In the world of Special Needs parenting, moms usually get all the press (well, of the press we do get.) Mom is usually the one to duke it out at IEP meetings. Moms rule most of the blogosphere. Moms march on Capitol Hill. And all those da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael depictions of the Madonna? (The Virgin, not Like a Virgin) Nary a father to be seen.
But what about Dad? Where is he? What happened to him?
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
~ Matt. 1:18-25
Dear brother Joseph,
Looks like fatherhood didn’t pan out the way you expected, either.
Did you feel gypped? I mean, you did hit the books; you did the apprenticeship; you learned your craft. You paid your dues. You committed yourself to a young maiden and worked hard to set up a respectable life for yourselves. A date set, your future was promising. Secure. You were The Man.
Until you got blitzed by news that leveled it all. Everything you worked hard to build, instantly dissolved.
And God had the audacity to tell you, “Do not be afraid. Because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
That made a lot of sense, right?
But you didn’t bolt. Although every impulse in you screamed to ditch and run, you held your ground. You honored God. You honored her. You honored this child — a child you didn’t understand.
“Why me? Why Him? Why us?”
Even though you didn’t feel like it, you heeded the undeniable whispers of God. You stayed. You stuck it out.
And how were you rewarded for your obedience? Not with magnificent frescoes, not with a bio on the History Channel, and certainly not with smooth sailing. For all your pains, you received recurring episodes of interrupted sleep. More rude awakenings, redirects, plot twists and aborted plans. Then, we don’t really hear from you again.
Man, if I were you, I’d have a hard time sleeping anymore. I’d lie there awake, fitful and anxious. Who could sleep when you didn’t know when the other shoe might drop?
No doubt you faced interrogation from bewildered family and friends who questioned your choices. You endured wagging tongues and rude stares as you went about town with your “peculiar” child.
The Enemy enjoys hissing into the hearts of men, “You FAILED. Everyone knows it. Look what you let happen! You’re inadequate as a protector, husband, father and provider. You’re less of a man now…”
He’s a Liar. Don’t listen to him. He’s been deceiving and demeaning since Genesis 3, and draws from the same, tired, old bag of tricks today.
I do wonder, though, if you forfeited career advancement for this. For us. Maybe you had to pick up additional carpentry gigs to support the family’s sudden expenses. After all, you certainly hadn’t planned for this. And solo time? Or hanging out with the guys? A thing of the past. You now had something inexplicably different going on under your roof: Something none of those other guys could ever understand.
You couldn’t –or wouldn’t want to– explain it to them anyway.
Sure, you scrambled to regain your footing. But you did your level best to stay steadfast and faithful. A righteous man, you got up and got going, as instructed. The narrative doesn’t say what happened to you afterwards. But because of your obedience, it does say,
And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet…”
A Righteous Man
Brother Joe, I’m married to a righteous and decent guy, too. He’s a lot like you, in fact. Life wreaked havoc for him via our son’s diagnosis, when our beloved “peculiar child” suddenly became one we no longer understood. Disability sidelined his ambitions, too. This was not what he planned.
“Why me? Why him? Why us?”
Yet he stayed. Despite his anger and confusion, despite every conflicted impulse tempting him to flee, he stuck it out. He got up earlier to get to work, so he could return earlier to relieve me of the children. He was banking up margin in anticipation of the inevitable SOS call from me, “Meltdown. I need you home, quick…”
After a grueling day at the office, he returns to a wrecked house and a hastily prepared, entirely uninspired meal. Seldom a word of complaint over its mediocrity or narrow repertoire. Once barely changed out of his button-down, he promptly hunkers down for homework and showers. Then, after a moment of decompression, he retires to bed, usually alone. Meanwhile, the mother of his special needs child Google’s the night away, frantically in search of a cure.
Wash, rinse and repeat daily.
Where is Dad?
Where is the Special Needs father? He’s been right here all along, defying the odds. He’s been quietly supporting and serving his family, 365 days a year. He labors sight unseen in a world that measures men by their flashy achievements, testosterone-driven acquisitions and accolades. A world where, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, but in having more of it than the next man.”
Meanwhile, love is measured in scoops of silent sacrifice. Special needs fatherhood drives a man to dig deep; to create wells of capacity he didn’t know he had. Just like there are no foxhole-atheists, transformation only happens in the trenches.
For the fathers of children with Special Needs, who stuck around and stuck it out…
Who eagerly jump at overtime, graveyard shifts or second jobs to pay for their children’s exorbitant (and mysterious) treatments. Or just to treat their weary wives to a massage or manicure.
Who never buy anything for themselves, claiming they “never need” anything. “As long as you and the kids are ok, I’m ok…”
Who willingly take second place to their special needs children for their wives’ attention. “How could I ever compete with my child? Of course his needs come first.”
Who squelch dreams of touchdowns for their sons, or walking their daughters down the aisle.
Who shelve unspoken ambitions, to prioritize the needs of others. It’s hard to climb the corporate ladder, when the rungs keep snapping from underneath you.
Who steal naps during lunch hour in the car, or slumped in a toilet stall at work.
Who grieve differently from their wives. Privately, with dignity.
Who are caught between the tension of prayerful surrender and sleepless nights, “How will I pay for tomorrow, when I can barely afford today?’
Who always replies, “Nothing. I’m fine.” Even when they’re not.
Who didn’t lapse into blame or denial. Or become another divorce statistic when their child was diagnosed.
Who stuck it out in faith, to heed the voice of God.
Who recommitted to co-parenting throughout the never-ending sequence of storms. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.
That man is a real man. A righteous man. A man worthy of special recognition. The world may not recognize the extent of
their sacrifice or applaud their efforts, but our Heavenly Father sees. And our earthly families benefit.
God sees every time he sucks it up and takes it like a man. Silent and uncomplaining.
Fatherhood didn’t turn out how he expected. Our Heavenly Father understands this, too. Fatherhood didn’t turn out the way He planned either. Even most powerful Father in all the cosmos wept over the brokenness of His Children.
Special Needs Dad? Because of Joseph’s faithfulness, “So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”
And because of your obedience, commitment and faithfulness, so will be fulfilled God’s Plans for your family. His Will be done, through you. Because of you.
To all the Eddie’s, Joseph’s, Brent’s, Fred’s, Matt’s, Dean’s, Rob’s and Arcadio’s faithfully sticking it out in the trenches of Special Needs parenting: THANK YOU for the untold, silent blessing you are to your families. You carry immeasurable burdens for us without props or fanfare, and make us look good as we go. We know who does the real grunt work around here.
You lead, love, serve and sacrifice… in His Image.
Happy Father’s Day.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him. You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord. May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.”
~ Psalm 128: 1-5
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