“As a totally blind man, fatherhood is the best. If I were to live another life and come back again, I’d want the same”
At BAME Vision, we are celebrating blind and partially sighted parents from ethnic minorities with the aim of contributing to the diverse representation of the vision-impaired community. In this series, we are looking to shine a light on parents who work and volunteer as we find out more about this largely unreported part of society. We will discuss parenting, culture, mental health, support systems, self-confidence, and everything else in between.
This time, we had the pleasure of speaking with Talat. He is a vision-impaired father of four, aged between 9 and 23, and from a British Pakistani background. He has an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which has caused total vision loss since 2009.
How would you describe yourself?
I am 42 years old. I lost my vision in 2009 to Retinitis Pigmentosa, which I started to notice symptoms when I was 17 years old. I was registered blind in 2000.
I take part in sporting activities such as playing volleyball and jujitsu and go to the gym. I have made some good friends and am married with four children. My daughter is my eldest child. She is currently doing her Degree at Leeds University. Second is my son, who works for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Thereafter is my daughter, who is 17. She has just started to take driving lessons and is at college. And finally, my youngest daughter who is at primary school. My wife and I have been married for 26 years. I got married when I was 17 years old. A long sentence! I’m still surviving [he laughs] She is such a good wife, and I am so happy with her.
I enjoy being out and about. I am a friendly chap, and a lot of people know me from where I live. We have good neighbours who are very understanding. I enjoy life as much as possible. I love to get on with people. Spending time with my children is very important to me. They are always asking me to buy them something or another!
When I started understanding more about Retinitis Pigmentosa, I had night blindness. I did not know the tunnel vision side of things. I just thought I was a bit clumsy and bumping into things and headbutting lamp posts is just something I do. Then I found out it’s not just me! [he laughs] It’s because of my eyesight!
At the time, I was taking driving lessons. I was not able to see the steering wheel or the inside of the car. I wasn’t even able to see the driving instructor. This is when I realised something was wrong. I was told I couldn’t drive, which made me feel so sad. However, I am grateful that I got the pleasure of driving even though it was for only a very short period. So, this is all that I can say about myself. I have a sense of humour, which helps me with sight loss. I am also at university. I am studying music production. If all goes well, I should get my degree this time next year.
So, culturally, do you feel that people expect something different from you as a vision-impaired dad?
To be honest with you, from the Asian community, I’m not sure what they expect from me as a dad. From a personal perspective, they probably expect a blind person to just be seated on the sofa, do nothing, not have a life, just ask for everything, and expect someone to do it for them.
They don’t see you as a person anymore, which is what I’ve picked up from how people react. A lot of them don’t know that I’m married and have children apart from the people whom I am close with. They think you can’t do anything. I’ve been asked “How do you have kids?” and I just thought, well, you should have learnt that at school! I don’t need to tell you about it now; I’m sure you all know [Talat chuckles]
I can still do everything without seeing. I can walk about. The questions I get asked often, such as how do you walk about if you can’t see? How are your clothes clean? How can you recognise someone by their voice? There are loads of things that people don’t expect when it comes to me, so I think I’m not fulfilling their expectations. I get on with it and give anything a go without really caring what people expect from me.
Culture-wise, they haven’t got a clue about my disability or anything in that sense. So, I’m not bothered by what the culture wants from me or expects from me. I’m going to do my thing. I don’t depend on or rely on anyone. My family and my children are enough for me.
What is your favourite blind dad hack?
Oohh making my own cup of tea! [he chuckles heartily]
As a dad, I was just being me and being able to show my kids that my visual impairment was not going to stop me from being able to do a lot of things. If there is something I want to do, I do it. I have a lot of confidence and strength in myself. I never let any health issues get me down because there’s so much more to life. I always tell my kids you can do anything. You must get up and do it!
I am always out with my daughters. We go for walks and do whatever we can together. They all describe what they’re wearing when we’re out and about. They don’t do this when we are at home as they are probably in their pyjamas. To be honest with you, my children look after me so well and always tell me if there is something in my way and things like that. They tell me what a sighted person can see. For example, if it’s something online, and my voiceover doesn’t make sense, they’ll explain it to me so well. Due to my sight loss, I am very protective of them. I like to make sure I know where they are always.
The other day, my daughter had a concert at the theatre. We got there, sat down, and my daughter told me, “She’s on the stage, sitting down, now she’s dancing, she’s playing the Ukulele” They told me all these things without me even asking.
They are all understanding, so I don’t have that many hacks per se. They’ve all grown up knowing that I can’t see. When my 17-year-old was just 6 years old, I remember we were on a walk one day, and she asked me to stop walking and said, “Dad hold on“, this is so she was able to remove a leaf on the ground in front of me.
What is your favourite thing to do on Father’s Day?
My children always get me something on Father’s Day, such as some cake, a shirt or even some dad socks! They know my favourite shops, so they know exactly what to buy. I love spending time with them, such as going to a restaurant and having a meal together. Spending time with them is so special for me on Father’s Day. Even though I’m still spending money, that’s what dads do! [he laughs]
They made me a card with Dad written on it, and it was all raised so I could feel where it says, Dad. I think they did it with tissue or something like that. I think the colour matched the card, and then my youngest read what it said on the card out loud to me. They even did a little rap for me! It was only a few seconds – I told them four words, and you were up all night? Come on! [he laughs] I am more than happy with whatever they do for Father’s Day. I am more than happy.
What would you like to say to other blind dads or parents from ethnic minorities, and what would your advice be?
Your own family, husband, wife, kids, whatever you decide for your family, don’t let others decide what is good for you. You make the decisions. Whether it be education, work, or whatever it is, you make the decisions as a family. Whenever we had issues, we stuck together because other family members would pick and choose when they wanted to be with us. Do what you must do for yourselves and take care of your family first; your kids, as a couple, put yourselves first. Do not give attention or time to other family members. You are a priority.
Don’t depend on others. They are not the ones living with you all. You decide where you want to be, where you want to go, eat, wear, etc. Don’t entertain other people’s ideas because they don’t understand sight loss; they’re not living it!
This is how I think the Vision Impaired community should be. We live our lives every day, so we know what it is like. We need to make our own decisions. Input from other people is good, but you cannot allow them to dictate how you should live your life or how your children should live their lives. This is something that I will never agree to, as these children are mine and not theirs. We can teach them not to make the same mistakes we did. If they take it on board, that’s great, and if they have to learn by making their own mistakes, then let them. As parents, it is our responsibility, not our mum’s or uncle’s or anyone else but ours.
We will discuss this in more detail in the following interview, so no spoilers! As an active person in education and regularly participating in hobbies, could you briefly tell me what you like most about being a dad who is also vision impaired?
Having a wife and a family is the best thing ever, especially for a visually impaired man from the Asian community. People believe no one will marry or stay with you because you’re blind. I am very proud of having a family of my own. I’m so proud and blessed to have my wife and children. I honestly don’t know where I would have been if I didn’t have them. I probably wouldn’t have been as happy or as confident in myself without them.
My children make me stronger and happier and keep me going. Just being a dad on its own, the rewards from being a dad are priceless. Nothing in the world could ever cover that or make up for it.
I have everything that every man wishes for. I have my wife and my children, which, for me, are priceless. If I were to be re-born again, I would ask for the same children and wife as I have in this life.
Nothing else matters if my children are there, standing with me, walking with me, holding my hand, going to the park; anything I do with them means everything to me. I would do anything for them. If anyone even says boo to them, I’d feel very sorry for that person. [Talat laughs] I don’t care if I’m visually impaired. I’ll take on the world!
My children know I’m not a quitter. I have always loved music, so when I got the chance, I went to university. I am making my music, which keeps me busy. Hopefully, one day soon, I can have my studio and be as big as Dr. Dre. You never know! [he chuckles]
I am very active and love to work in an environment where I can get out and about. I like helping people. If they want the help, I’ll be there. Having gone through sight loss for 15 years, I feel I’m in an excellent position to help another person. I didn’t have anyone like this for the first five years, so if I could be there for someone else, it would be good. My ability is way more than my blindness. I want to show (ignorant) sighted people that we’re not the odd ones out; it’s you! I want to change the mindset and mentality of these (ignorant) sighted people.
Be sure to tune in for part two, where Talat will be joining us to discuss more about his university course, his passion for music, his challenges, and the services he has accessed to support him in his work and higher education.
Written by Sylvia Chengo – BAME Vision