01/29/2014 06:52 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Brave: What Can You Do With One Arm?


He never talks about the accident.

He was 16 and riding in the car with a friend who was two years older. Driving on country roads in northern New Jersey, they didn't think anything could hurt them, these two first-generation Dutch-Americans.

The details are sketchy, but the newspaper reported speeds of over 100 miles per hour, and the car hit two telephone poles, 150 feet apart.

The driver walked away from the accident, unscathed.

The other boy woke up in the hospital, missing his right arm.

At 16, he had to figure out how to do a lot of things in a new way. The son of a farmer, his parents worried about how he would support himself and what he would do. They worried about his future and whether he would find a potential mate.

He used to jump in the pond with his sister and three brothers and milk the cows on their farm. He used to play baseball and basketball and have chicken fights. He used to be right handed.

He finished high school and went off to college to study accounting, and did everything everyone else could do, but with one hand. When he was 21, he was set up on a blind date with a woman named Virginia via mutual friends, and married her at the end of the summer, two years later.

He learned how to bowl. He joined the Jaycees. He volunteered in the community. He bought a house. He was promoted to controller of a large company based in a northern town in Indiana and moved his wife and two young daughters there, and they built a wonderful life.

The girls laughed when their daddy would sit on the bed with them as he put on his artificial arm and pretended to close it on their little fingers. They could hear the mechanical whirrrrrr as he flexed his arm muscle at the stump and the plastic fingers touched and eased apart. It was normal, to them.

When the oldest girl had her first date with a boy named Simeon Lanier Archer III, a nice southern boy relocated to the Midwest, her dad reached out shook the boy's hand with his real hand -- his left. And the boy didn't miss a beat but said, "Nice to meet you, sir." The girl's heart soared, because it wasn't until that moment until she realized that shaking her dad's hand might be a little different.

Never, not ever, did they refer to their father as disabled. He was just Dad.

And maybe, as a result of growing up in a house with a dad with an artificial arm, they learned to be a little more sensitive to others. They learned to make eye contact and to say hello to everyone, no matter their appearance, and not to stare at people with unusual physical challenges. They valued that their mother took a blind date with a man she knew had only one arm, and she didn't think anything of it.

So what CAN you do with one arm?

They learned that their dad can drive with one arm. Even manual shift.

They learned that their dad can fix anything with one arm and a utility hook. The bionic hook, they called it.

They learned to take for granted that their dad could do just about anything but tie his shoes, and even that he can do with some effort.

They learned that their dad has more love in his one arm than many have with two.

I'm his oldest daughter. That's my brave and strong dad.

And I'm pretty proud of him.


This post originally appeared on Two Cannoli as part of the Brave series.

Kristin Shaw is a freelancer by day, writer by night, a full-time wife of an Austin native, and mother of a mini-Texan. She's proud to be a co-producer of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother show in Austin. You can find her on Twitter (@AustinKVS), her blog, Two Cannoli, or at The Huffington Post.