I grew up in sunny south Florida, in a time when children played outside more than inside. I spent my days catching lizards and snakes and turtles. FYI, make sure you wash your hands after handling wild box turtles, they carry salmonella and can make you very sick (I found out the hard way…high fever and hallucinations!). I still, to this day, will not touch a turtle I see in the wild.
As a kid, on the weekends, my dad would take me fresh water fishing at Lake Okeechobee and deep sea fishing off the coast of Jupiter. During the week you could often find me fishing under the Tequesta bridge. I became quite the outdoorsman. I would catch my own baitfish and sell it to the local bait shop for some snack money.
At six years old I started playing baseball. In my first at bat in my first game I hit a homerun. Well, it didn’t go over the outfield fence, but it did go over the outfielder’s head, and I managed to make it all the way around to home plate before the ball could make its way in. Back in those days, the late 70’s, the Atlanta Braves, along with the Montreal Expos, spent their spring training down in West Palm Beach. I became a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan for obvious reasons. One, Atlanta was closer than Canada; two, one of the best players in the league, Dale Murphy, played for the Braves; and three, I wasn’t Canadian.
Growing up, my dad owned a used car lot where he sold and worked on cars. I would spend my summers rummaging through the junk yard looking for spare change and spare parts that I could sell to potential customers on the lot. When spare change and parts were low, my brother and I would ride the Honda 50 minibike my dad kept at the shop. I remember riding the minibike, like a big shot, down the street to the convenient store to get a slushy and a Snickers. My dad would always ask my brother and I what kind of car we wanted when we were old enough to drive. I wanted an orange Mustang, classic of course. Unfortunately, when I was about 10, my parents divorced. My dad sold his car lot and moved to California. My wish of an orange Mustang was relegated below my wish of a relationship with my father.
My wife, Jen and I, were married at a fairly young age in today’s standards, 23 and 24. Marriage was not on my
radar until I met Jen. She was like no one I had ever met before. I like to describe her as very cute, short, and spunky. She’s just over five foot tall, and I’m about six feet, two inches. She makes up for height in spunkiness. We make a great couple. The most amazing part of our story is that God brought us together in the midst of substance abuse and addiction, and delivered us into a life of freedom and purpose.
Jen and I both wanted to have children at a young age, so that we wouldn’t be 60 when they graduated from highschool. No offense to any 60 year old parents with kids in high school. We figured, if it was the Lord’s will, that we’d have time to travel and explore after the kids were out of the house. Funny, how we envision the future sometimes. Our first child Hannah, was born in April of 1998, followed by Micah in December of 200, and then Clara in July of 2003. I was by Jen’s side for all three births but the first one was the most intense. Hannah took her sweet time. Mom had a natural birth and everything seemed to go well, expect for post delivery pain that Jen was experiencing. Jen ended up receiving two blood transfusions, due to major blood loss, and had emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. It was a near-death experience for Jen and an eye-opening experience for me spiritually. I had never shared my faith and prayed publicly so much in the span of a week before that time.
I remember holding Hannah shortly after she was born and thinking…Wow!, I’m a dad! Where’s the manual? Hannah was so different than I was as a child. First of all, she was born in New Jersey, not Florida, two completely different cultures. Second, she wanted nothing to do with sports (my heart still aches) but everything to do with princesses and girly stuff (I’m okay with it). I learned quickly that the most important thing to do as a parent was to love your child and get to know them. Fatherhood was not what I expected. It was more. It was and is, investing in the lives of your uniquely gifted and crafted children. The joys of fatherhood transcend any hobby or activity.
Becoming a dad for the second time seemed like a breeze. I’d been there, done that. Well, except for the birth part; Jen handled that. I am so thankful that men don’t have to give birth. Can I get an amen, men? I was also thrilled knowing that we were having a boy! I still was holding on to the notion that my boy would be a professional baseball player or the like. When Micah was born everything seemed normal. No health issues for him or complications this time for Jen. Albeit, we were in the biggest transition of our lives (at the time). On December 22, 2000, we moved into family housing on the campus of Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to pursue my degree in pastoral ministry. On December 27th, we closed on our house in New Jersey, and on December 29th, Jen gave birth to Micah. Yep, it was a busy week!
I started a full-time schedule of classes in January while Jen had her hands full with a toddler and a new born. Hannah was two and meeting all of her developmental milestones. On the other hand, Micah was struggling to sleep and digest his food. At nine months old he was diagnosed with developmental delays and started receiving therapy (OT, PT, ST) multiple times a week. This wasn’t in my playbook. We were doing everything we knew to do for Micah and praying for God’s direction in the process. Fatherhood is not what I expected. It is more.
On Wednesday, May 7th, 2003, Micah had a seizure. We were at church and the kid’s program just released. Jen brought Micah to me because he seemed tired. I was finishing up a conversation in the men’s group. Micah was on my knee. He leaned back a couple of times. I asked him to sit up, and his eyes started to roll back in his head. Head started to convulse. I was terrified. What do I do? How do I help him? I immediately ran to the foyer and called for help. Thankfully there were two nurses who surrounded him within a minute. He continued to seize. He was taken by ambulance to the emergency room where doctors sedated him to stop the seizure some 45 minutes later. Micah was later transferred to a children’s hospital where he was kept overnight for tests and scans. They only let one parent stay with him. Jen stayed in the room, I went back to our apartment. I’ll never forget the image of my son in a hospital crib out cold, with tubes attached all over his body. I wanted to take his place. Fatherhood is not what I expected. It is more.
Later in the week we met with Micah’s neurologist who said something that we did not want to hear, “Micah has abnormalities in his brain.” She went on to say that his grey and white matter were thinning and that she did not know if Micah would ever walk, talk in complete sentences or live on his own one day. Needless to say, we were somewhat devastated at the news. I had so many questions. At first I was questioning God. God, how could you allow this to happen? After all, we sold half our possessions to move into cramped college housing to pursue Your calling on our lives. Why would you allow this? In His mercy, God reminded me that ALL children are a gift from Him. He reminded me that He knew Micah before he was formed in Jen’s womb and that he had a purpose and plan for Micah’s life. God wasn’t surprised about what was going on with Micah. He knew it and allowed it for His glory and His purpose. I see that now; not so much then. Fatherhood is not what I expected. It is more.
I can’t finish the story without introducing Micah’s little sister, Clara. She was born the summer before my senior year of college. She was eager to see the world, so much so that she came six weeks early. I guess she wanted to see what they did in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for a few days. Within a year she was reaching and surpassing her developmental milestones and motivating her big brother to keep up with her!
Today, my children are 15, 13, and 10. Micah’s in the middle. They are all doing well. Micah was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism but, like his sisters, he loves God, loves people, and loves life. From my wife Jen, to my children, I couldn’t have scripted a better family. I am so thankful for being a father and eternally grateful to my heavenly Father for created life for a purpose, not some random existence. Before becoming a father, I equated fatherhood with my childhood, but fatherhood is a different equation. Fatherhood is loving your child unconditionally and getting to know the unique individuals that God has created them to be. Fatherhood is not what I expected. It is more.