“A few days ago, I stumbled upon an old hard drive with some photos on it. They were categorized by month, and I went down the wormhole of looking at each one, stopping at July of 2016 (and the six months following) when the only photos to be found of my husband were on a park bench or in bed.
That summer was when I found my husband unresponsive on our bedroom floor. His heart had stopped, and we’d soon learn a genetic condition broke it beyond repair. We also discovered that during his drop to the ground, he shattered his spine. So, while broken hearts and broken bones were introduced into our daily dialogue—and I struggled to keep a six-week and two-year-old alive—my husband shifted from family leader to someone who could no longer feed, dress, bathe, or toilet himself.
As I grazed through the photos of these six months, I noticed there weren’t many. And truthfully, no mental images were made either; it’s not really a time I wanted to stick with me. But now, three years later, as we still navigate cardiac disease and transplant lists, these bench and bed photos bring a new perspective to our old situation.
My husband had always been a kind man who cared for his family through acts of service—emptying the diaper bins, hanging frames on the wall, taking our daughter for walks, working—but all of that was finished the moment he flat lined. He couldn’t even drive the children or stay alone with them anymore. Duties that were once his were now solely mine. Six-weeks-since-having-a-baby, mine.
But these images made me realize that even during the middle of his crisis, he showed up for us. Every time I took the kids to the park or the pool, he came too—sitting in a chair, watching over his family. And for the months leading up to being able to walk again, he requested to have his son placed on his chest while he slept.
At the time, I was so deep in the hole of fear and grief and exhaustion all I saw was a father tagging along, bringing much less value to his family than he once did before. But now these photos serve as markers of survival. Visual images of a family who has overcome. How lucky are my children to have a father who put aside his pain to be present? How lucky am I we have lived long enough to retry our love?’
I didn’t have a father who showed up. I had one who abused me and opted out of my life. My husband is the first man I’ve ever called Dad, and he’s earned that title tenfold. He may not be great at pretend play, or remember our son’s allergy medicine, or be able to dress the kids without direction, but he’s an eager student who’s always ready to learn.
And there’s a blessing in that—in a man that tries to do it my way but ends up doing it his. Because our children don’t need another me. They need the balance of a father who keeps it cool when I can’t and listens when I just want to speak. One who doesn’t ever compare or critique, just endlessly accepts. He may not be great at pretend play, but there’s nothing fake about his feelings for us. We will never doubt where we stand with this man—and we will always know he sits with us.
Fathering may not come instinctively to a lot of men, but don’t worry fellas, your ladies will lead you. Likely some of us have wanted to be a mother since dolls and dress-ups were placed in our arms. All that’s required is that you show up—exactly as you are. Children don’t need perfection. They don’t even need pictures hung on a wall. They just need a present parent.
One who sits on a bench with a broken back just to be with them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Hanrahan. Follow Stephanie on Facebook here, Instagram here and visit her website here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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