Special Fathers for Special Children
COMMENTARY: New book offers unfiltered look into the lives of fathers of children with special needs. The stories are moving, and the lessons are invaluable.
I am a Catholic husband, father, businessman and author blessed with a strong marriage and two wonderful children. My 17-year-old son Alex was diagnosed in late 1999 with high-functioning autism. I have experienced firsthand the stress and blessings of raising a child with special needs and the impact it can have on marriages, siblings, relationships, finances and faith.
As I travel around the country for business or to speak in support of my books, I have consistently encountered one particular problem that was the impetus for me to write Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for Fathers of Children With Special Needs:
Many fathers in families with children with special needs are disengaged, in denial and not living up to their responsibilities.
Although it is difficult to find reliable data, experts agree that the stress and pressure on families with children who have special needs is significant, and the divorce rate is likely higher than the national average; and mothers are typically shouldering the majority of the emotional and physical burden in caring for the family.
As I speak to the fathers in these families (and individuals who know them), there clearly are great fathers out there, but far too many are struggling with some or all of the following challenges:
- Many feel angry and frustrated.
- They often feel overwhelmed.
- They are in denial about the diagnosis.
- They feel a profound sense of guilt.
- They feel severely let down when they recognize that their dreams for their child (children) may not be realized.
- Many focus only on the challenges of having a child with special needs and fail to see these children as the blessings they truly are.
- Because of the financial stress involved in raising a child with special needs, they often lose themselves in the role of provider and ignore the emotional and physical toll on their wives and family.
- They often drift apart from their wives, as the energy put into the care of the child and financial concerns outpaces the love and care that should be invested into the marriage.
- They need help and good examples to follow, but often they do not know where to turn. Pride prevents them from asking for advice or assistance.
- They often experience isolation and feel they have nobody to talk to about what they are facing and feeling. Some fear they will be perceived as weak if they voice their issues.
- They, especially Catholic men, often don’t recognize the power of a strong relationship with Christ and the active practice of our Catholic faith as important solutions to their crisis.
- Their prayer lives are often minimal or nonexistent, and they may not recognize the healing power and support to be found in a vibrant prayer life.
This is not a definitive list. Other aspects of the problem exist, but these are the ones I consistently hear from other men, their wives or those close to families with children who have special needs.
In the fall of 2014, I had just completed the manuscript for Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books), and with the 2014 Father’s Day release of Journey to Heaven: A Road Map of Catholic Men (Emmaus Road Publishing), I was exhausted and in need of a sabbatical from writing after releasing two books in one year.
But God had other plans.
I prayed in earnest for weeks during Eucharistic adoration about what God wanted me to do next. As I prayed, I could not get the idea for a book of encouragement for the fathers of children with special needs out of my mind. If men are struggling, perhaps the Holy Spirit might work through a book like this to reach them.
I reached out to several Catholic authors who have children with special needs and found them to be very enthusiastic about the idea. I also have great respect for the example they set for all of us in how they live up to their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. After pitching the idea to Emmaus Road and receiving their enthusiastic approval, the book project became a reality. So much for my sabbatical plans!
As you read the book, you will find all of the even-numbered chapters to be admirable and heartfelt contributions from Catholic fathers, including Kevin Lowry, Doug Keck, J.D. Flynn, Greg Willits, Matthew Warner, Bill Jones, David Rizzo, Chad Judice and Joseph Pearce. These men have offered an unfiltered look into their lives as the fathers of children with special needs. The stories are moving, and the lessons are invaluable.
In the odd-numbered chapters, I share experiences from my own life as Alex’s father and highlight at times what I’ve learned from the example of St. Joseph, patron saint of fathers. I also include candid observations from others who share a unique perspective on the lives of fathers of children with special needs.
My hope for the reader is that they will find the candid opinions and real family situations to be both helpful and refreshing. There is also a section in the book that crystallizes the best lessons and practical wisdom offered by the Scriptures, the saints, the dads in this book and others to help fathers who are seeking encouragement and help.
The result is a somewhat eclectic mix of candid stories, helpful observations and numerous examples of how Catholic fathers can and should engage their family’s dynamic. This book is not intended to solve every issue faced by families with children who have special needs. The intent is merely to show good examples for fathers to follow, provide candid insights, remind us of the power of strong faith and encourage us to embrace our vocations as husbands and fathers and be the strong men we are called to be.
I will pray for all of you, and I humbly ask that you pray for me. Our families need us, and we cannot fail.
Your brother in Christ,
Randy Hain is a devoted Catholic husband, father, business leader, speaker and award-winning author.
He is the co-founder of Integrated Catholic Life e-magazine and the author of seven books,
including Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men,
Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic,
The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work and
the new Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for Fathers of Children with Special Needs.
Learn more about Randy at IntegratedCatholicLife.org.
*All royalties earned from the sale of Special Children, Blessed Fathers will be donated to the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD.org) to support the magnificent work they do in guiding initiatives aimed at promoting greater participation of persons with disabilities in the Catholic Church.