffAxxNumEnw
One of my earliest memories is mother directing me not to tell the neighbors about my father's legs. I was 3 years old, playing on the front lawn in Schenectady with my sister. We were constantly reminded that we were not to talk about my father's secret that, in our suburban 1970's American life, he walked with a prosthetic leg below each knee.
We never told anyone. It wasn't the world's biggest secret, nor was there any shame or scandal, but it was my father's desire. In my mind he was, and is, tough, self driven, and capable, and the least disabled person I've known. but unable to recognize and enjoy his achievements.
It was only in college that I realized how much his story defined us all, how proud and in awe I was of him, and how angry and confused I was to be prevented from expressing my pride in his accomplishments. Born with severe disabilities in a time of great inhumanity and economic ruin, he spent a third of his life enduring ridicule and pity, underestimated by both his community and colleagues. In a world that had no room for him, he demanded space for himself. From working class beginnings in Depression Era Pittsburgh, he fought past class barriers at college and into the burgeoning field of early television. Here, denied entrance to the main stream and facing constant rejection and prejudice, he nevertheless worked successfully with some of the foremost innovators in the field. After being perceived for more than 30 years as a "cripple," walking with a short awkward gate, conspicuous in any public place, attracting unwanted and unavoidable attention and constantly in pain, he then experienced a miracle. Modern advances in medical science provided him a new facade. Artificial legs and feet normalized his height, gait, and appearance and facilitated a privacy he had never known. No longer a public spectacle, he was free to enjoy anonymity, but the memories of years of prejudicial treatment did not disappear behind his new facade.
As society slowly redefined its prejudicial view of people with disabilities, my father enjoyed a now protected privacy. With disabilities now hidden, he did not venture to share his story, fearing that disclosure could invite return of discriminatory treatment he had previously experienced. He became involved with helping to tell the story of disabled people and was active in their search for independence, but he never fully understood the accomplishments of the person he had been and was now, an experienced, driven television executive, educator, outdoors man, sailor, carpenter, and fisherman, enjoying the peace that being out of the spotlight of public stigma offered him.
Growing up in his world, I knew him to be a compassionate man, a leader, a capable person. It has always been a wonder to equate his physical disabilities with his actual capabilities. I've frequently reflected on what he has overcome. It was not easily done. Through sheer force of will he forged a life, accepting his triumphs as unremarkable, normal, effortless, never defining himself dramatically and never perceiving himself as disabled. He is a survivor, and his survival is a triumph, his entire life a victory. In later life, he enjoys privacy and lack of attention, and remains dissatisfied with his accomplishments, believing them to be minimal. He is unable to envision them as I do, as trophies. For him they were merely steps along the way.
The battles that formed him were costly. Had he not been strong, he would not have survived, and the armor that was his protection and the means for accomplishment still hangs on him today, secretly ready.
I see his triumph as my own. He is a source of great strength to me, an important part of the center of my being. His armor gives me toughness. His victory gave me existence.
Although he will never understand it, he is remarkable...as is his life.
Thank you for your consideration.
-Jared Lucas Nathanson