“Good night Superman.”
Last night, like I have every night since I can remember, I uttered those words to my son as we tucked him into bed.
When I have finished praying over him for the night, I pull him up out of his bedroom swing, and I hug him. Then we assist him over to his bed and maneuver him into a safe position. He leans in and kisses his mom on the cheek and she whispers, “I love you.”
And then as we turn off the lights, and close his door, my last words to him every night are, “Good night Superman.”
Superman has a birthday this weekend. Superman will turn seventeen years old.
Like so many other boys, when I was growing up, I dreamed of being Superman myself. My grandmother even sewed me a Superman cape that I wore when I jumped off the garage roof once hoping I too could fly.
Now, as I realize every night, the real Superman lives down the hall. Turns out, I’m raising Superman.
Superman has cerebral palsy, autism, and epileptic seizures. He’s completely non-verbal, intellectually disabled, and mobility impaired.
When he was born, I wasn’t sure he was what I wanted at all. I was convinced God had wrecked my life. Ruined me. Punished me.
We had already lost our first child.
The pain of that experience was almost unbearable. For months and months we had prayed for a healthy, perfect child. We constantly prayed and petitioned God for a perfect little boy when we were expecting Jon Alex.
When we learned of our son’s profound special needs, I was devastated. All my plans, all my hopes, all my dreams—gone.
Why? Who was to blame? Was it us or was it God?
Now on the eve of his seventeenth birthday I no longer use words like burdened, ruined, or punished. Now I use words like chosen called, and committed.
Tonight, I listen to Superman breathing as he goes to sleep. I take in a deep breath of gratefulness.
And I realize now, these seventeen years later, that he is everything I am not, and he is everything I want to be.
I am humbled and blessed that God did not give me what I wanted, but rather chose to give me what I needed.
I wanted a healthy typical little boy. God had something better for me.
I used to think God had given me Jon Alex because he knew Jon Alex needed me. I now realize I had it backwards.
God gave me Jon Alex because he knew I needed him. I prayed for years for God to heal my son, and instead he used him to heal me.
I didn’t know unconditional love, I didn’t understand mercy and compassion, and I didn’t realize my dependence upon God for everything in my life.
So God sent me Jon Alex.
God sent a broken child into a broken world to a broken father so that together they could find God in their brokenness. That’s what God does. He takes broken things and from them He creates nothing but masterpieces.
God has given me a masterpiece. My son is a human canvas on which God is painting His story.
My pain has been transcended by His purposes. And though my pain runs deep, God’s purposes run even deeper.
When I read Romans 8:38, what the scripture actually says is, “ And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
But as I watch Superman, safely ensconced in his bed, I paraphrase the verse under my breath as I whisper, “ And I am convinced that nothing can separate you from my love son. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither my fears for today nor my worries about the future- nothing, and I mean nothing, will separate you from my love…ever.”
Because tonight another group of special-needs dads are going to decide they will leave.
Cut and run.
Abandon their child and their family.
Become another vacant dad.
Just this very day I heard from three more families facing this imminently. The moms are desperately holding on while dad decides to take a walk.
It’s unconscionable to me. It’s inconceivable to me. It’s reprehensible.
I was called and chosen to stand a post. I will not desert that post. To channel one of my favorite lines from the 80’s classic movie Top Gun, “you never, never leave your wingman.”
When is it Ok to give up on your child? Here’s the answer: You can give up on your child when your Father in heaven gives up on you, His child.
So tonight, as always, I end my son’s day with the words, “Good night Superman.”
I will do it again tomorrow night.
And the next night.
And the night after that.
“Good night Superman. Happy birthday son.”
I will see you in the morning.