Somewhere deep inside of every little boy is the burning desire to earn his father’s love and respect. It’s not something discussed or even admitted to most of the time, as most males aren’t comfortable expressing their emotions that way.
It’s why little boys are always yelling for their dads to watch them do something, or attempt a great feat like jumping a ditch on their bike, or throwing a football, or leaping out of a swing.
Some say they are just crying out for attention when what they are really crying out for is approval.
I remember it well as a child. My dad had been a great basketball player in school so I wanted to be a great basketball player to please him and make him proud. My dad coached my high school basketball team in fact. I was good enough to start on the varsity team, but we both knew I would never be great. I was always afraid I had disappointed him.
That feeling never goes away by the way. No matter how old we get as men, deep down we still want our father’s approval and respect. It’s a way we measure whether we have become a man in our own right.
This week my wife Becky and I were being interviewed and the question was asked,” What do you enjoy the most about your special needs son, Jon Alex?” (Our son has both autism and cerebral palsy.)
I thought for a minute and then I replied, “What I enjoy the most is the simple fact that he is my son. There is nothing he can do to make me love him more. He is the best son I could ask for simply because he is my son.”
I tell Jon Alex that every night. I want it to be one of the last things he hears before he goes to sleep. I always conclude it by saying “You are the best son in the whole wide world and I wouldn’t want any other boy but you, because God made you for me, and God made me for you.”
I fantasize about Jon Alex coming up to me in heaven and us remembering those nightly conversations when he couldn’t speak. I dream about us talking about how much those one-sided conversations meant to both of us.
I am a man of so many faults and imperfections who fails daily and is totally dependent on the grace of his God. But my son will never be in doubt of my love and belief in him just the way he is. Maybe that’s why I am so passionate about fighting the “vacant dad” epidemic we have in the special needs community.
There is an old poem about choosing “the road less-traveled.” Well I have veered down an even more “off the beaten path” road in my life.
When I gave up a full college scholarship to transfer to another university and switch majors, a lot of people thought I was crazy. My dad never said a negative word, just that he supported me.
When I turned 40 I walked away from the corporate life, the 4,000 square foot home, and the six-digit income. We sold most everything we owned, took a 80% pay cut and moved into the country because I felt a calling to start a special needs ministry.
At the time everyone thought we were nuts. Once again my dad never said a negative word, just that he supported me.
When I turned 42 I had some serious health issues and almost died on a hospital table. I spend months in a wheelchair recuperating afterwards. My dad hardly ever left my side.
My dad is a man of very few words. Growing up he never really vocalized love for his kids, but he left no doubt where he stood by his actions, his interactions, and his engaging with us. He always called me “bud.” No wonder I’m always calling my own son “buddy.”
My dad sent me a card recently out of the blue. He wrote inside, “Just want you to know that you are the best son a dad could ever have.”
I cried for 10 minutes when I read it. That card is priceless to me. It’s the best gift he has ever given me. I keep it in the front drawer of my desk.
Because what he is really saying is I love you because you are my son. Period.
Nothing else matters.
I have his respect and validation just by virtue of being his son.
Now I see it. I love my son just the way he is because my dad loves me just the way I am. Not because of anything I have done, or am doing, or will ever do.
I learned unconditional love for my son because my dad loves me unconditionally.
And that my friends is the essence of how God loves us.
We don’t earn it, we don’t do anything to deserve it—he just lavishes it on us because we are simply his children.
Like Father, like son.