When I married my husband, I don’t think I truly grasped how divinely fortunate I was until we became parents and he became the father of our children.
I know now that I definitely lucked out in marrying him.
I was a young, wide-eyed 19-year-old when he spotted me from across the room in the fledgling church plant of which we were a part. After a few conversations and some coffee friend dates together, he thought he might have found the one. I wasn’t so sure, but I gave him a chance… seven months later, we were married and as they say, the rest is history.
Yes, our marriage has been blessed by many happy and special moments, yet our marriage has gone through some terribly trying, hard, and heart-wrenching years. When we found out our firstborn son was diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, our marriage was truly put to the test.
In the seven years that Zeke was on the earth with us, we were always on high alert with Zeke’s health. Moments after I gave birth, he was rushed to the NICU and put on life support. At a week old, he had his first open-heart surgery, followed by many other surgeries and months of hospital stays. We had many desperate times when we were on the verge of losing Zeke and times when the doctors gave us no hope for Zeke’s survival and healing. Needless to say, as young parents, we were completely stressed out and desperate.
Yet James rose to the occasion of being the best dad to Zeke I could ever ask for. It seemed to come so naturally to him, despite how hard the situation we were in. During every hospital stay, it was James who stayed by Zeke’s bedside every night when I was recovering from childbirth or had to take care of our other little ones at home. It was James who advocated for Zeke anytime the doctors did not have Zeke’s best interest in mind. And it was James who saved Zeke’s life-literally-when Zeke went into cardiac arrest at the age of five. On call with 911, James performed CPR on him before the paramedics were able to make it to them. James brought Zeke back to life. Without James, Zeke would never have made it on many occasions.
When Zeke wasn’t at the hospital, James would make sure he had the best, normal childhood we could give him. Not knowing when Zeke’s last day on earth would be, James made every effort to be Zeke’s best friend and take him everywhere he went. Zeke was his little shadow. They were best buddies who did everything together – fishing, hunting, road tripping, going to church, or just relaxing outside under the stars. Even some people at church thought it was a little weird that James would take Zeke to men’s bible studies. But it paid off – Zeke responded to an altar call on a fateful evening at a men’s conference at church, just a few months before he went into cardiac arrest and suffered a severe brain injury.
James made sure to teach Zeke the more important things in life too – like learning how to do bigfoot calls, rapping to 90’s hiphop, and making Yo Momma jokes. Yes, Zeke took after his dad – two jokesters who did anything for a good laugh! Even after Zeke’s brain injury and he lost the ability to talk, he’d laugh anytime we told him a funny joke. It was one of the ways we knew Zeke was still the same Zeke inside, even when he couldn’t communicate with words.
James learned how to be an incredible dad from his own dad. In James’ book, My Darkest Hour, which tells the story of his experience with raising Zeke through all the trials, he shares the amazing testimony of how his dad demonstrated sacrificial love to him and his brother. He recounts:
“When I was a little boy, about a year or two old, my mother took me and my brother away from my dad. I heard she decided she didn’t want to be with him anymore but she wanted to keep the kids. As far as I understand the story, my dad negotiated a trade for all his possessions and every penny in his bank account in exchange for his two children. My dad gave up everything for us. He started his life all over again just for me and my brother. He was willing to forsake everything for us. The saddest part is that my mom accepted the trade. From what I’ve heard, she took all the material goods and gave us back to my dad. My dad started his life all over again with nothing- no money and no place to go. Yet in his own eyes, he had everything in the world – us.
My dad is a real life hero. I’m sure my mom has lived to regret it all now, but I don’t really know for sure. I never saw her again.”
In a fatherless generation, James’ dad modeled to him what true fatherhood looked like. And James is following in his footsteps by doing his best to model that to our children now.
I know fatherhood is not always easy. Sometimes it brings the most painful experiences we’ll ever go through. On the morning Zeke passed away, it was James who found his lifeless body in his bed, his spirit having left the earth hours earlier. His heart had arrested for the second time and this time, he entered through the gates of heaven for good. James buried his son and said goodbye to the best friend he had for seven years. I know James never regretted a moment he spent with Zeke. All those sleepless nights, all those prayers of desperation, all those good times and bad times – I know James would do it all over again for Zeke.
In a world where fathers are seen as disposable, incompetent, and absent, I am here to say that fathers are absolutely, positively necessary. It is a lie that our society tells us that fathers can be swapped out or disregarded altogether. It is a lie that mothers can raise their children by themselves without any manly assistance from the dads. It is a lie that children will do just as well with or without their daddies.
Children need their fathers, just as they need their mothers. I have seen it in my own family. A godly, faithful, loving husband and father makes the world of difference. There is no substitute. If we want to raise the next generation of godly children, we must elevate and honor fatherhood as the indispensable role that it is.
Thank you, James, for being the exemplary father to our children! I am truly blessed to be your wife and be the mother of your children.
And thank you to all the fathers out there who love and give so selflessly to their families. You are needed, you are appreciated, and you are loved. You are the bedrock of our family. We could not make it without you!
And ladies, remember: the man you marry or the man you sleep with will become the father of your future children. So please choose well for the sake of your kids!
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