For the most part, I do not like the way fathers are depicted in society and in entertainment. We are often treated as bumbling fools, absent from a child’s life, or, worse, abusive. It adds to an already fragile view of fatherhood in society that sees fathers as unimportant in the life of the child, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Perhaps my favorite depiction of a father is that of Randall from “This is Us.” Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown, tries to be a good father while being active in his career. He makes mistakes in raising his three children and learns from them. He tries to be a good husband. Yet, he has his own struggles in life with his anxiety.
That is a side of fatherhood we do not often see, and it is appreciated, especially as I have struggled with balancing being a pastor, advocate, and dad with a special needs child. I’m not a perfect husband, father, advocate, or pastor, but I try to be better today than I was yesterday.
There are days I find it difficult being a pastor and raising a special needs child. I’m always aware of where my son is and how people are interacting with him (or not interacting, as the case may often be). I see glances from the pulpit that my wife doesn’t always see, because she is wrestling him in the back. It is hard to preach a message of love and grace when you are looking at people who don’t always make an effort to interact with your child.
When people do want to engage and want to do things that would enhance his life at the church, I begin to wonder “how will this affect other kids in the church if this takes place?” The reason I think this is because I often get the messages, both heard and unheard, of “we can’t do things that take away from other kids.” So this adds more pressure as we navigate the already tenuous balancing act towards inclusion.
Also, as a pastor, I get jealous of other parents. I think I can admit that. I don’t get a lot of say in where we serve, live, or what school our children attend. Sure, I put our limitations and needs in my annual appointment review, but it is a stressful reality to place my son’s needs in the hands of others who are not directly involved in his care. The reality means I must trust that the school will have a quality special education program and that there are adequate therapy centers in close proximity. When that hasn’t happened, it adds additional stress and tension both at home and in my relationship with the community I have been called to serve.
On the other hand, I feel guilty for being adamant about where I can and cannot go because of our son’s needs. I am called to go wherever my bishop sends me and that is part of my covenant that I maintain with my ordination. How can I maintain that covenant if I’m saying, “I’m sorry, but do not put me in places that can harm my child.”? It is a very difficult walk.
As is when churches have been abusive towards our son. I have left a church because of its lack of acceptance of Noah. I make no bones about that, even if it may be hard to hear. Yet, when I left, I never told them, “I cannot serve here when I’ve been told you don’t want people like my son here.” Is that right of me? I’m not sure. It keeps the peace, and sometimes that is important when leaving. I’m not sure, though, if it helps the church deal with its lack of acceptance of people who are on the margins.
I also recognize I am a pastor when I go into Individual Education Plan meetings. These meetings are geared to help the school system accommodate the needs of students who have specific requirements to receive a quality education. When I enter these meetings, I am fully aware that I am not my son’s dad in those conversations. I am “Rev. Shannon Blosser, who happens to be Noah’s dad.” Being a pastor has meant that, at times, our concerns are taken more seriously, which helps to provide better access and understanding across the board. It has also meant that I have to be careful with my words in the meeting, so as not to damage my relationship with others in the community. When I do have to be firm or direct with an official, I worry about if there will be consequences that impact my connection to the community or the church. Again, that weighs on me.
My most important role is that of a dad. I love that Noah says, “Let’s Go Mountaineers” on command. I love that he likes to mimic weird noises I make in an attempt to make him laugh. But I struggle at times that there are days when we have no connection because it is hard for him to connect. I struggle with how he will get physical towards me in meltdowns, and the pain it produces (physically and emotionally).
I’m not a perfect special needs dad. I’m not a perfect pastor.
I’m just a dad, who happens to be a pastor and an advocate. A dad who tries to do better each day, but one who wears a lot of hats and stress because of the challenges we face as a family.