For a lot of families, the birth of a child is a joyous event – or, at least, it should be.
It’s a time for celebration, unlike any other. The hours and days that follow are a time when you begin to form and nurture that important bond. One that will last a lifetime.
But being told that your newborn child has a serious medical issue or disability is the verbal equivalent of “shock and awe”.
It leaves you rudderless, without purpose, and desperate for answers.
In the blink of an eye, your dreams for a fulfilling life are shattered and your plans are turned to dust.
Thoughts of playing ball with your 6-year old, or going on fishing trips, or relishing a dance recital are wiped out.
When I was told that Ben might not live the day he was born, I was devastated. Completely lost. Nothing made sense.
Before that day, I really didn’t know sadness.
I thought I did. I thought I had done all the right things and didn’t expect anything less than a perfect baby.
But on that day, I was told that it didn’t matter what I had done, thought I’d done, expected would happen. That day, my world was destroyed and it was obvious I had control over NOTHING!
As a Dad, you’re “supposed” to be strong and in control, right?
You know, have the upper hand, or at least appear to. Be stoic. Be the protector.
But I was none of that.
I was completely useless and felt like I had failed in a major way.
How could I be a father to someone who might never walk? What kind of life would he have anyway?
What friends would he have if he couldn’t talk or play games?
If he couldn’t sit up by himself, how could he ever do something as simple as hold a crayon? That would make school pretty much impossible.
I asked myself, why was he even allowed to be born?
It wasn’t fair to our other kids. They were so young and had their whole lives ahead of them. There was so much potential there. They shouldn’t be burdened with this.
There was nothing for me to be thankful for. Life was over!
A few years later, a co-worker of mine casually asked me one day,
“What choice do you have?”
“You’re his Dad. You have to do whatever it takes.”
Our conversation about all that we had gone through, what the future might hold, and how would we ever find the strength to continue at our current pace when were 40 years old let alone 50, ended with that very matter-of-fact statement. (Spoiler alert: I’m there now!)
He was telling me something that I already knew but couldn’t put into action.
That really it didn’t matter whether I wanted to keep dealing with seizures and ER visits, with useless specialists or a dysfunctional education system.
It didn’t matter what I wanted.
“That’s life, Mike. You can’t run away from it. Figure it out.
Deal with it! Find a way to make it better!”
That somewhat random conversation was a turning point, no question.
My role as Ben’s Dad was NOT to feel good about him scoring the game-winning goal or achieving high honours. Those are great accomplishments but it was NOT about me.
It was about supporting Ben to become the person he is meant to me and not was supposed to be. Whatever that looked like.
It was about believing that the future COULD be bigger than the past, and bigger than I could imagine.
My role was to figure out how to make that happen.
The lyrics of "Born to Win” (John Ondrasik, Five For Fighting) say it best:
You were born to break
So that you could come back strong
The only way to start
Is for you to begin
Yep, we are definitely born to break (a lot).
But most importantly, we are born to win!