As part of a new CNIB blog series, we’re talking to parents (and their children!) about their experiences parenting with sight loss and/or growing up with a parent who is blind or partially sighted and/or parenting a child living with sight loss. In our latest blog, we sit down with CNIB's Senior Vice President, Angela Bonfanti and her father, Dimitrios Prountzopoulos, to discuss their family's experience with sight loss.
CNIB: Dimitrios, tell us about your family.
Dimitrios: I come from a long line of innovators, entrepreneurs and musicians. I was born in Greece and immigrated to Canada when I was 35 years old. My father was an engineer, and my mother helped my father with his moulding business. Both my brother and I were born with limited vision. Up until we were born, my parents were not aware of blindness and neither of them had met a person with sight loss.
CNIB: What has your sight loss journey been like, Dimitrios? Did you have any assumptions or misconceptions that were proven wrong?
Dimitrios: My parents were not prepared for raising two children with sight loss, which created a bit of a chaotic upbringing. My parents were very scared of our futures and spent every drachma they had on sending us to specialists all over the region to determine what was ‘wrong’ with us. This led to many assumptions. I was often perceived as a single man who would never get married, have children, or be gainfully employed because of my disability. This said, coming from a long line of entrepreneurs, my father encouraged me to continue to be innovative and dare to dream. Today, I am proud to say I am a husband to an amazing woman, the father of two smart and beautiful women, and have retired from a fantastic career in music and piano tuning.
CNIB: Angela, tell us about your father.
Angela: Simply put, he is my hero; the voice in my head that keeps telling me to push on and dream big.
CNIB: Have you ever witnessed your father experience discrimination? If so, what was that moment like? How did it make you feel?
Angela: I’ve witnessed more acts of discrimination towards my dad than I care to remember. Whether it was someone signing something quietly to another sighted person at the table, people yelling at him when he bumped into them with his cane (having no idea the white cane meant he had sight loss) or taxi cabs taking off when they would see him waiting for them by the front door of our house… and that’s just the light stuff that I am comfortable sharing today. There was so much more, too much more. It made me sad, enraged and made me see the world from a very negative place. Fortunately, my dad helped me turn those negative feelings into positive actions to change the experience. He taught me to speak up and to ‘call it out’ when I noticed acts of discrimination towards him. That's when I started being a part of the solution and not the problem. He always said, "hate and anger met with hate and anger gets you nowhere", and he was right.
CNIB: Dimitrios, when did you disclose your sight loss to your children? What do you remember about that conversation?
Dimitrios: Up until my children were toddlers, I had a high degree of functional vision. I was able to do most things without a cane. I would even take the girls on bike rides around the block. Although my wife and daughters were with me when I lost most of my sight, I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but I was petrified inside. As the days, weeks and months went on, they knew what had happened. I didn’t have to disclose, it was simply understood that I had entered a new level of vision loss and that it was time to call CNIB for help.
CNIB: Angela, what do you remember about the day your dad lost most of his sight?
Angela: I don't remember that day specifically, but I remember him bumping into more walls and no longer riding his bike with us. I didn’t really give it much thought. Dad could not see well, and that was it.
CNIB: Dimitrios, what piece of advice would you give to parents who are adapting to life with sight loss?
Dimitrios: Never give up. There is always a way. Life goes on. Family is the greatest gift of all – let your children be part of this journey.
CNIB: What have you learned from your father, Angela? What impact has he had on your life?
Angela: My parents have had a profound impact on the person I have become. Both are living survivors of so many unjust and, frankly, unfair circumstances. As a child, I had no choice but to grow up a bit faster than the average kid my age. I was exposed to more real-life circumstances. My parents, despite their efforts, could not shelter my sister and me from the realities of life. We worked as a team, and we got through life’s harshest moments. While it may sound like a rough upbringing, I promise, it was absolutely the opposite. It was real, yes, but it was wonderful. I have my parents to thank for everything. They mean the world to me.
My dad is a very talented and accomplished musician. I can't remember a day in my childhood where I would not hear my dad playing music. Music equals happiness in our family and we are blessed to be surrounded by music every day.
Also, I must mention how hilarious my dad is – probably the biggest prankster and joker I know. Laughter is therapy in our family, and there is never a day without at least one incredible belly laugh, despite what may have gone wrong that day. He has this innate ability to find humour in just about everything. A real gift.
CNIB: Dimitrios, what piece of advice would you give to children with sight loss?
Dimitrios: Be patient, ask for help and never limit your dreams – anything is possible.
CNIB: Angela, as a mother, how have your experiences growing up with a parent who is blind shaped how you’re raising your children?
Angela: My dad has absolutely shaped who I am as a mother. I am real and honest with my kids, and I spoil them rotten with love. I try to teach them to be the change, to treat people with kindness and to go out and do the impossible. If I can be half the parent my dad is, I'll consider this a huge success.