I first used the phrase “vacant dad” a couple of years ago to describe a phenomenon we’re seeing in the special needs community.
As I interact daily within the special-needs community, I am convinced that we have an epidemic of vacant dads. I call it the Vacant Dad Syndrome.
What exactly is a “vacant dad?”
There are two variations of vacant dads within the special-needs community. The first, and most familiar, is the dad who walks out or leaves his family. We are seeing more and more children with special-needs being raised now by single female caregivers. Too often, this happens within three years of diagnosis and the dad simply abandons his family and child.
The other vacant dad is the one who is there in body only. He isn’t involved or engaged. He emotionally has checked out already. He isn’t emotionally attached anymore, he isn’t passionate about his role in the family, and he isn’t contributing anything positive- emotionally, relationally, or sacrificially to the family.
We have a frightening abundance of both in our special-needs community. It’s having a devastating effect on an entire generation of children with special needs.
What are the signs of a vacant dad? How can you tell if you are on the track to becoming a vacant dad yourself? What are the warning flags in your life to watch out for to prevent becoming a vacant dad?
Here are my Top 25 Warning Signs
You Are Becoming A Vacant Dad
1) At home surrounded by your family, you still find yourself thinking more and more about your work, your hobbies, or daydreaming.
2) You escape your home environment by spending most of your free time on television, the Internet, a favorite hobby, video games, or social media.
3) You spend more time lamenting that your own needs and expectations aren’t being met than you do serving the needs of your family.
4) You are reluctant to surrender your own dreams, ambitions, and plans in sacrificing for the needs of your family.
5) Your idea of expressing love for your child is to shower them with gifts and toys rather than to delight them by being engaged and interacting with them for yourself.
6) You can’t remember the last time you spoke any words of affirmation or encouragement over your child. Most of your words are negative or discouraging.
7) You have accepted the role of warrior, protector, and provider for your family, but that should simply be enough for your role as a dad.
8) You rarely, if ever, pray over your child, calling down God’s blessings, favor, and purpose over your child.
9) You still think the story of your life is about you and that you are the main character in the story of your life.
10) You still let your anger, bitterness, or denial over your circumstances dictate your dealings, feelings, and actions towards your child.
11) Your thought life leads you to feel that this role as a special-needs dad is more of a burden than it is a blessing.
12) You tend to gravitate towards your typical children at the expense of your child with special needs.
13) Your expectations for your relationship with your wife have not changed even with the addition of a child with special needs into your family.
14) You are too obsessed with “fixing” your child to focus on the sheer joys of fatherhood.
15) Your lack of understanding grace in your own life inhibits your ability to shower your own child with unconditional love.
16) You are still letting your circumstances determine your joy and contentment, rather than discovering the gift you have been given with this child with special needs.
17) You are always comparing your life, your child, your family, and your circumstances to other people and constantly lamenting the differences.
18) You don’t believe your child is wonderfully made or created for a plan and a purpose with a destiny to glorify God.
19) You spend more time asking God to change your circumstances than you do asking God to use your circumstances to teach you and reveal His presence to you.
20) You let your own pride, embarrassment, selfishness, and self-consciousness prevent you from any talking or sharing about your child publicly, or even being seen around them.
21) You make excuses for and create “busyness” that prevents you from spending significant time engaged with your child.
22) You don’t know how to interact or engage with your child with special needs because you can’t do so the way you were raised or imagined that you as a father would be participating.
23) You can remember every player’s name, number and position on your favorite sports team, but don’t remember your own child’s birthday, teacher’s name, favorite activities, or favorite books.
24) You feel that as long as you don’t actually physically leave your family, that you aren’t a vacant dad. (P.S.- If that’s so, guess what? You’re a vacant dad.)
25) You read all 25 of these blurbs and tried to make excuses to rationalize and justify your behavior about way too many of them.