A Father's Test


Braced for Collision

As the traffic light turns red, we come to a stop, and simultaneously, I cringe. My head goes low, my shoulders shrug, and I brace for what I know is coming. To an outside observer, it looks like I’m bracing for an imminent car crash, but no forceful, physical impact comes. Instead, there’s collision of emotional turmoil.

This will test me as a father.

The screaming is immediate—ear-piercing, angry screaming coming from the backseat. On top of the screaming, he’s scratching his face in a violent outburst. If his fingernails haven’t been clipped in a while, he’s bound to scrape off his skin in a long cut, causing bleeding on his head, cheek, or nose. Nothing I say or do will stop it, at least not until the light changes and the car starts moving again.

Internally, I get angry because I know he’s smarter than this. I want to believe he’s capable of not doing this at all, and maybe that’s why I get so angry about it—I’ve created an expectation in my head that’s not being met. The intensity of it all consumes every square inch of oxygen in the car. It’s hard to describe exactly how this situation affects every nerve in my body, but it does. I allow it to, even though I shouldn’t.

At My Worst

I wish I could say every time this situation happens I maintain my composure, remain super calm and manage to be the most understanding, patient dad in the world.

But I fail.

Not every time, but over the years I’ve probably failed more often than I’d like to admit. There are times I react and yell back. I allow the situation to get me angry and spoil my mood, even ruin my day. I cave to my simplistic, primal nature of allowing a situation to control me, control my emotions, and cause me to react negatively—only to make everything worse.

This has happened in the car for years, and my son with cerebral palsy still screams his head off. Neither my wife nor I can figure out the exact reason why this still happens. We don’t know if it’s because he’s stimming out by watching the moving traffic and when it all suddenly stops it upsets him, or if there’s some other random reason. He hasn’t been able to explain it to us. Regardless, it’s a situation that exposes me at my worst.

A Path Forward

As a father of a child with special needs, fatherhood is a roller coaster of turmoil, amazement, wonder, frustration, excitement, precious moments, anger, denial, depression, joy, worry and confusion.

Being a father is a bigger challenge than I ever expected. My character is constantly being tested, shaped, and molded. Sometimes I can handle the stress and chaos with ease and control. Other times, I can’t. I question myself all the time if I’m actually going down a path of progression toward becoming a better man, husband, and father, or if I just get caught in an infinite loop of going nowhere, repeating failures while being falsely encouraged by fleeting moments of success. 

My hope is that I’m making progress in some way. The only thing I’ve come to truly know about being a father is the need to be vulnerable, to be humble and to keep working to be better. When I do react in anger, whether in the car or at home with either of my kids, I’m always ashamed afterwards. I make sure to apologize to my son or daughter and explain how I was wrong. I ask for their forgiveness. We talk it out. I pray that my failure doesn’t negatively affect them in the long run.

Beyond bandaging the wounds I inflict, I join my wife in actively seeking out information on parenting, trying to apply sound principles to interacting with my kids, paying hundreds a month for marriage and family counseling, and talking with other fathers about our struggles. It’s a process, a journey, but I don’t think we ever truly arrive to a destination—especially in the special needs world, since we’re constantly going through the never-ending stages of grief. It’s simply working and striving to move on a forward path, refining myself with continuous character improvement, focusing on the importance of being a better father, husband, man.

There’s going to be plenty more stoplights in my life, situations of all sorts bound to flare up every nerve in my body. My hope is that, with God’s grace, my wife’s wisdom, and learning from life’s lessons, I’ll soon have much better control of myself, my emotions, and how I let situations affect me.

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