Women Who Made Me a Better Father

Each year around Father’s Day, I remember – and appreciate – the individuals who made me the parent I am today.

Like most fathers I followed the example of my own dad. He taught me the joy of competing along with the thrill of winning. But at the same time, he also showed me the grace of losing.

That meant learning from mistakes and working harder on the next go around. In other words, he wanted me to embrace the time-honored Peterson rule of never quitting.

My mother, on the other hand, was more practical in her approach. She insisted that her five sons develop good habits: making a healthy meal, using appropriate manners, sewing a missing button, balancing a checkbook, ironing a dress shirt and serving the less fortunate in the community. 


After adopting three sons under the age of five – all with special needs, I assumed that I was ready – yet quickly realized that I didn’t know everything.

Being a well-meaning and conscientious parent wasn’t enough. Skills actually mattered.

That’s when dozens of women made their impact. Most were my children’s public school teachers, and they knew that fathers mattered too. But more needed to step up to the plate. Better understand child development. At the end of each day, their involvement could make a huge difference in the life of a child.

In my first month of fatherhood, I came upon a Shepherd – Mrs. Joan Shepherd to be exact. She was my son Michael’s early childhood teacher in Indianapolis.

I wasn’t entirely lost in the wilderness but sometimes found myself wandering from day to day. Soon Mrs. Shepherd guided me in a slightly different direction.

Without judgment. Without blame. Without shame.

Within the first month, I saw my son’s amazing abilities – not just his daily challenges. The positives in relationship to the negatives. By the end of our yearlong journey, I’d become a better parent.

And my son benefited.

Mrs. Shepherd was and still is a professional who exemplifies the highest of standards. Individuals like her are champions of children behind closed doors. And through their shining example, they are role models – constantly raising expectations of their peers.

For starters, Mrs. Shepherd listened and never assumed. She asked me the right questions. When discussing Michael’s eligibility for special education, she emphasized his early trauma, not just his exposure to alcohol in the womb. Supporting him now – rather than later – would ease his transition to kindergarten.

In her classroom each child is uniquely special.

Interestingly, his previous school system deemed him ineligible.

Mrs Shepherd2

No doubt, a sense of openness defines Mrs. Shepherd.

By welcoming visitors, she wants parents and caregivers to see her methods in action – as well as the response from their children. Then use them at home.

From her years of experience, she knows an incredibly important fact. Home and school can work miracles when each appreciates the other.

And reinforces one another.

“If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with love, patience, tolerance and care.”   Marvin J. Ashton

During my first visit, I quickly noticed the ease with which Mrs. Shepherd spoke to the students – most of whom had a wide range of special needs and diagnoses. Autism. Down Syndrome. FASD. Developmental Trauma. Celebral Palsy. She could motivate them to do almost everything.

After visiting her classroom a half dozen times over a six-week period, I was ready to try my hand at home. Could I deliver her carefully worded script in the same magical way – coupled with her loving yet directed tone?

I like how Michael is washing his hands. Without any comments from me, Andrew and Brandon followed suit.

Andrew, can you be a good brother and share your red crayon with Michael? In turn, Michael shared his yellow one and Brandon a green.

Let’s all use our inside voice. The room grew instantly quieter.

Who can tell me what we do after dinner? Off to the tub my sons went – in a mad dash no less.

WOW! The approach worked exactly the same way.

As William Arthur Ward says, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. But the great teacher inspires.”

Without question, I trusted Mrs. Shepherd. And as our relationship developed, she encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and experiment at home. Later in the school year when Michael’s behaviors temporarily went in reverse, Mrs. Shepherd reassured me.

“Learn from the rough days and start fresh the following morning.” I did just that and still do today.

That’s why a Shepherd made a huge difference in my life – and hundreds of other parents. 

No doubt, Mrs. Shepherd would be the first of many women to tell me. To explain to me. To demonstrate. To inspire.


Mrs. Zarich, Mrs. Sprunger, Mrs. Dawson, Miss Phillips turned Mrs. Alexander, Mrs. Eddy, Mrs. Downey, Miss Wright turned Mrs. Stephens, Miss Rosner turned Mrs. Sigmund. Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Walters, Mrs. Burdix, Mrs. Swartz, Ms. Strohm, Mrs. Marlin and countless others followed Mrs. Shepherd through the years as my family grew.

As my children’s needs became more complex. As my life nearly spun out of control.

To them, it was Father’s Day every day of the year. Not just the second Sunday in June after the school year ended.  

Involving mothers – and fathers – makes a difference.  DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow his son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold

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