As a father of four boys, you may imagine that life is hectic from time to time for me. While it truly is, in fact, quite crazy sometimes, it isn’t always because of the reasons you might think. I have four boys, ages 11, 4, 3, and almost 2, and that certainly makes for an interesting daily living experience for my wife and me. We do our best to remain patient and lean on God’s strength and peace to fill us on the days that seem overly daunting and occasionally even downright impossible, but we are human. Therefore, we fail . . . and fail often, unfortunately.
What I have come to understand, though, is that even during those hard days, the genuinely best thing that we can do as parents is simply show up. Show up physically (we are the parents, obviously we have to show up). Show up emotionally. Show up spiritually. Just . . . SHOW UP. My greatest challenge in life thus far regarding showing up began on July 3, 2015—the day my life, and the lives of my entire family, changed.
On July 3, 2015, my son, Ezekiel, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, was immediately admitted to the hospital for blood and platelet transfusions, and was not permitted to leave for almost two weeks while undergoing the very first stages of his cancer treatment (chemo).
During that time my heart felt torn out.
My mind felt crushed. My spirit and my joy utterly destroyed.
But in those first days, I made the decision I feel most parents would make in my situation—I showed up. I decided then and there, I would be at every single appointment. I would attend every single chemo treatment at the hospital. I would never allow my then 2-year-old to do any of this alone. I chose to be strong and show him he didn’t need to be afraid—of anything.
My boss at work, bless his, was so incredibly understanding and accommodating. He allowed me to work insane hours way more often than I would have liked. Working graveyard shifts a couple of times a week to then take Ezekiel to the hospital and be with him there for the remainder of the day. This schedule took a heavy toll on me. Starting my days at 11:30 p.m. and not ending them until about 9 p.m. the next night was pretty difficult. But like I said, my son was never going to have to deal with any of this on his own, and I was determined to demonstrate to him that I was there, I was with him, and I wasn’t going anywhere.
I decided that he was going to be my priority. I was incredibly fortunate in that my work understood my desire to be with my son, and as I stated, allowed me to be with him. I am eternally grateful to my work and everyone there. I was able to show up for my son consistently because of the support system from my work.
Then came the difficult task of showing up . . . for all my other kids as well.
Zeke was the one who needed me the most during that time, but my other boys needed me as well. Every boy needs his father to help lead him and show him love and support. In those first months of treatment, though, I was almost entirely dedicated to Zeke. During those months, then, I had to find ways to show up for my other boys as well. It was in doing that, however, when I learned one of the most important lessons regarding showing up for my boys.
While my dedication to Zeke felt like the greatest example of showing up I could have ever exhibited, it wasn’t. Yes, Zeke benefitted greatly from my showing up for him. But it was the simple acts of a few minutes alone with my other boys, a quick story read, a brief wrestling match, a gentle snuggle while watching a cartoon at night, a hug and a kiss before bed—it was those tiny efforts, those smaller examples of showing up that taught me the most important lesson.
You don’t have to show up in some dramatic and overly orchestrated way.
It doesn’t have to be something to make headlines or the front page. You can do something as simple as looking at your child, saying “I love you” and giving a hug. Even more so, it could be something as easy as holding hands to pray at night. Nothing says that you are willing to show up for your kids more than to take the time out of your day to stop, be still, embrace them and pray with and for them.
If you have younger children, they might not entirely understand what each and every word of your prayer means, but what they will understand—no matter their age—is that you are with them. No matter how old a child is, no matter how much they know or don’t know, understand or don’t understand, I guarantee and promise that something that will always click with a child is that you are physically there, showing up for them.
So in one of my life’s greatest challenges and struggles—my son’s cancer diagnosis—I learned so much. Not only from him and his journey, but also from figuring out how to bring all my other children along so we could all walk that road together. Because we are a family.
Family should always show up together. Because it is family that is forever.