Posted on June 17, 2016
Staff Sergeant Brandon Dodson lost both his legs to an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2014. He was on his fifth deployment, and you can read his full story over here. At the time Brandon was injured, his son was only 18 months old — which gives him a unique perspective on fatherhood. As part of our Father’s Day celebration, we posed five questions to Brandon.
In your story on the Semper Fi Fund site, you said you were happy your son was only 18 months old when you were injured, that it’ll make him a better person. How, specifically?
In my family, there is no one in a wheelchair, no one with a birth defect and no one with any major visible disabilities — and to be honest, if I was around anyone with one, I would be slightly uncomfortable. It pains me to admit that, but I just wasn’t exposed to it through my life. Since injury, I have become more than comfortable around anyone with any disability as I generally see through it and treat them as I want to be treated. My son will grow up around me and my wounded warrior friends and I know he will be much more open to all people in life. It took me 29 years and a traumatic injury to figure this out, and my son will just naturally inherit it — and that makes me happy.
I have thought of this one a lot, actually. Right now he is 3-1/2 years old and doesn’t even know to ask that question, but given time he will. When he is younger and becoming curious, I will explain what happened (leaving out the gory details). I’ve talked to a few elementary schools and explained to them in similar fashion: I stepped on a bomb and it ripped my legs off.
What I fear is what I can’t control. Having no legs is basically having a giant sign on you that says, “Come talk to me. Ask me what happened. Thank me for my service.” I understand people wanting to talk to me or thank me, but I do not like it when someone persistently calls me a hero or glorifies my service. If someone were to say those things to me in front of my son when he is old enough to understand, or even tell him those things directly, it would make for an uncomfortable situation and I honestly don’t know how I’d react. I volunteered, I was on my fifth deployment, I loved my job and I simply didn’t see a bomb in the ground. My son should look up to me as his hero not because of my service and what happened, but because I am his dad and I “kick” ass.
I can answer this one easily: dark humor. My sense of humor has not left me after injury, and I’ve been making jokes about not having legs since it happened. I can only assume that my son will share this sense of humor with me; I certainly hope so. For example I have shirts that my friends and family have made for me that say, “Well, I’m stumped” and “Leg story: $10.” I’ve put Christmas lights on my wheelchair and prosthetic legs for the holidays. I also enjoy rotating my legs 180 degrees the wrong way in front of kids to watch their reactions, so making light of it will most likely come naturally to my son.
I would be completely fine with it. My father and grandpa were Marines. However, I will have a catch for him: He wouldn’t be allowed to be in the infantry. That may be a bit harsh, and maybe I’ll discuss with him the benefits and drawbacks of enlisting. I would approach this situation very analytically with my own personal experiences and information and provide as much of it to him as possible.
I’m not sure if my injury has given me any specific perspective toward fatherhood. My son was 18 months old when I was injured. I didn’t have to sit down and have a serious conversation with him like other wounded warriors had to do with their older children. The hardest thing to overcome for me was when I was first injured in the hospital room with wires and tubes and metal sticking in and out of me and my son wanted nothing to do with me. I was deployed for six months and gone in training for months before that, so he barely had any memory of me. He would turn and reach for mom when I tried to hold him. That was the worst — worse than losing my legs and being in pain, by far. As time passed, I healed and we moved out of the hospital room into our apartment and he started to open up to me. He now enjoys playing with me and we’re back to normal.
I wouldn’t have any advice for other fathers because you’ll figure it out. Everyone is different and I’ve never enjoyed other people telling me how to raise my kid. So do right by your children and do it your own way.