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I was born blind and with cerebral palsy. My dad raised me alone and fought for me to have everything I needed.

Sarah Cerio   

I was born blind and with cerebral palsy. My dad raised me alone and fought for me to have everything I needed.
  • My dad raised me alone in the Bronx in the 90s.
  • He told me I was not only his daughter, but also his best friend.

For years Father's Day was a sad holiday for me. My dad raised me in the Bronx as a single parent in the 90's. Even harder than raising a child alone were my medical issues.

I was born partially blind and with cerebral palsy. Now, at 33, I realize the depth of responsibility he'd embraced. For years, I pondered how different my life would be if he didn't pass away three days after my 11th birthday.

"You're not just my daughter you're my best friend," he said one evening while pushing me in a stroller to the grocery store. Despite his parents' divorce, he had strong family values thanks to his Polish upbringing. Raised in Manhattan, John was a hippie in 70's while completing a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He met my mom when he was 35 and soon after I was born.

He fought for me

To tackle the complications of my disability, he made difficult decisions. After learning about my diagnosis when I didn't reach the milestone of walking, Dad gave consent for a surgery to correct my posture. He enrolled me in a specialized hospital Blythedale, in Valhalla, far away from our apartment. I received a peak level of specialized physical therapy that allowed me to walk with my knees bent through the help of a support cane. Quickly, he realized the education provided by the hospital was less than average.

Against professional advice and threats of losing parental custody during an ongoing court battle against my mother, Dad took me out of the children's hospital. I became the first disabled student to attend Our Lady of Angels Catholic school in the Bronx. He took me to outpatient PT three times a week. When I was 8 I had a kindergarten reading level. I soon caught up to my appropriate grade level, gained more confidence during interactions with the other children, and learned self-discipline.

He died and I was adopted

Unfortunately, my father lost custody of me and two years later he died. I stayed in foster care where I was eventually adopted at 16. As I grew older, I held onto the memory of my father and the life we'd shared. I found solace while spending time with my best friend in the area we grew up in as a teenager, overcome with pride when a local store owner called me "John's daughter."

In my 20s, while requesting documentation of my adoption at The Bronx courthouse, I met a woman who remembered my name. She'd worked on behalf of the court during my parent's custody battle, and never forgot my story. She said that she felt my father was treated unfairly because he was a man seeking custody of his daughter. She noted that despite my mother's own struggle with substances and a documented diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the court continuously granted her grace. Also, seeing first-hand how much my dad fought for me made an imprint on her. I left the short interaction with a new outlook. It was a liberating to gain validation from a stranger who didn't have a stake in my story.

Now, when Father's Day arrives, the sadness I once felt has been replaced with admiration. Over time, I've realized how lucky I was to have him, even for a short time. Instead of mourning his loss, I try to commemorate the role he chose to take on. Whatever struggles I face, his unconditional love sparks my resilience and I try to do good in the world with all the strength that he gave me.




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