Dad living with brain injury tells of 'surreal' fatherhood experience

By Louise Walsh

A doting Meath dad who suffered a brain injury in a teenage football match has openly revealed how challenging fatherhood can be with a disability.

Philip Quinlan (44) from Navan shared the bittersweet experiences of being a dad to Eileen (7) and Joe (4) after Father's Day and advised other dads to never take their own kids or abilities for granted.

Philip Quinlan with wife Helena and children Eileen and Joe.

He was just 15 when he suffered a near fatal blow during a soccer game collision and was in a coma after a life-saving operation to remove a blot clot from his brain.

He was left paralysed down his right side and lost the ability to speak - which he has since recovered fully in addition to 80pc power in his right arm.

He never thought he'd ever get married or have kids but that's exactly what happened when he met the love of his life Helena

He said: "Impending fatherhood scared the hell out of me as I wondered how I'd be able to carry the baby or balance myself to give them a bath.

"It was, however, the most surreal experience of my life, suddenly having this beautiful blob bundled into my arms. The utter calmness, the hopes, the dreams, the bloody fear.

"When they were newborns, I had to cradle them on my lap and bum them down the stairs before clambering to my feet and holding them like a rugby ball while my free hand was holding onto walls and door frames for balance.

"My wife sometimes works very long hours but she takes over when she gets home because the immense fatigue I get sets in the early evening.

"Eileen and Joe have asked me why I walk with a limp and I tell them I hurt my toe playing football.

"They're too young to have to imagine the exact gravity of my injury and what happened to their dad. In time, I'll give them more age-appropriate information."

Philip, who works as a special needs assistant to children with profound disabilities, encourages children to ask him questions.

"I recently did a talk about my job in my three-year-old's playschool and the kids were riveted because of the way I walk. I love breaking down the barriers because most parents don't like kids staring. Let them stare but encourage them to wave, come over and ask questions."

Philip must undergo daily physio and suffers extreme pain regularly, which can impede on his mood and ability to play with his children.

"I can't run to save them when they're hurt and have to rely on neighbours to help out. I have drilled into them to fall properly but my own father tells me that I can't pre-empt everything.

"I push my four-year-old in his buggy, not because he needs it but because I do for balance.

"I can get irritated very quickly when I'm in pain, which is quite often and I have to look away and distract myself if I find that I'm becoming annoyed over something small like them whinging over what colour breakfast bowl they wanted.

"But when Eileen gets every spelling right and when Joe stuns me with a lovely golf shot, I melt into myself and praise them from a height.

However, he admits that he worries that his disability will affect his children and sometimes feels inadequate as a father.

"There's always that huge constant worry that my disability will affect them negatively in the fact that I can't do what a fully-able bodied father can do.

"Simple things like walking a distance holding their hand, throwing them in the air and catching them or even the inability to carry them on my shoulders - I worry that they'll feel they missed out on these things.

"I also feel inadequate when I bring Joe to football practice and another dad has to bring him to start training while I watch from the fence."

However, despite all the self-doubts and challenges, Philip admits he loves being a dad and is hugely proud of his two children and how they are growing up.

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