By Leslie Lindsay
For stay-at-home Oregon-based dad, David Ozab writing is not just a way to pass the time while his 7-year old daughter is at school. It’s drive. As a father parenting a spirited little girl born with a cleft lip and diagnosed at the age of two with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), it’s a way of finding answers and sharing them with others. It’s a way to make the world a better place.
L4K: Kudos to you for being a stay-at-home dad. As we move deeper into the 21st century, we are definitely seeing a shift from the ‘traditional family roles’ and for that, I couldn’t be more proud. Can you expand a bit on your decision to stay home with your daughter, Anna?
DAVID: It wasn’t so much one decision I made at a particular time, as at was a bunch of little decisions. When we were first expecting Anna, I was still looking for teaching jobs. My degree is in music and I interviewed at colleges in Wisconsin, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Hawaii. I even interviewed for a school in the Portland suburbs. I came close but never quite got the gig. Then Anna was born—with a cleft lip no less—and we had a bunch of other concerns to deal with. Julia at the time had a great paying job as a self-employed subcontractor, and I was helping her out in my free time so it seemed like a good decision—since we weren’t hurting for money—to stay in Eugene. Plus Julia was working from home for the first three years of Anna’s life so in a way she had two stay-at-home parents.
Then in 2009 everything changed, as it did for a lot of people. Julia lost her subcontracting job and we were faced with a choice. Yes, I could jump back in the job market, but academic jobs hire in advance for the fall and I had already missed the cycle for that year. Plus a job for me would mean an almost-certain move. Julia, on the other hand had more job opportunities locally. It made the most sense for us, especially as we were dealing with a recent apraxia diagnosis, for me to stay home with Anna. In the end, we made the choice that was best for her.
L4K: Let’s move on to Anna a bit. From your website and blog, I see that she is quite a spirited gal. I am sure that brings you much excitement—and aggravation—can you describe your daughter for us? (I have a very ‘spirited’ daughter myself…so I can completely relate!)
DAVID: I describe her to strangers as “a future academy-award-winning actress” which sums it up. I’m not sure if it’s a natural counterbalance to her cleft and her apraxia of speech, but she has always had an amazing, outgoing personality. Even when she was a baby, she never had stranger anxiety. It actually worried us a little that she was so comfortable around strangers, but we’ve taught her to be safe so no worries there.
She also has an incredible imagination that we encourage whenever we can. She’s very bright and is a voracious reader—something she gets from both her mom and I. She loves animals and currently wants to be a wildlife biologist, though she’s also wanted to be a photographer, writer, actress, astronaut, meteorologist, and schoolteacher. She changes her mind a lot like all kids do.
L4K: How do you feel Anna’s cleft lip has affected her speech? Would you say her journey with apraxia has been more challenging because she has had an additional impediment, or does that not affect her apraxia much?
The two seem to be unrelated. She was born with an incomplete cleft lip—halfway up to her right nostril—but both a complete hard and soft palate. The cleft in her gum line, which she’ll have fixed in another year or two, is technically considered a cleft palate, but really isn’t and hasn’t affected her speech at all.
Now this may sound strange but if anything, her cleft was an advantage. She already had a cleft team in place at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland that included a Speech Language Pathologist. She usually works with kids who need speech therapy due to cleft palate issues, but she’ s also works with CAS kids and was available to diagnose Anna during one of her routine follow-ups. Without her being right there, Anna’s diagnosis might have been delayed at least six more months, maybe a year.
L4K: You’re working on a memoir that chronicles Anna’s life and her journey with apraxia and cleft lip. Can you tell us a little about your book? What do you hope the world will take from it? (image source: http://mikeswritingworkshop.blogspot.com/2009/08/writers-at-work-ernest-hemingway.html. Ernest Hemingway. Retrieved 2.4.13)
DAVID: “A Smile for Anna” tells the story of my daughter’s life from the womb to age four: her cleft diagnosis and surgery, her motor-speech disorder, and her irrepressible spirit.” That’s my elevator pitch. I’ve got it memorized. The story opens the morning Julia asks me “Are you ready to be a daddy?” (That’s the first line of the book, by the way.) And it runs through Anna’s fourth birthday, more or less, when—after everything that happens—I’m finally able to answer that question.
As for what readers will take from my book, I hope first and foremost to reach other parents dealing with the issues we dealt with—either a cleft or an apraxia diagnosis. When you’re faced with something like this, you feel so alone, but you’re really not. Lots of parents deal with one or the other, though not many have dealt with both like we have. I want them to know that they’re not alone.
Beyond that, I think it’s a story that will appeal to a lot of people. Parents in general, stay-at-home dads in particular, people of faith who wrestle with big questions and aren’t satisfied with pat answers, and anyone who’d like to read a great tale of an amazing little girl with an irrepressible spirit and a stumbling dad who figures it out as he goes. It’s funny in parts, and sad in others, and in the end hopefully it’s inspiring too.
L4K: If you had one bit of advice for parents who are just beginning to learn about their child’s apraxia, what would you say?
DAVID: What I said before: you are not alone. Go to Apraxia-KIDS online. Read the Apraxia-KIDS blog. Check out Leslie’s great book Speaking of Apraxia. (See how I worked that in there?) Find out if there’s a 2013 Walk for Children with Apraxia of Speech in your area. Get a good SLP who you’re comfortable with, and above all be your child’s advocate. You are your child’s voice. Speak up. Every child deserves a voice.
L4K: Oh, and I couldn’t help but notice that you are also ‘dad’ to two lop-eared bunnies. Love that! Do you find that having cute, cuddly pets helps your daughter with her disabilities, her developing sense of compassion, or her love for animals?
I hadn’t thought about it that way, but yes to all of the above. She loves telling everyone she has “two bunnies named Jellybean and Oreo.” She loves all animals, and lately she’s fascinated with them. I could see her growing up to be a wildlife biologist, wildlife photographer, or maybe a veterinarian. She’s got such a big heart. Yes, she can be a bit self-centered at times, especially when she’s talking to herself in the mirror, but no more than any seven year old. That said; she’s one of the most compassionate kids I know.
L4K: Please share where we may get more information about your work, your blog, and your message?
DAVID: Ah, time to plug myself. Well, since you asked. My webpage is www.davidozab.com. I post about my writing career there and also have a link describing my book. Anyone who’s interested can leave a comment there or drop me a message. Now that the manuscript is done, I’d like to start compiling a list of potential readers so I can give agents and editors definite numbers when they ask about the market for the book.
I also guest post at various places and have several published articles in print or online. These are all linked off my website too. I’m always looking for new writing opportunities.
My other blog, www.fatherhoodetc.com, is where I do most of my writing day to day. I describe it as “a stay-at-home dad’s thoughts on parenting and life” which is another way of saying I write about whatever strikes my fancy. It’s a good way to get a few hundred words out on days I’m not working on other projects.
And finally, I hope my message comes through in everything I write. In introducing a guest post I wrote about a year and a half ago, an online friend and fellow blogger described me as “a great encourager.” I hope my writing can always be encouraging to my readers, whoever they are and what ever their experiences might be. For me, that would be the ultimate measure of my success.