Rick Hansen is a Canadian Paralympian, activist and philanthropist for people with disabilities. His “Man In Motion World Tour” in 1985, a 26 month 40,000 kilometer trek through 34 countries raised $26 million for spinal cord research, rehabilitation and sport, and changed the way that people with disabilities were perceived. Over the last 30 years, The Rick Hansen Foundation, of which Rick is the Founder of has generated over $359 million to raise awareness, change attitudes, and remove barriers for people with disabilities as well as fund spinal cord research injury and care. Rick is married to Amanda (who was his physiotherapist during his Man In Motion World Tour). They have three daughters and two grandsons.
Words from Rick:
My dad was a great guy, and I had a complex, dynamic relationship with him. He was very committed to sport, his family and his community in positive ways, but he was a disciplinarian. I was made accountable in ways that would be considered harsh in today’s world.
My dad assumed a very traditional role in our family—protector, provider and CEO of the home, but not a nurturer—that was my mum’s role. My ideas of equality, absolute equality between men and women, are very different from his, and my version of fatherhood has evolved significantly from where my dad’s was.
My accident destroyed my ideal view of what my life would be. I wondered if I could get married. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to have a family. I had to let go of my dreams and rebuild my life. Amanda and I married in 1987. Emma (“bringer of life”) was born in 1990, Alana in 1992 and Rebecca in 1995. They are brilliant, beautiful and magnificent! I am so grateful. I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet.
From the beginning, Amanda and I were able to discuss our parenting as true partners. We set out and articulated the parameters of roles and responsibilities. While these ebbed and flowed with our children’s lives, there was always a degree of consciousness that we brought to this.
I was determined not to miss the most important parts of my girls’ lives. I had talked to a few guys, men in their sixties, about what they would do differently if they began fatherhood all over again. All of them said the same thing: they regretted “not being there.” I decided I wouldn’t let that happen for me. It’s easy to say, but then you must have a personal covenant, and accountability to match your intent, and the only way for me to do that was to set up continuity between home and office scheduling of my time, and to include my wife.
I was able to make room for them, but I learned the hard way that I also had to make room for myself. I had to lose sight of that before I truly knew how essential it was. To manifest it into reality, I had to share my goal with people close to me and gain their support. It was a truly difficult time, for sure. There are a few photos in the album from that time that I look back on. I see myself in the photo but I don’t remember being there. In that window of time before I fully turned the ship around, I realized that I might have been present physically, but I wasn’t really there. I was exhausted and running on vapours.
When the girls were really little, I would always have a girl on one knee. Then a girl on each knee. When two became three, a little step was made for the back of my wheelchair for Emma to stand on so I could carry all three. Beautiful memories. Between the ages of eight and eighteen, that was an intense decade, just a huge energy output, things were fast and furious. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. When I think back, some of the best moments came at routine times, like when we were in the car. The girls would be in the back, I’d turn the radio down and tune in to them instead. That’s often when I got the best glimpse into their world—what they were really thinking, needing and feeling.
Fatherhood doesn’t end. I am walking beside them as they have moved into adulthood. I have tried not to project my idealistic view or allow my judgement to skew in any way who they are or what they could be.
My goal has been to honour their sovereignty to craft their own lives. It’s not easy—I’ve had to catch myself many times when I found my hand leading my arm, tempted to meddle or impose. Of course you follow your natural instinct to protect your children, but you try not to put them in a bubble. It’s a hard thing to find the balance between nurturing and stifling their sense of adventure and journey. Love, hurt, pain, loss, trauma, setback—they need them all. There’s no playbook, you have to craft your own journey.
There are a few things I thought I’d never do as a parent. At one time I didn’t think I’d be the kind of dad who imposed rules, but of course I did. I also didn’t think I’d ever live vicariously through my children, but a few times I have caught myself doing that. I had to know the difference between holding my values and beliefs and projecting my wishes.
A big thing for me as a father has been the realization that a problem doesn’t automatically require a solution. Sometimes issues and challenges need to just be held. My learning was about who not to be as an intervenor and problem-solver. I had to get my butt kicked a few times to see the mistakes I was making; my girls have been a gift to me in terms of my personal development.
Excerpted from “Forty Fathers: Men Talk About Parenting”, with permission from Douglas & McIntyre, 2022.