“Now what am I supposed to do?”
At some point, amidst the confusion, the anger, and the sense of helplessness, it’s the question every new special needs dad asks.
No one is ever prepared to be the father of a child with special needs.
I thought I was ready to be a dad. My own father had been a great role model in my life and I had many mentors and friends who had experienced the joys of fatherhood.
But I didn’t know anyone who was the dad of a child with profound special needs.
I wasn’t ready.
When my own son was born, I went into a tailspin of despair, blame, denial, anger, and confusion. I was lost. It’s no wonder we have an epidemic of dads walking out on their families in the special needs community.
A couple of years ago I began using the phrase “vacant dads” to describe a phenomenon occurring within the special needs community. An entire generation of children with special needs are being raised by moms and grandmothers.
Where are the dads?
More and more often, we are losing the dads of children with special needs within just a few years of diagnosis. But there are two types of vacant dads. One is the dad who walks out on his family and responsibilities, leaving his spouse to raise their child or children alone.
But there is another type of vacant dad. And he is just as dangerous and as likely to occur. That’s the dad who is still in the household, but he is not engaged, he’s not involved, and he’s not actively fulfilling his roles and responsibilities to his family.
He’s a vacant dad too. And he’s just as guilty as the dad who walks out on his family. He’s walked out as well, in every way but physically.
Spotting vacant dads is easy. I just have to look in the mirror and remind myself of what it was like for me when I first began this journey as a special-needs dad.
I never had the opportunity to be the dad I hoped I would become. But God is using this experience to shape me into the father he hoped I would become.
I believe God has mission in life for the special needs dad. God wants us to discover the five roles of a dad of an individual with special needs.
Warrior, protector, provider, encourager, and equipper.
The five-word definition of a special-needs dad. The five-word answer to the question “What is my role as a father of a child with special-needs?”
The five-word antidote to the epidemic of vacant dads plaguing the special-needs community.
The special needs dad is a Warrior. He fights for his family and child. He becomes his child’s advocate. He speaks for his child when his child cannot speak. He does not send his spouse in alone to battle for insurance, therapies, services, and inclusion. He leads the battle when necessary. He does not shirk from IEP meetings but embraces them as opportunities to fight for his child. He leads his family spiritually warring against evil using the weapons of prayer and his knees. He is actively engaged and involved with fighting for his family’s needs.
The special-needs dad is a Protector. He shields his family from harm by being the spiritual leader of his family. He also affirms his spouse, as they stand back-to-back, united in their cause. His constantly, every day, reminds his family that he is there to protect them from emotional and relational harm whenever possible, and to reaffirm them if it does happen. His family feels safe in their home, as he protects them from his own emotional outbursts, fears, desires, or worries. They have security in knowing dad is there and whole-heartedly committed to them as a family.
The special-needs dad is a Provider. I’m not necessary talking about financially. I’m also emphasizing providing a safe, loving environment as well. Creating a household where everyone’s emotional, spiritual, and relational needs are met and provided for in every aspect. He provides a relationship of trust, self-sacrifice, and service by daily laying down his own life for his family and children. He provides a loving, accepting, and supportive home life for his family. He provides leadership and stability to the family.
The special-needs dad is an Encourager. He realizes that his words have the power of life and death over his family, so every day he speaks life. He becomes his family member’s biggest cheerleader, refusing to say anything negative over or about them. He affirms, he believes, he declares, and he reminds them every day that their lives have significance. His speaks blessings over his wife and children, and claims God’s purpose and plan for their lives. He believes in their potential to change the world, just the way they are. He realizes his children will become whatever it is that he says about them, so he is diligent in his choice of words.
The special-needs dad is an Equipper. Everything he does equips his family to the best of his ability, to thrive as a special-needs family. Their needs far supersede any needs of his own. He lays down his own plans, goals, and dreams to serve and equip his family. He searches out opportunities to be engaged, involved, and passionately pursues time with his children. His family is equipped to do far more than just survive, they actually thrive.
Warrior, protector, provider, encourager, and equipper.
Your strength will be most magnified by your surrender.
Your toughness will be displayed through your tenderness.
Your significance will be measured by your selflessness.
Your success will be determined by your sacrifice.
God has placed the special needs dad on a mission. Choose to accept it and you’ll find fulfillment and the purpose for your life.
Jeff Davidson and his wife Becky started Rising Above Ministries when they realized the incredible gift and blessing their own son with special needs (Jon Alex) was to them. Jeff’s book, No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches, is available through Crosslink Publishing, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
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