A man will often define himself by where he is in his career, his earnings level, and by how he compares his life to others. It’s how men are taught to keep score. We seem to define our strength as men by how we are doing as a provider. That’s our identity. That’s our scoreboard. That’s our measure of success as a husband and a father. We are taught how to keep score without realizing we are playing on the wrong field.
So when we are challenged by our children with special needs and the redefining of our roles as fathers, we are confounded. That’s because the measure of a man is actually determined by how he responds to the challenge of raising a son or daughter with special needs. The footings of his strength are rooted in his unconditional love for his kids. The cornerstone of his strength is found in the boundless depths of his heart for his children.
A special needs dad should be involved, engaged, and passionately serving his family. He is intently focused on being the servant leader of his family. He has laid down his dreams, plans, and suppositions about his own life, his own desires, and his own aspirations in order to fulfill God’s calling on his life.
No one plans to become a vacant dad. No one wakes up one day and says, “This is the day I become a vacant dad.” It happens over time, gradually and sometimes slowly. A choice becomes a habit. A habit becomes a lifestyle. A lifestyle crosses over the line and becomes your character. Without realizing it, despite all the warning signs, you have become a vacant dad.
Can you see it coming? What warning signs may manifest themselves in your life? What choices or habits might lead you down the slippery slope of becoming a vacant dad?
Here are the top twenty-five warning signs you are becoming a vacant dad…
Top 25 Warning Signs You Are Becoming a Vacant Dad
- Surrounded by your family at home, you still find yourself thinking more and more about your work, your hobbies, or daydreaming.
- You escape your home environment by spending most of your free time “relaxing:” television, the Internet or social media, a favorite hobby, video games, etc.
- You spend more time lamenting that your own needs and expectations aren’t being met than you do serving the needs of your family.
- You are reluctant to surrender your own dreams, ambitions, and plans in sacrificing for the needs of your family.
- Your idea of expressing love for your children is to shower them with gifts and toys rather than to delight them by being engaged and interacting with them for yourself.
- You can’t remember the last time you spoke any words of affirmation or encouragement over your child.
- You have accepted the role of provider for your family, but that should simply be enough for your role as a dad.
- You rarely, if ever, pray over your child and family, calling down God’s blessings, favor, and purpose over your child and family.
- You still think the story of your life is about you and that you are the main character.
- You still let your anger, bitterness, or denial over your circumstances dictate your dealings, feelings, and actions toward your child and family.
- Your thought life leads you to feel that this role as a special needs dad is more of a burden than it is a blessing.
- You tend to gravitate toward your typical children at the expense of your child with special needs.
- Your expectations for your relationship with your wife have not changed even with the addition of a child with special needs into your family.
- You are too obsessed with fixing your child to focus on the sheer joys of fatherhood.
- Your lack of understanding grace in your own life inhibits your ability to shower your own child with unconditional love.
- You are still letting your circumstances determine your joy and contentment, rather than discovering the gift you have been given with this child with special needs.
- You are always comparing your life, your child, your family, and your circumstances to other people and constantly lamenting the differences.
- You don’t believe your child is wonderfully made or created for a plan and a purpose with a destiny to glorify God.
- You spend more time asking God to change your circumstances than you do asking God to use your circumstances to teach you and reveal His presence to you.
- You let your own pride, embarrassment, selfishness, and self-consciousness prevent you from any talking or sharing about your child publicly, or even being seen around them.
- You make excuses for and create “busyness” that prevents you from spending significant time engaged with your child.
- You don’t know how to interact or engage with your child with special needs because you can’t do so the way you were raised or imagined that you as a father would be participating.
- You can remember every player’s name, number, and position on your favorite sports team, but don’t remember your own child’s birthday, teacher’s name, favorite activities, or favorite books.
- You feel that as long as you don’t physically abandon your family, you aren’t a vacant dad. (P.S. If that’s so, you may already be a vacant dad.)
- You read all twenty-four of these blurbs and tried to make excuses to rationalize and justify your behavior about way too many of them.
Jeff Davidson is an author and pastor who enjoys speaking at churches, conferences, events and to groups, ministering to special needs families and individuals. Jeff 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.
What a wonderful post. I have been reading Brenee Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and the chapter I read today about numbing in the face of stress reminded me a lot of what you write here. Whether mother or father we can become so overwhelmed by our children’s needs that escape – or numb ourselves – into other matters: work, internet, television, affairs, shopping, even perfectionism. Being aware that this can often happen and giving ourselves grace and looking for guidance on how not to numb, or vacate, ourselves is key. Thanks for this important direction.
I hate to admit that too many of these actually apply to me as the mom!!!