A father’s role is to be the guardian and provider for his children. Yes, the mother and father work as a team, but nature seems to have assigned the nurturing aspect more to the mother and the protecting job to the father.
In reality, this does not always occur, but for this discussion, I want to deal with the ideal.
As a father of eight, I have experienced the deep desire to shield and care for my newborn children at each one’s birth. Hopes for their future life filled with success were side by side with fears of the dangers of the world.
The fears ebb as the children grow and become more independent. Over the years, I have seen four of my children become strong, capable adults. Over the same period of time, Father Time has been less than kind to me, as he is to all. My strength and vigor have lessened to the point where I now welcome the help of my adult children in some matters.
This is the normal scheme of things, the Circle of Life as it is sometimes called. But life does not always proceed normally.
Four of my children are now able to care for themselves but four others are still acquiring the skills they need to deal with the world. They have intellectual disabilities that have slowed their progress. To be sure they are light years further along than the experts said they would ever be. Thank you, God! But their journey is far from over.
Because of this, the fear that has ebbed for my four older children persists for the four younger ones even though each is chronologically an adult. Each day is a race against time to try to help them gain one more skill and get one step closer to independence.
It is a hard trek up a steep mountain path that often has loose ground that can give way and cause us to slide backward.
The stark reality is a constant awareness. Plans have been made and they will hopefully succeed, but there is no guarantee.
In the darkest moments, I find myself praying for a request that is unnatural. Please, God, allow me to live to such an old age that I can bury my four youngest sons. In that way, I will always be around to watch over them.
The pain of losing a child is the most profound a person can experience. I came close with Joseph when the doctor said I should prepare myself because they expected him to die when he was one-year-old. They were wrong, but for three days I was neither alive or dead while I waited to see if he would recover.
I do not want to live that again, but neither do I want my children left behind to deal with all the evil that this world can do. So I pray a prayer that if answered promises exceptional pain.
My prayer is not unique. I know of other parents of special needs children who have admitted to the same prayer.
I am blessed that my four older children have said they will look after their younger brothers. Other parents don’t have that blessing. But my older children are struggling to make it on their own. So each day, as an opportunity presents itself, the life lessons continue.
My duty to protect and train my children will continue my entire life and maybe their entire life. It gives me one more reason to defend myself against Father Time.
And I hope, even dream, of a time, one hundred or more years in the future, when I, my wife, and all my children can be together in a place where I know they are all safe forever.