LivAbility Magazine

Edition 19 | Winter 2020

A blond child holds the hand of a smiling man who uses a wheelchair. He is wearing a helmet with a pointer.

A must-see winter documentary

By Kasey Kaler

My Dad Matthew,” a multi-award winning film, is a story told from Elijah Wangeman’s perspective about his dad, Matthew Wangeman.

It’s a six-minute documentary that packs several mighty anecdotes, including one admission from the movie’s namesake’s son.

“When I was seven, I asked when I was going to get my chair,” Elijah Wangeman said. “’Cause I thought that everyone, when they became an adult, got to get [sic] a wheelchair, and I wanted a wheelchair.”

Matthew Wangeman is a father, a professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU), holds several degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, has been a disability advocate for over three decades, and has cerebral palsy.

The film takes aim at the word “normal” and what Matthew and Elijah’s relationship and day-to-day life entail.

The day-to-day that includes Matthew Wangeman instructing a course about disability studies at NAU, an honorary coach of NAU’s football team, and a passionate advocate of affecting change in the disability community.

“My Dad Matthew” was directed by John Schaffer, a colleague of Matthew’s at NAU. Schaffer received a grant that would fund films about people with disabilities, with a stipulation that the film had to shift the perception of disability.

The natural fit for that? Matthew Wangeman and his life.

Although Matthew Wangeman has a disability, “he lives a very normal life,” Schaffer said.

“I [am] not affected mentally … some of my friends would disagree,” Matthew Wangeman jokes to his class in one scene in the documentary.

Schaffer and the production company he co-founded, Wild Asperagus Productions, didn’t initially plan on the film confronting disability stigmas through Elijah Wangeman’s perspective, however.

Once filming started, it was clear that the tone of the documentary would be heavily impacted by the relationship dynamic between Matthew and Elijah Wangeman.

“Technically, the movie was not supposed to be called ‘My Dad Matthew,’” Matthew Wangeman said. “Elijah happened to be there on the first day of filming and completely changed the perspective of the [filmmakers].”

“Elijah gives Matthew that feeling of being a role model and that sense of normality in that family unit, even though it’s different than other family units,” Schaffer said.

As Elijah depicts in the opening minute of the short film, “I’m supposed to tell you about my dad. His name is Matthew, and he’s a pretty normal dad. He’s really into technology and sports and that kind of thing, so we argue about the Yankees and the Steelers.”

In short, the film is articulate and emotional in a way that only a son can deliver.

Not just any son, though, a son whose father is often judged by his physical appearance more so than his character and passion for affecting change.

You can find “My Dad Matthew” on Wild Asperagus’s YouTube channel.

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Kasey Kaler

Kasey Kaler

Kasey Kaler is a graduate of Gonzaga University’s Sport and Athletic Administration M.A. program and Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication B.A. program. Kasey has a passion for producing content for a multitude of platforms and sharing stories to help people view differences as an asset.

Read more by Kasey Kaler.