That’s how passionate a fan I am of University of Tennessee athletics, especially football. Take a quick look around my office at the décor and you will quickly come to that conclusion for yourself.
As a boy growing up, my fondest memories are centered on trips my dad and I made together to Knoxville to watch the Tennessee Vols play football.
We had our game day rituals, and routine. Lunch would be at my dad’s favorite BBQ place along the way. We would arrive early to catch a little of the radio pre-game show on the hill before kick-off. We wore our radio headphones so we could listen along to the broadcast by the legendary voice of the Volunteers, John Ward.
I sang along to “Rocky Top” the official fight song at the top of my lungs when the band fired up the song. When my dad booed the referees, I booed the referees.
I cherished every minute of those experiences. The minute one game ended, I began to eagerly anticipate the next one.
I bought my own son his first Tennessee jersey before he was actually born. I begged and cajoled my wife into letting me decorate his room with some of my University of Tennessee memorabilia.
All of my dreams, all of my visions, all of my plans as a parent for my own son- they all centered on continuing our family traditions. I would imagine taking my son with me to games, just like my dad had done so with me.
I wanted to share those experiences, and create those same memories with my son.
Then I was abruptly introduced to cerebral palsy and autism.
And those dreams had to die and I was wrecked.
My definition of the perfect day had been going to a game together with my son, eating BBQ, singing “Rocky Top” and watching our beloved Vols, win or lose.
That was the perfect day.
My son’s cerebral palsy has left him severely mobility impaired and cognitively challenged. His autism means that loud noises or large crowds overload and overwhelm his senses.
We lack the ability to attend games together, or even watch the games together on television. His autism and intellectual impairment have robbed us of even watching games together from the comfort of our own living room.
One of the biggest games of the year for fans of the University of Tennessee is when we play the Florida Gators. It’s an intense rivalry that brings out strong emotions on both sides.
Before the game this year, I had been pointing and looking ahead to the game for weeks. My friends and I analyzed it, discussed it, and obsessed over it for days. I cleared my calendar for that Saturday so that I could watch the game on my big screen TV and pretend I was there. My wife was going to take care of our son and give me the gift of three uninterrupted hours of pleasure.
Then the phone rang.
One of her best friends from out-of-town, who she rarely gets to see, was going to be in town that day and wanted to go have lunch with her.
In the middle of my beloved Tennessee verses Florida game.
My choice was actually quite easy. My wife lays her life down every day in giving 24/7 care to my son with special-needs. She rarely gets any kind of reprieve. She needed this lunch.
So I spend the time during the game wholly and completely engaged with my son instead. I fed him his lunch and then I moved him to the couch. For the next two hours we played together. I sang over him, I scratched his back, I hugged him ferociously, and we just hung out. He is non-verbal so I did all the talking. We played on a couple of musical toys he enjoys.
I thought for a second about the football game.
But only for a second…
If you want to determine the depth of a father’s strength, you must measure the depth of his heart for his child.
It’s not what you do with your children as a special-needs dad. What matters most is that you are fully engaged, fully involved, and fully committed to your children.
My strength is most magnified by my surrender.
My toughness is displayed through my tenderness.
My significance is measured by my selflessness.
My success is determined by my sacrifice.
At one point, with my arm over his shoulders, my son closed his eyes and took a brief nap in my arms.
I sat on the couch with my heart full. I listened to my son’s breathing as he slept in my arms.
I realized I had been wrong all those years before.
This was the perfect day.
Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
Are you being intentional in your efforts as a dad to be wholly engaged and fully involved with your children?
By Jeff Davidson
Husband to Becky
Father of one
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
Rising Above Ministries
Author of No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches