We can all learn something from fathers of special-needs children. Though they are more vulnerable to family and marital discord, many of these dads display heroic calmness and dedication in high-stress circumstances.
A survey of research and real-life testimonies from fathers who are successful in nurturing a special-needs child reveals these characteristics:
1) They accept their child’s condition and view it as a daily task with ups and downs; 2) They are more aware of their family’s emotional needs and seek to contribute to a positive attitude; 3) They have learned to grieve openly and respect the feelings of other family members; 4) They have developed a network of support which provides encouragement to their family during difficult times.
To Think About …
When Oliver DeVinck was born, doctors told his parents that he wouldn’t be able to see, hold up his head, crawl, walk, speak, or hold anything in his hand, and suggested that they place him in an institution. Oliver’s father Jose refused to consider such a possibility, saying, “He’s our son. We will take Oliver home.” They did take him home, and they cared for him thirty-three years until he died.
Oliver’s brother Christopher once asked his dad, “How did you manage to care for Oliver for thirty-three years?” Jose replied, “It was not thirty-three years. I just asked myself, ‘Can I feed Oliver today?’ And the answer was always, ‘Yes, I can.'”
Hogan Hilling, whose son Wesley is disabled, wrote this: I try “to view life with Wesley as an opportunity for growth…. So, instead of grieving over what will never be, I do my best to accept what is. Instead of agonizing over Wesley’s disability, I make the best of whatever life we have together. And instead of wallowing in self-pity, I strive to live up to Wesley’s expectations and needs for me as a father.”
Men like these define fatherly commitment. Even though most of us don’t face the challenges of caring for a handicapped child, the task seems hard enough with healthy children. Effective fathers maintain a long-term commitment to their children.
ACTION POINTS for Committed Fathers
- Talk to your children about a special-needs child they know. Discuss ways they can serve them.
- Make contact with a father who has a special-needs child. Encourage him with some specific compliments about his “extra mile fathering.”
- Talk with your wife about any marital tension and challenges you are facing. What realities must you accept to endure and persevere in your role as a dad?