Six-year-old Elaina Dick loves to read, draw, and play catch with her dad in the front yard.
But her favorite activity is driving. Perched on her father's lap in his Permobil C500 wheelchair, Elaina deftly operates the controls as the two scoot around the curves and cul-de-sacs of their Chalfont neighborhood.
As a toddler, Elaina learned to walk by grabbing her father's shoes as he slowly rolled backward. Later, the chair became the mutable hub of their pretend-play: a rocket ship, a school bus, a royal coach, a tractor.
Now it plays a starring role in a children's book written by Glen Dick. We Can Go Anywhere: My Adventures on Daddy's Chair chronicles a playful, tender father-daughter relationship. It also captures an aspect of the author's life - family and parenthood - that he believed was shattered the day he tumbled headfirst from a dock in Dewey Beach, Del.
Glen Dick was 25, a graduate of Temple University with a degree in landscape architecture, taking a rare break from work to spend July Fourth weekend with buddies. At a bayside restaurant, one of those buddies playfully pulled Glen into the water; his head slammed against the bottom, and he saw his arms dangling, like those of a swimmer playing dead.
He had broken his neck, a cervical spinal-cord injury that left him virtually paralyzed from the chest down. He spent three months at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital - there, at least, he bonded with other young men with similar injuries - then returned home to a life that felt painfully out of reach.
"It was surreal," he said. "There are the steps you used to walk up, the car you used to drive. . . . Everything that was important - your physicality, your looks, your job, your money - was taken away. You realize what's left is your heart and your mind.
"I always wanted to be a father and a husband more than a career guy. But that seemed so far off. How was anybody going to look past this?"
Glen focused on the possible. He could learn to drive an adapted vehicle (he retains some muscle control in his arms, though not of his fingers). He could return to work - first, doing office tasks at the landscaping company, then as a teaching assistant at a local elementary school. He could be a loving uncle to a growing passel of nieces and nephews.
He could even try to date, though most of his forays through Yahoo Personals ended the same way: an "I like you, but no thanks" when a woman learned of his injury.
Monica, a 35-year-old chief of marketing for Tastykake, was different. She thought Glen's online head shot was cute. She was drawn to the upbeat tone of his profile. And when she learned, early in their email exchange, that he used a wheelchair, she hesitated for a few soul-searching moments.
"I'd never even talked to anyone in a wheelchair," she says. "We started talking, and I realized he was just like everybody else. Better than everybody else: He was an optimistic, happy person. And I was not happy. I was stressed, always on edge. I thought, 'Whatever he's got, I want some of that.' "
The two were married in 2005, a year after they met. At their wedding, Monica rode onto the dance floor on the back of Glen's chair, and the two spun through a choreographed routine while guests wept and clapped. The song was, "I Could Not Ask for More."
But Glen did want more - specifically, a child. And though Monica had always thought of herself as a career-driven woman with "no maternal instinct," Glen's desire for parenthood eventually swayed her. It took two years and 10 rounds of fertility procedures - seven intrauterine inseminations and three cycles of IVF - for them to conceive.
"I was over the moon that we were having a child," Glen says. "But I wondered how I was going to pull my weight. I wanted to feed her. I wanted to hold her." Sometimes, he practiced with a doll; frequently, he dropped it.
But when Elaina was born, the couple found ingenious work-arounds. The baby could rest on a U-shaped nursing pillow on her father's lap. An adaptive device that enables Glen to hold a cup worked perfectly with a baby bottle. And as soon as Elaina could hold up her head, Monica strapped her to her father's chest in a front carrier.
The two became a team. Glen's wheelchair was her ticket to ride, and Elaina gradually became her father's hands: opening jars and doors, moving the pieces in a board game, making a sandwich.
Glen, now 47, wrote the book primarily for Elaina, as a keepsake, and enlisted local friend and artist Linda McManus to create the cartoonlike illustrations. But friends and relatives encouraged him to publish it, insisting that the book's message of resilience would resonate for other parents in wheelchairs and could open dialogue for all families about disabilities and difference.
Tucked into an armchair in the family's living room, Elaina reads aloud, giggling at pictures of a little girl whose hair is more blond and curly than her own: "This is my Daddy, he has a wheelchair. . . . He's a horse for a cowgirl, riding out west. He's my comfy chair when I need a rest."
As for Glen, he's starting to see that parenthood will be shaped less by his limitations than by his daughter's burgeoning independence. When Elaina started kindergarten, she rode to school - a four-minute jaunt over a paved path - on her father's lap. Now in first grade, she clambers into Glen's chair for a goodbye hug, then shoulders her backpack and skips away.
One time, Elaina asked her father if he would ever walk again. When he answered, "I don't know," she said, "I don't want you to. I like you just the way you are."
Glen thinks about that, and about injured veterans and the young men he met while in rehab. "With all the guys coming back from war who have a small child waiting at home, or who had dreams of fatherhood - and, of course, all the people with spinal-cord injuries - maybe [the book] can show them that this is possible."