My husband has always been a loving father, one actively involved in our 14-year-old daughter’s care, but I am not sure we fully understood the implications of being a “good dad” until I was diagnosed with gastroparesis. Some days, it seems my husband has, out of necessity, been called to be both mother and father, in a sense. His life now consists of rising every day, performing the household chores I can no longer complete, taking care of our child’s many needs, acting as chauffeur, maid, butler, and general caretaker – all while holding down a job outside the home. And though I am sure the pressure is sometimes intense, and he surely must feel the weight of his additional responsibilities, he has never once approached his expanded role as anything other than a privilege.
He is the kind of man who chooses to embrace rather than reject the hardships sent his way, and instead of seeking to lessen his load, he strives to find ways to accomplish more, to better assist and serve our family. He is the kind of father who loves his child whole-heartedly, who teaches and guides, who models compassion and concern, and who would gladly sacrifice most anything to help our daughter reach her potential. He puts the needs of our family, and especially our daughter, above his own and has sacrificed both career goals and personal pursuits in the interest of our household.
The nausea, pain, and fatigue which accompany my illness and which take not simply a physical but also mental and emotional toll, limit my engagement in activities outside the home and prevent me from completing household tasks and chores which once fell squarely on my shoulders. The division of responsibilities, once nearly equal, has shifted heavily to my husband’s side since my diagnosis. He is now tasked with toting my daughter back and forth to school, extracurricular events, and family gatherings, where he is almost always the sole attending parent. And when he arrives home at the end of the day, exhausted from his outside job, he cannot yet rest; his evening is filled with cleaning, homework assistance, and menial duties related to my medical care. I hear him sometimes, late in the night, working on some unfinished project while my daughter and I lie snug in our beds, toiling to complete whatever assignment was left undone for lack of time.
He is a playmate and friend who spends countless hours losing board games, taking walks, and engaging in a good game of basketball, softball, or badminton with our child – all the things I once gladly joined but must now largely view from the sidelines. He has become art critic, voice coach, speech teacher, wardrobe coordinator, chief trick-or-treater, birthday cake baker and party host, and teenage shopping-spree director. He does his best to make up for my absence.
And on top of it all, he is often called to act as peacemaker and consoler. When I am fatigued, overwhelmed with my symptoms, and not quite thinking or behaving rationally, he is the one who must calm me and comfort our daughter – shield her from the cruel effects of this illness (and my frustration) and assure her all will be well. Many is the occasion I have heard him whisper to our child, “You have to try to understand and forgive Mommy. She’s just tired and sick. She doesn’t mean it.” He listens endlessly to my daughter’s complaints about homework, classmates, and the “unfairness” of life, though I know he must surely wish to tune it out, sit and relax, and escape his own troubles for just a moment, and he prays with her for my peace, strength, and healing and for mercy on us all.
He is the voice of reason, a calming presence, and a steady hand, the “glue” which keeps our family intact, and he exerts a never-wavering confidence that we can continue to get up every morning and do what is necessary to get through the day, whatever that may mean. He pushes forward, onward, and pulls us with him, alongside. He is teacher, counselor, caretaker, role-model, servant – and, above all, “Good Dad.”
Happy Father’s Day to my husband and to all dads called to serve in this challenging world of chronic illness. Here’s to you!