When we share the pain we will also share the joy. ~ Nouwen

 

MY SON’S MENTAL ILLNESS

 

Fifteen years into fatherhood, mental illness burst into my son’s life and took up long-term residence.  So did chaos, friction, tears, lying, arguments, anger, and disrespect.  Then drugs. Then jail. And finally, death. As is often the case, guilt, self-doubt, and self-criticism also moved in, right into my heart.

Up until that time, Father’s Day was a special day for me. The hugs and gifts from my six kids were always great, but seeing the results of my fathering—the wonderful people that my kids were becoming—meant everything to me. If the “proof is in the pudding,” my kids were proving that I was a good father — and I pridefully, arrogantly, relished that thought.

So it’s probably no surprise that I began to approach Father’s Day with a lot of restraint after David’s world began its downward spiral. If great kids proved that I was a successful father, David’s lying, stealing, drug abuse, and jail time obviously proved that I was a failure. I couldn’t honestly accept “Happy Father’s Day!” wishes or rejoice over the memories of the past year, knowing that I was a fraud, filled with shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred.

 

MY SON’S MENTAL ILLNESS: ONLY A PART OF HIS LIFE

 

Years later, though, someone challenged me with a question: If I was a failure as a father because of my child’s actions, wasn’t I also saying that my mentally-ill child was a failure as a person because of his actions?

Absolutely not! The illness caused David to do those things. It’s not fair to him to discount his kindness, generosity, and love of life, or all the happy memories he created, just because a part of his life was painful and out of his control.

Then it hit me…

While I applied that truth to my son, I didn’t extend it to myself. In the same way that David wasn’t a failure as a person because an illness caused him to do certain things, I was not a failure as a father because my child—ill or otherwise—did certain things.

At his memorial service, Ann and I shared and honored the deepest essence of our son, the illness-free part of him. Even though we candidly acknowledged his many mistakes and his drug-induced death, we also celebrated the fullness and joy of his life, and rightly so.

In the same way, the deepest essence of being a father—the loving kindness, the patient guidance, the protective provision, the sacrifice, generosity, and love—should be the thing we celebrate and honor on Father’s Day. Sadly, for years I had allowed David’s illness-driven actions to convince me of my failures and to rob me of that celebration.

Thankfully, I’ve come to apply the same grace that I extended to David to myself. Mental illness no longer steals that joy.

If you’re a father whose child acts poorly because of mental illness, take it from someone who’s been there: Their actions don’t diminish your fatherly heart, effort, intent, ability, your worth, your meaning or your value.  Don’t let the disease steal your joy as a father.

Also, if you know of a father who’s struggling to enjoy the third Sunday in June because his ill child isn’t ‘perfect’, encourage him, support him, and honor him for the sacrifice and investment he’s made. You’ll make his Father’s Day something special.


*Republished from MikeandAnn.org June 14, 2017.

Mike Gapinski

Mike Gapinski

Through nearly 38 years of marriage, Mike and Ann have experienced many joys, but also some really hard stuff that has challenged their marriage. Raising six kids, half of whom have a mental health diagnosis, has strengthened their relationship despite times when they really wanted to walk away from each other. Their ministry offers encouragement to couples of special needs kids. They also minister to those with a mental health diagnosis and their families. To find out more go toMikeandAnn.org

You're invited!

You’re Invited to Discover More

Broken Brain

Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness

Virginia Pillars

The terms mental illness and mental health are often used casually, but many don’t believe mental illness is relevant to their lives. Follow one family’s journey through schizophrenia, navigating the uncharted waters of mental illness to find help for their daughter and support for their family. This memoir is an honest look at the stress, anger, education, and finally, hope experienced through eyes of a mother. 

LEARN MORE.

The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd

John Piper

John Piper invites you into the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd to discover how God takes the privilege of faith and strengthens it with trials so that we experience a greater hunger for him. The perseverance of these godly servants exemplifies the essential fruit that affliction can produce in your own life.

Buy from Amazon

FINDING PURPOSE: Rediscovering Meaning in a Life with Chronic Illness

Cindee Snider Re

What if purpose looks different than we believe?

This 10-chapter study invites participants to release cultural and traditional definitions of purpose, and instead, to embrace God's - a timeless definition rooted in His Word and as refreshing as a gentle spring rain.

LEARN MORE.

Buy from Amazon

Mental Illness

Mental Illness

Too often, stigma, isolation, loneliness and shame follow a diagnosis of mental illness. Not here. Here we offer resources for mental health steeped in love and grounded in faith. And here you are among friends, welcome just as you are. 

LEARN MORE.

MENTAL ILLNESS FACTS

Mental Illness I in 5 Adults Experience Mental Illness

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Skip to content