There’s a family at the end of the bread aisle.
The parents are elderly. Their son is about my age…I think. It’s hard to tell their ages really. It’s hard to tell the effects of time from the entropy of a certain sort of life.
They snap at each other. They quibble. They’re not too different from any elderly couple who have spent a lifetime together having the same argument in the bread aisle on Sunday evening in the supermarket.
There’s a bitterness to it though; a fatigue. They’ve broken off from the outside world.
I can see into their three-person bubble. But they can’t see out.
Their clothes are shabby. Everyone’s hair is messy. The son has a three-day beard. If you get halfway down the aisle, you can smell him.
I don’t know how they get him clean. Or how they groom him. He’s stronger than they are now.
He’s got more life than they have. It’s near the end for them. Now, here they are, at the bitter end of a fifty-year tether that started one day when they learned that their son was not like other children.
There, among the shining floors, blaring fluorescent lights and retail displays is my deepest, darkest fear; what this looks like at the end when at some point, the forces of time and life and special needs parenting have pulled the world down on me.
I’m a young energetic man. And my optimism, faith and hope spring eternal. It pushes back against the singularity of our circumstances. One day it’s going to run out, though. And that thought scares me to death.
At the bottom of my frustration or anger or destructive behaviors is that fear.
It’s important to name our fears. The real ones. The ones we can’t run from. The one’s that won’t ever go away. When we do, it helps us recognize their place in our lives. They will always be there. They are towering potential realities that have no worldly solution. If they did, they wouldn’t be that sort of fear.
We can hide them. We can hide from them. But they always wander back. And each time they do, our reactions are predictable.
Anger. Frustration. Anxiety.
Angry, frustrated, anxious fathers have a blast radius our families can’t hide from either though. And the longer we hide from that which we fear most, the angrier, more frustrated and anxiety-ridden we get.
I’ve learned the hard way to give my fear a name. To spend time with it. Let it ride in the passenger seat on the journey that is my life. I’ve learned to hold hands with it.
If you’ve got any shot in this game, you’ve got to do the same.
Maybe you’re afraid you’ll lose your job and can’t provide. Maybe you’re afraid your wife won’t ever come out of the funk of diagnosis. Maybe you won’t ever be able make your mark in this world because your child just won’t let you. Maybe your child will never live any sort of productive life and will be a draw on those around him every day he spends on this earth.
Maybe all of it will happen. And maybe there’s nothing in the world you can do about any of it.
Now that you’ve met, it’s time to get used to spending time together in the daylight with your faith and the people you love who know them just as well as you.
Special needs fathers that run from their fears never get away. They just die tired. And they leave a trail of wreckage in their wake.
So give your fear a name. And own it. Until you do, it will only own you.
Previously Published on Fatherhood 2.0
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