Christopher Cady is adjusting to being in the public eye.
“Today I had a guy in the bathroom ask me for my autograph,” Cady said. “He said he saw me on TV and that I was becoming quite famous.”
People he doesn’t even know are sending him friend requests on Facebook.
Why all the hullabaloo and sudden recognition? Cady, a single father and petty officer first class who works in the Priority Materials Office at Navy Base Kitsap, has been hounded by news reporters as word spread that he is a finalist for the 2011 Military Fatherhood Award.
Out of 600 nominees, Cady is one of three in the final running. His story is one that tugs at the heartstrings.
His son Joshua contracted Cytomegalovirus in utero, and as a result, his brain never fully formed. Doctors believed Joshua would be stillborn.
The ailments Joshua suffers from due to CMV are many and challenging.
Joshua, now 11 years old, is legally blind and deaf, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He is confined to a wheelchair, receives all of his nourishment through a feeding tube and has a tracheotomy.
Any one of these would be a hardship, but for Joshua, it is all he’s ever known.
Cady is quick to point out that Joshua is like any typical boy and enjoys roughhousing – although, because of Joshua’s fragile bones, his father has to be extra careful. Too strenuous of play could cause a bone to break.
The duo also enjoys watching sports on television, especially the Denver Broncos, and going on walks around the neighborhood.
Joshua is deaf in his left ear, and can hear about 50 percent out of his right. Like any preteen, he enjoys listening to music via an ear bud placed in his right ear. And although he is legally blind, doctors believe he can see color and shape, but no detail.
“I pretty much take him with me everywhere I go, and I don’t treat him any differently than I would a typically developing child,” Cady said.
Cady and his ex-wife divorced in 2006, and Cady became the custodial parent in 2008. While Joshua’s mom has weekend and summer visits, Cady provides the bulk of his care.
He has a meticulous support system in place for Joshua, including nursing care so Cady can receive a good night’s sleep. When Cady has to travel for work, Joshua’s mother or nurse step in and take charge.
Cady was nominated for Military Father of the Year by friend Wendy Kruse. When she heard the National Fatherhood Initiative was seeking nominations, Cady immediately popped into her mind.
“His story is so remarkable,” Kruse said, “how he has turned tragedy into triumph is amazing.”
Kruse, who is also a special needs parent, met Cady through special education programs at the Central Kitsap School District. They both serve on the advisory council for the Military Special Needs Network.
Kruse recounted a recent conversation she had with Cady.
“I asked him, ‘Aren’t you ever sad?’ and he said, ‘Sure, I’m going to mourn the fact I’ll never teach him how to fish or play football, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give him that experience. So I take him fishing and to games. I can either be a victim, or make something better out of this.’”
Besides working and being Joshua’s primary caregiver, Cady fills his time helping other families in similar situations.
“Being a typical man, I’m a problem solver and obviously a lot of Joshua’s problems, I can’t solve,” Cady said.
Instead, he uses his energy and advocates and helps other special needs families, especially those who are navigating the special needs resources for the first time.
“If I can help guide them through the process and help them solve problems that I’ve already solved, it helps me rejuvenate,” he said. “I actually draw strength and recharge by helping others.”
Jamie Goodman, master chief at the Priority Materials Office Headquarters where Cady works, said when it comes to stressful conditions, it’s impressive how Cady handles them. Under pressure, Cady is graceful and has an unflappable demeanor.
“He will tell you that he’s learned a lot from his son, like how to stay calm,” Goodman said.
Friend Jessica Huckaby also knows Cady through the Military Special Needs Network. She said the love between father and son is obvious to anyone who sees the pair together.
“Joshua looks towards Chris almost in awe. He’s everything to Joshua,” Huckaby said. “And Joshua is Chris’s breath of fresh air.”
Friends comment that when Cady rubs Joshua’s head, it’s almost as if Joshua melts. He does his own unique laugh, and although Joshua can’t vocalize, you can see how much he enjoys his father’s company.
Soon to retire
Cady retires from the Navy later this year, and Kruse said she would love to see him end his 20 years of service with the honor of being Military Father of the Year.
“He makes me want to be a better person,” Kruse said. “He’s an inspiration.”
As for Cady, he’s handling the spotlight with modesty and would rather the focus be on Joshua and his disabilities.
For the first time ever, the winner of Military Father of the Year will be decided on which nominee receives the most votes via online voting.
Cady hopes online voting doesn’t diminish the integrity of the award.
“I am humbled and honored to be nominated,” he said. “But I would rather lose based on the merit and strength of the other applicants, than win the award because it turned into a popularity contest.”
Help select the winner
For the first time ever, the Military Father of the Year award will be decided by the public, with voting from April 15 to May 13.
Visit www.facebook.com/nationalfatherhoodinitiative to view the three finalists and their videos. During the time period, you are allowed to vote once per day.
www.militaryspecialneedsnetwork.com. This organization was started at Naval Base Kitsap, and organizers are hoping to launch it nationally.
www.cmvfoundation.org. Cady and an Army wife from Fort Lewis, who also has a child with CMV, are putting together Washington state’s first ever Walk-N-Rollathon to raise CMV awareness on May 21 at 9:30 a.m. at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.