This blog isn’t what you think it is – you know that typical “Fathers you need to learn to balance home life and work” blog for dads – instead let me give you a window into a father’s heart (we don’t always like to let others in, that’s additional motivation for this exposé.) There are certainly lazy dads out there, and even dead-beat dads who shirk their duties and deserve a switch kick in the rear end (if not slightly forward from there.) A dad like that doesn’t read a blog like that (although their wife may) and so it is not for them that I am writing today. Today I have a different dad in mind, the genuinely torn dad.
A few weeks ago I emailed one of the email subscribers of The Renewed Family and asked what he would like to see in a future post. He took a few days and wrote back a very thoughtful response; he was looking for encouragement as a dad who has several wonderful young boys and a wife suffering with MS. How does a man balance the requirements husband and father?
I found that I could immediately relate to his situation. In 2007 we faced tragedy after tragedy that stretched us to thin limits. We had been trying to get pregnant for 2 ½ years and at Christmas 2006 we were finally able to share the exciting news with family and friends that Tara was indeed expecting! Just before New Year’s Eve however she started bleeding and after a visit to the ER and follow-up appointments with other doctors we were told three separate times that we had lost our long-awaited baby. I learned about praying in those days and after three agonizing days we finally got our “emergency” ultra-sound and discovered God that had preserved the life of our baby; a boy, who would be born in July.
On July 21, 2007 our Sethy was born; healthy, perfect and with a fauxhawk to boot! We were thrilled beyond words, but several days after her delivery Tara started developing intense pain in her lower back which our doctor thought was probably just part of the labour recovery process. Within a week however we knew that something was very wrong and I took Tara back to the ER, where she was put in an ambulance and taken to Winnipeg. At St. Boniface Hospital we discovered she had not a small blood clot (a danger in itself) but a massive one so big that it went down in the record books!
I will never forget the face of the ER doctor when he came back with the MRI results, he looked positively grey. He told her not to move, not to wiggle her toes, not to sneeze, nothing, and that started a long journey of extended hospital stays, injections, blood thinners, prayers and fear. Happily Tara recovered and a year later was told that her massive clot had shrunk to the size of… well… a normal clot. We were elated.
But I’ll never forget those days. The first time Tara was in the hospital I had Seth at home while his older brother Malachi stayed on the farm with my parents. I did all the getting up in the middle of the night, feedings and diaper changes. At about 8am, Seth and I would head to the hospital and my mom would bring in Malachi from the farm for a few hours of family time. Then mom would take the boys back with her and I would stay with Tara until about 9 or 10pm when I would go home past the farm to pick up Seth, kiss Malachi good-night, and then start the whole process over again.
The hardest time for me came when Malachi started Kindergarten and Tara couldn’t be there for his first day of classes. I was supposed to video tape it so that Tara could watch it later but when I went to show her the video, to my horror, I realized I had somehow pressed record by accident when I took the camera out of the bag and when I went to video tape Malachi’s greeting to mom, I hit record which turned the video camera OFF – I missed the whole thing. Oh I was mad. But what could I do?
I was a dad and I needed to be there for my kid who was nervous about school and I need to be there for my wife who was afraid and alone in the hospital and I needed to be there for my new baby and all that on top of my ministry; those were difficult days.
Praise God, Tara is well today. We don’t face chronic illness like MS or any of the other diseases that plague people. We don’t have children who are sick and in need of constant medical attention. But I do relate to the inner turmoil a dad feels when faced with such challenging circumstances. Wives, mothers, you may never see the tension that we carry in our hearts, it is part of our nature to remain strong in the face of danger, but the tension is there. Just because someone can seem outwardly dismissive to the circumstances of life doesn’t mean internally we aren’t in agony.
But what is a dad to do?
The first thing I can say is this, regardless of the pressure of life, do not neglect your time with Jesus. Natural strength will never sustain us in the long-run. I’m grateful that in many ways our crisis was a sprint, many crises are marathons and some never end until we meet Jesus. But it matters very little whether in a sprint to the finish or a marathon, if we don’t care for our souls placing them in the hands of our capable King Jesus, we will not finish strong. However, I want to be very clear on something, often we want to have our quiet time and it simply isn’t possible in the chaos. But just because we can’t have a “quiet time” doesn’t mean we can’t “do devotions” or have a prayer life or have communion with Christ. We have this thought in our heads that if we are going to demonstrate that we are good Christian men that we need an hour alone with the Lord, in the morning, with Bible reading and, if you are a really progressive man, journaling! And these things are good, but when we are the middle of the storm, we may need to meet with Jesus in different ways. There will be days when we are too tired to read our Bibles, so we read ONE short Psalm, or put aside the Word altogether for a day and just listen to worship music. Or if the house is too chaotic and the demands there too great, then we will need to walk down the road to think, pray and clear our thoughts. But you aren’t going to journal on a walk, that’s hard, so you will need to be OK letting that go for a day.
Time with Jesus, communion with our King, is the only thing I am certain is non-negotiable, however that may look. What comes next needs to be sorted out between you, God and probably your spouse.
My gut is that the next most important relationship is the one with your spouse and attending to her needs. It’s true that our kids need time and there will always be seasons when our kids demand more of our time, but our first responsibility after Jesus is to the love of our life. Your kids need to see the sacrifice you make for her so that they will one day serve their wife as you do. They need to see you do the dishes and the laundry. They need to see you close the door to your bedroom when days are particularly difficult so that you can protect your wife’s energy. This will be difficult on them and you, but that relationship is your first priority.
Of course it is vital that you make room for your kids. They must know that challenges can be faced with laughter and joy. They need to feel safe enough to ask you the questions that trouble their little hearts. Questions like, “Why can’t mommy play today?” and “Why does mommy need to sleep so much?” or “When is mommy going to come to church with us again?” Those questions will only come out if they have time with you. So you will need to do puzzles with them or take them out into the workshop or for a walk. You will do them a great service however to involve them in the care for their mom. They can help with the laundry and making meals. We assume far too often that it robs our kids of their childhood to have increased responsibilities and I don’t believe that.
But one thing will give, and that is the time you wish you had for your own hobbies and pastimes. This means your lawn won’t be as green as you would like and there may be more dandelions than your pride would normally permit. It means that books won’t get read and that your movies won’t get watched. It means there will be fewer golf games and fewer woodworking projects. But hear me, the sacrifice as painful as it is, is the best thing for your soul. I know there will be many people out there who will say no to this. They will say that it is critical that we leave room for ourselves to make sure we are rejuvenated to take care of our spouse, but what they usually mean is keeping time for ourselves, I personally know that the finest rejuvenation comes not from the workshop but from my relationship to Jesus. Jesus didn’t have many hobbies from what I can tell. In fact although we know he was a carpenter, it doesn’t appear that he ever enters a workshop during His entire time of ministry. And your family is your ministry, and it will cost you.
This isn’t discouraging either! I find that when I am discouraged by the sacrifice of being a father and husband it is my pride that is discouraged but when I come close to Jesus and gain His perspective that my heart is filled with contentment knowing that I am doing what is the most important in life, which is taking the servant’s towel.
Dads I sincerely hope that you do get to have some time to do the things you love, not because you deserve it, but because your wife is well enough to make that space for you! Never forget that we live for a greater reward! No golf score will compare to the prize waiting for us when we meet our King!