Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; (Matthew 1:18-24 NRSV)
It’s hard to find much in the Bible about Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. He’s sort of the unsung hero, missing entirely from Mark, mentioned in passing twice in John and only a bit more often in Luke. His star shines the brightest in Matthew with the story of his dream about Mary’s pregnancy, and later a story about another dream to flee to Egypt for the safety of his family. I’ve heard it said that Joseph could be missing from a nativity set entirely and it would be just fine. You have to have Jesus. You have to have Mary. But Joseph… I think it must have been hard to be Jesus’ earthly father. Where does a father fit in with a child like that?
I see parallels with many special needs fathers I know. Where does the father fit? I think they are often the unsung heroes in the midst of special needs. A friend of mine who is an occupational therapist says he encounters fathers at school IEPs and the dads are often omitted from the conversation. He started wondering what the dads had to say and began a gathering for special needs dads. Turns out they have plenty to say, but the system the way it stands does not give them a voice in the process. There is a strong bias toward the mom. I know an amazing stay at home dad who has four children, one of whom has a history of extreme health issues as well as autism. He is the one scheduling therapies, doing medical interventions as needed and doing the day to day running of the house. Yet, in the special needs world, he also wonders where the father fits. When trying to get medical information from a nurse he was told the nurse was only willing to talk to his wife. That has happened many times. While trying to attend play groups with his children he is constantly asked, “Are you babysitting today?” Again, where does the father fit?
Looking back at my early journey with our son with Asperger’s, I am so grateful for what an amazing father my husband was, and is still, to our son. We brought different skills to the table. When I decided to leave work in order to meet Craig’s needs, I was the one running the after school therapy schedule and helping with homework. I was wiped out by the end of the day, especially in the summer months. Mark would get home, offer a perky toot of the car horn from the driveway signaling Craig to come steer the car into the garage from his father’s lap. After dinner they were off to the community pool, where Mark was the “cool dad”, happily launching child after child into a barrage of mid-pool cannonballs. And let us not forget the super-soaker wars the summers of the early 2000s. Epic! He’d had a long day too, but he craved time with Craig. I brought structure, he brought fun. I prepared the meals, he provided a paycheck to pay for them. When I thought there is no way to get this child to go to sleep, he had the magic formula that worked every time.
Mark is a great father, but not one who wants a fuss made about it. For Mother’s Day I am typically combing reviews for the latest place for brunch and making reservations weeks in advance. I can easily rattle off a short list of items I might enjoy as a gift if he asks. For Father’s Day, my husband prefers ribs at Chili’s. Finding the “just right” gift? That’s a challenge! Of course, he has no list of suggestion, even when threatened with receiving a shirt. Father’s Day is very quiet and simple, per his preferences.
Maybe Joseph set the mold by parenting without accolades, yet offering loving dedication to mother and child, fierce protection of family and great faith. Perhaps men like that don’t want an over-the-top celebration once a year. It’s not their style. Perhaps regular appreciation to match their tireless dedication is the key to celebrating these unsung heroes who fit into our lives and hearts beautifully.
Prayer: Loving God, I thank you for fathers who lead by example, love without measure, and do their best to be the fathers you have called them to be. Amen.