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A hero's hero: Christopher Cady is a finalist for Military Father of the Year | Kitsap Week
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 Cady 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-Bremerton, 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 still in the running. His story is one that tugs at the heartstrings.
His son, Joshua, contracted Cytomegalovirus (CMV) in utero, and as a result, his brain never fully formed. In fact, doctors believed Joshua would be stillborn.
The ailments Joshua suffers from due to CMV are many, and challenging.
Joshua, now 11, 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 rough housing. Although, because of Joshua’s fragile bones, Cady has to be extra careful. Too strenuous of play can cause a bone to accidentally 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, Joshua 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.
Cady 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.
Wendy Kruse is the person responsible for nominating Cady for Military Father of the Year.
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.
When Kruse heard the National Fatherhood Initiative was seeking nominations, Cady immediately popped in her mind.
“His story is so remarkable,” Kruse said. “How he has turned tragedy into triumph is amazing.”
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 to advocate 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. I actually draw strength and recharge by helping others,” Cady said.
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.
“[Cady] 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 has his own unique laugh, and although Joshua can’t vocalize, you can see how much he enjoys his father’s company.
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 to the best of his ability, he’s modest 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 by who receives the most votes via online voting.
Cady hopes that 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.”
How to vote for Military Father of the Year:
Voting for Military Father of the Year takes place from April 15 to May 13.
To vote, 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.
According to Vincent DiCaro, vice president of public affairs for the National Fatherhood Initiative, the prizes awarded to the winner are a surprise. The award ceremony takes place on the winner’s base and is a special time for the awardee, his friends and family.
Christopher Cady and an Army wife from Fort Lewis, who also has a child with CMV, are putting together Washington state’s first Walk-N-Rollathon to raise CMV awareness. The event is on May 21 at 9:30 a.m. at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org.