Toronto Star

Jun. 16, 02:00 EDT

The many faces of fatherhood

`Normal is defined by life experiences'

Martin Patriquin
The Toronto Star

PLAY TIME: Fatherhood is twice as nice for Stephen Little, who enjoys activities with his twins Travis
Stephen Little's life is happily average. He and his family live in Pickering, at the foot of a leafy cul-de-sac, in a house with a manicured lawn identical to that of his neighbours. He enjoys the trappings of suburban splendour, right down to the fenced-in backyard strewn with his children's toys.

Average, that is, until you notice the wheelchair lift coming up the basement steps and Stephen Little emerging from his home office.

A car accident left Little paralyzed from the waist down in 1968. Over three years ago, his wife Tracy MacCharles gave birth to twins Travis and Genevieve. Thanks to the marvels of a new process in modern reproductive technology a process only a decade old they are his flesh and blood.

"From their perspective, this is just the way it is," says Little, 50.

Little drives with his hands. His arms power a special bike, his kids towed behind. Sports usually take place on the driveway, street or sidewalk, permitting Little to take part. They swim together at the cottage.

"I have limitations, but not things I won't do," says Little, national director of client services for the Canadian Paraplegic Association. "They see me being active to the point where there are no alarm bells on their part."

His only worry, he says, is his kids getting away from him. "For most able-bodied parents, there is nowhere the kids can go where they can't. With me, they can get physically get out of my reach and I can't do a thing about it."

So Little has a few variations on parental tricks, like having them push him when they go out together. This gives them something to do other than darting into traffic.

The kids only notice other people's wheelchairs, Little says. To them, their father is just that: He isn't diminished because of his disability, which is exactly what he wants to teach them.

"Normal is defined by life experiences," he says. "I can show them that not everyone has to be the same. They are going to have a broader appreciation of what it is like to be physically able."

Little decided he wanted kids shortly after the end of his first marriage, following what he calls "a rocking chair exercise." He imagined himself at 80, sitting on his porch, and pondered what he would regret most about his life.

That was the easy part. The couple considered every option (including donor sperm and adoption) before trying a new technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which involved in vitro fertilization.

They hoped and prayed for the best, which came in the form of healthy twins in 1997.

The wonder of childbirth came with an accompanying shock. "I spent 45 years of my life without having any responsibilities for children whatsoever, and all of a sudden people are relying on me."

As for his disability, Little misses the little things, like being able to jump into a lake unhindered or driving an honest-to-god sports car with manual transmission.

"These are small potatoes. I'm still healthy, I have a family that loves me and I'm employed," he says.

"The wheelchair is a reality that I have to deal with. I'm a good father. Does the chair make a difference? No."

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