How to Be a Dad Who Turns Difficulties into Blessings

 

How is fathering a child with special needs a “privilege”?

Rob is a veteran father of four whose oldest child has Down Syndrome. Recently we were both in a group of dads, and Rob made this startling statement…

He said that, despite all the physical, emotional and financial stresses, “If any of you ever get the privilege [of having a Down Syndrome child], it’s the greatest gift to your family, because it creates the sensitivity and the awareness of others that kids just don’t have…. It was a real gift to us; it made all our kids more compassionate, more aware, more sensitive.”

How to Be a Dad Who Turns Difficulties into BlessingsDid you catch that? Having a special-needs child made Rob and his entire family more perceptive about the needs of each other as well as people outside their family, and now they are more willing and able to jump in and help someone when they see an opportunity. They are better people because they were part of a family going through unusual circumstances.

Now, I know Rob made those comments with a bit of trepidation. He doesn’t wish difficulties on any other dads, and I wouldn’t either.

On the other hand, who defines what is a difficulty and what is a benefit or blessing? Do we look just at our own convenience? Or our long-held hopes and dreams? Or should we try to see things more from a larger perspective—where life isn’t about pursuing happiness, but rather making the world a little better for those around us?

And that goes for our kids, too! Maybe the best condition for them to become mature and responsible isn’t a life where everything works out great and there are no challenges. Maybe dealing with unexpected surprises and trials is the best way to grow. (And we know that meeting challenges also prepares us to help others to face those same challenges.)

In our family, one of my children experienced struggles in school and was found to have a mild learning disability. Not a major trial, but it set me back for a while. And it wasn’t long before those more self-centered thoughts turned to love and concern for my child. My consuming thoughts were: Hey, this is my time to step up. I have to be a father. I need to be there for my child!

Ever since then, I keep growing in admiration and respect for dads who have special-needs children and step up to the challenge. If you have children with similar issues—like autism, Down Syndrome, a life-threatening disease or something else—I know you’re very familiar with this. It’s often dads like you who set the mark and help us define what it means to be a committed dad. When the needs of your child required some extra sacrifices, you stepped up. You put your child’s needs before your own, and you’ve never regretted it.

For the rest of us who face the routine rigors of being a dad—but aren’t facing the overwhelming exhaustion of raising a child with more pronounced disabilities—I would say: Dad, take a page from the playbook of the most committed dads you know. Make the radical decision to sacrifice your own desires and goals for the sake of your children.

And then: no matter what your children’s gifts, abilities, and weaknesses may be, cherish them for who they are. Be flexible, and grow with them. Let them teach you what it means to be a committed father.

Action Points for Dads on the Journey

  • Coach your children through situations they perceive as trials. When they complain, help them see a different perspective and challenge them to step up and meet the task head on.
  • Remember that you set the tone for your family. Stay positive during challenges; inject hope and humor into your family life; your wife and children will follow your lead.
  • Be ready to adjust to your child’s unique situation and find new ways to interact with him or her. Maybe your child needs more physical affection, or more verbal interaction. (Talk about the specifics with his or her mom.)
  • If you’re married, continue to invest yourself fully in that relationship. Difficulties with a child so often lead couples to withdraw and eventually divorce. Get whatever help you need to maintain a strong marriage; it’s a huge benefit to your children.
  • It’s critical to have other men who will support you through challenges—similar to the group I was in with Rob. Find another dad who’s been through your situation, and ask him lots of questions.

What about you, dad? How have you become a better dad—or how has your family changed for the betterbecause of a trial or challenge you’ve been through? Please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page. You can encourage another dad who may be going through that difficulty right now.

 

Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.

Everyday Heroes: Great Dads Shine in Tough Circumstances

 

Aimee Copeland is a 24-year-old from Georgia who’s in the news because of a rare flesh-eating disease which she contracted after cutting her leg in a zip-lining accident earlier this month. Despite losing her leg, both hands and her other foot, she has shown tremendous courage. Her story was all over the Internet for a few days.

My heart also goes out to her father, who is posting regular updates on his Facebook page. Andy Copeland wrote about his reaction when his daughter received the news from doctors about the necessary amputations. He wrote, “I wasn’t crying because Aimee was going to lose her hands and foot, I was crying because in all my 53 years of existence, I have never seen such a strong display of courage. I was crying because I am a proud father of an incredibly courageous young lady.”

During this second week of honoring everyday heroes as we look forward to Father’s Day, I have to mention dads like Andy who demonstrate the true heart of fatherhood. They face challenges that most of us can barely imagine, and yet they persevere and serve their families with selflessness and unwavering dedication.

That description also fits Rolf, another inspiring example of a father who continues to lead his family in the face of uncertainty. Rolf and his wife have four children, and he has a father’s heart for all of them. The older three are healthy and thriving and keeping them busy. The fourth one, Rudy, is thriving in his own way, but has a rare heart condition that continues to threaten his life. He wasn’t supposed to live as long as he has, so Rolf truly doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring for his son.

Each day, caring for Rudy involves many extra procedures he and his wife have had to learn, with regular trips to various specialists mixed in. It’s physically draining, a financial burden … and then when things slow down, there are emotional struggles I can’t claim to understand.

I can only imagine how it must feel to be willing to do anything for your child, even give up your own life, but surrender to the fact that ultimately his or her fate is out of your control.

Dads, the heart of fathering really comes out when you’re facing something difficult like this.

So as we look forward to Father’s Day, I want to honor Rolf and many other dads who are in a similar situation. Maybe you have a child with cancer or some other chronic illness. Maybe your child has special needs or a disability that makes life very difficult. Maybe your child’s challenges are emotional, or you’re walking the long journey of loving a “prodigal” child through a string of destructive decisions. Or maybe you’re a non-custodial dad, and your heartache is a result of not being able to see the children you love so much because of a divorce and related legal matters.

Sometimes Championship Fathering comes with a sense of helplessness—and I suppose all dads face some degree of uncertainty. But no matter what your situation, I want to encourage you today. Follow the examples of Rolf and other dads who persevere through fathering trials, and keep doing all you can for your children.

The test of a great dad is not in your area of comfort; it’s how you function when your child isn’t doing well—when crises hit or other “stuff” happens. It may seem overwhelming at times, but don’t lose heart.

Fatherhood is a high calling, and you’re up to it! Your family needs you to be courageous no matter what might come your way.

Please be encouraged by these Action Points.

● Remember, dad, your modeling is huge. Through all the ups and downs, your kids are watching you. So, maintain your poise and carry yourself with dignity through the challenges. Lead your family in a way that helps them come together and rely on each other.

● Do you know a family facing incredible challenges because of illness, a disability, or some other issue? Brainstorm with your children about ways you can help them, even for an afternoon or a day.

● Whenever you encounter some tragedy in the news or anywhere else, talk about it with your children and look for something good—people who helped, or ways people were challenged to grow.

● I believe anything worth its salt is going to be difficult, so don’t be surprised when life brings some challenges. Raising faithful and responsible kids is worth the heartache.

● How have you grown stronger, or what insights have you gained because of hard things you’ve gone through as a father? Share those insights with another dad you know—in person, in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

 

Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.