When a man enters into a covenant relationship with his bride, he commits to the responsibilities of loving, honoring and cherishing her. As a Christian husband, the strength I (Joe) need in order to carry out these responsibilities ultimately flows out of my relationship with God. It requires a moment-by-moment dependence on God's Spirit. It takes time and discipline to maintain, especially with the many obstacles that cross our path – in my case, raising a child with special needs.
The vows we shared included "for better or worse, in sickness and in health." There was never a thought about the possibility of having a special needs child, nor any discussion of how much stress and strain such a situation would put on our marriage. And in the midst of life's challenges is another: being the husband and father God calls us to be.
We can't let the obstacles of life get in the way of building a strong marriage. When we fail to sacrificially love our wife as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25), we begin to compromise this most cherished relationship. As a husband, and as the father of a special needs adult child, it's a daily challenge to stay focused when the challenges of caregiving collide with the needs of my wife and other children.
Raising a child with special needs, while at the same time nurturing my relationship with my wife, requires that I make time to communicate with my wife every day. What I need to communicate most is my love. In our situation, I went off to work while my wife stayed home and cared for our children. When one or more of children have special needs, you can be certain that a wife's daily responsibilities have been full and challenging. Recognizing that fact was the first step toward realizing that no matter what kind of day I had, my wife "had a day," too!
When our children were small, it was great when she gave me a bit of time to regroup from my day. We had dinner together as a family, and then I would give her a break from the children. I'd take the kids for walks in nice weather or play in the backyard. As the kids grew, my time with them might include helping with homework, playing video games or just talking. Cindi appreciated this time alone without worrying about the needs of the children; time alone to think without the noise and commotion that she'd endured all day long; time for an evening out with friends to simply "get away." Taking care of the kids was a way for me to serve my wife, letting her know that I was committed to her and cherished her. As a result, we were able to demonstrate God's unconditional love and grace to each other and to the children, and become an example to those around us.
In addition to my role as a husband, one of my greatest titles is "Dad." Christian fathers are to sacrificially love our children. We demonstrate to our children that we care for them by making them a priority. Cultivating relationships with each child requires time, discipline and intentionality. When so much time is spent caring for the child(ren) with special needs, it's easy to lose track of our other children's needs. It is a challenge to spend both quality and quantity time with the other children. Each one needs to know with absolute certainty that we love them. Spending time with them goes a long way toward making them feel protected and loved.
I was intentional about "dating" my two girls. Our regular dates included restaurants, local events and festivals, the zoo, walks, jogs, movies, ice cream and other fun things. Our dates were also opportunities to talk, ask questions, and sometimes just to listen to them. These are some of my fondest memories of their childhoods, and we continue to enjoy our special times together (even with one daughter married and the other in college).
We invested time in teaching all of our children God's Word. We'd discuss current topics of interest to each and used these opportunities to guide them. These teaching moments may not have connected with Joey in the same way they did for the girls, but we included him as much as we could. Without question, Joey required a different kind of time and attention.
As a dad, I once dreamed of playing sports with a son – maybe even coaching – but because that wasn't to be, I found other ways to "connect" with Joey. He spent a lot of time doing repetitive therapies in his early years, but as he grew older, he and I began to connect playing video games. We have learned to play sports together … through video! He excels at baseball and my forte' is football, but we still connect and have fun together!
Yes, it takes time. But if we want to pass on our faith and impact future generations for Christ, we must spend quality and quantity time with each of our children. When we leave a godly legacy, we can look back with great satisfaction.
It's been my observation that many men are overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the husbands and fathers God has called them to be. Yet we have this assurance: that "nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). As we ask God to empower us as men, we can give our children not just an inheritance, but a heritage. And we can give our wife what she needs most – to be loved, honored and cherished.