Special Children, Blessed Fathers

My husband was recently invited to contribute a chapter to a new book about faith, fatherhood and children with special needs called Special Children, Blessed Fathers.

In Matt’s chapter, titled, “A Different Life,” he naturally talks about his experience as Dad of our daughter, Kate, who has Down syndrome. Here’s an excerpt:

Many of us spend our lives trying to make life easier. We imagine that having a lot of “success” — extra money and influence, a nice house, the ideal family and plenty of free time for pursuing hobbies and career interests — will make for an easier, happier life.

Deep down we know it’s not true. Not only does every bit of conventional wisdom testify to this lie, but we also see it played out every day as we learn the unhappiness of the rich. Yet we still insist on learning it the hard way ourselves, often wasting our lives pursuing this “easier life.”

I’m one of the lucky ones, though. Having a child with special needs is like a secret short cut. When you have somebody who needs you a little differently, you have much less time to waste on such other pursuits. Of course, having any kids at all does this in its own, beautiful way. But having a child that nudges us out of the norm and demands our attention in a different way has been a great gift.

Yes, some things in life are harder. There is no sugar-coating the extra challenges that come with having a child with special needs. But, for us, while some things are harder, the most important things in life are actually easier. It has compelled us to live the life of service we were already called to. And when you begin to live in this way — with less room for your own selfish ambitions — it’s easier to see the simple and miraculous life God planned for you.

Mother Teresa says, “The fruit of service is peace.” Well we’ve learned that all the unexpected trials of life are not really burdens at all, but opportunities to serve. They are the path to peace.

Matt’s chapter is beautiful (and I would say that even if he wasn’t the love of my life) — but the other chapters bring great wisdom as well.

Writer and father, Joseph Pearce, who pens a chapter called, “Unless We Become As Little Children: Lessons my Son Has Taught Me,” also writes about having a child with Down syndrome.

An excerpt from Pearce’s chapter:

Children with Down syndrome are, indeed, very special people. They are here to teach the rest of us about love, not merely in the feel-good sense in which the word is so often abused in our largely loveless world, but in the self-sacrificial sense, which is the heart of love’s deepest meaning.

If the true definition of love is to lay down one’s life for the other, the child with Down syndrome or with other challenging disabilities teaches us how to love more fully and more truly. Can there be a greater gift to any family than the gift of this very special love? Once again, Father Ho Lung encapsulates the heart and hub of the problem of modern life and the way in which children with Down syndrome help us to solve the problem:

‘There are so many worries in the world because our modern world requires that we have so much.

We sophisticated people battle and compete to acquire so much, intellectually and financially… There are so many goods that are there to be had; so we miss the flowers, the trees, the birds of the air, and each other.

There is no ambition [in the self-centered sense], no battle for power, no pomp, no falsehood, no hypocrisy in people with Down syndrome.’

Most of the contributors in the book are Catholic fathers who have children with a range of special needs — but the stories span faith traditions and life experience with words of love, truth and encouragement. And you might even find a few words from yours truly if you look close enough! (*cough* on page 190 *cough*)

Archbishop Chaput wrote the forward — he has spoken positively and powerfully about people with Down syndrome often, some of my favorite words of his:

A friend of mine has a son with Down syndrome, and she calls him a “sniffer of souls.” I know him, and it’s true. He is. He may have an IQ of 47, and he’ll never read The Brothers Karamazov, but he has a piercingly quick sense of the people he meets. He knows when he’s loved—and he knows when he’s not. Ultimately, I think we’re all like her son. We hunger for people to confirm that we have meaning by showing us love. We need that love. And we suffer when that love is withheld.

These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect, and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy.

I have a few extra books to give away if you know a father who may need a little encouragement right now. First come, first serve — just email me at sippinglemonade (at) gmail.com and I’d be happy to drop one in the mail for you. Update 7/14/15: All of the free books have been claimed, if you would like to purchase one from Amazon, just click here.

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