Diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a child, Vince S. spent much of his childhood in the hospital and recovering from surgery. He never dreamed he would get the chance to be a father, but despite his challenges, is raising two beautiful daughters. This is his story of overcoming the odds to become a father.
Had anyone ever told me while I was growing up that one day I’d be happily married for 18 years, and have two healthy daughters, I’d likely have looked at them like they were crazy. Not because I didn’t think I deserve that much happiness, but rather because it seemed so unlikely for the hand I’d been dealt growing up. I was a boy who’d been diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was just 2 years old. An only child, my early childhood years were spent facing multiple surgeries, 6 months in a full length body cast, not being sure if I’d ever get out of a wheelchair, and trying a variety of medications that oftentimes did more harm than good. By the time that magical moment when my wife, Wendy, said “I do!” in November 2001, I’d already had over 30 surgeries, including total replacements of my knees, hips, and jaw joints. Finding Wendy was truly an answered prayer, because she loved and accepted me for the man I’d grown to be, in spite of all the physical challenges that I’d overcome, and would likely face in the future.
The Early Years of Marriage
Our first few years of marriage were filled with one milestone moment after another. I had been working for a company since 1994, and kept doing so while she finished school and became a teacher. We eventually moved into our first home and even though my health led me to go on permanent federal disability in the Fall of 2005, we were still very happy. My new role as house husband, or “domestic engineer” kept me very busy, and we saw our other married friends all start having kids. Seeing their families grow year by year was such a satisfying feeling for both of us, but more importantly, seeing how great Wendy was with our friends’ babies was eye opening for me.
Truth be told, having not had a true childhood myself, spending most of my youth in hospitals, or recovering at home, I didn’t really know how to be around other kids. I was usually surrounded by doctors, nurses, or my parents’ friends. Whenever babies or small kids were around, I felt awkward and nervous. For me, finding a wife-someone to grow old with as we journeyed through life together- was all I ever thought I needed or wanted. However, seeing my precious Wendy holding my baby nephew, and how she cared for and nurtured our friends’ beautiful children, made it crystal clear to me that if any woman was meant to be a mom, it was my wife. It was so obvious to me and everyone around us that she was a natural parent.
Overcoming the Odds and Starting a Family
We began actively trying to start a family around 2005, but we quickly learned that what seemingly looked pretty effortless for many our friends, wasn’t going to be so for us. Between periodic surgeries and time for me to recover from them, and busy schedules and different medications I needed to cease, it took us over 3 years until we finally woke on the 4th of July, 2008 to a “positive” pregnancy test! People joked at how ironic it was that we’d lost our independence on Independence Day. Wendy was glowing. My dad couldn’t stop smiling that morning when we drove over and shared our news with my folks. Wendy’s mom was speechless. All of our friends could not have been any happier. It’s funny, how news of new life just warms people’s hearts and gives them reason to smile.
A Rollercoaster of Emotions and Fears
That moment when we knew we were going to be parents sent me on a rollercoaster of emotions. I was thrilled, shocked, grateful, and scared. As the months passed I admitted to my closest friends and of course Wendy that I was feeling a lot of regret and guilt, despite overcoming the odds. Our baby girl wasn’t even born yet, and already my mind envisioned a 5-year old going to school and making friends with other kids who would tell her about all the great fun they were having with their dads who could run, rock climb, and water ski with them. My heart ached imagining my girl having to tell her friends that her dad couldn’t do any of those fun things. Wendy listened to all these torturous fears that I’d shared, and set me straight. She pointed out that our daughter would one day be able to tell her classmates that her dad is always there for her, and that her dad is an example of how to overcome whatever tough challenges life might throw at her. As always, Wendy was right.
My own dad passed away almost 3 years ago, so Father’s Day is bittersweet. While I miss him dearly, I’m abundantly thankful that he showed me every day what it looks like to be a loving father who will do whatever it takes to make sure his family is fine. I am truly so grateful that on very early mornings in February 2009 and October 2011, Joy and Hope were born into this world, and my life has been positively improved every day since. Moments when your daughter falls asleep on your shoulder as a baby, to when she snuggles up to me on the couch while we watch the Astros pull out another victory are priceless. Wendy and I love Sunday afternoons when we all cook together in the kitchen, allowing our girls to participate in the process of making some of our meals for the coming week.
My Roles as a Father
Being a stay-at-home dad/husband has its share of challenges, but it’s so incredibly satisfying. It allows me the freedom and flexibility to get a lot done while Wendy and the girls are at school. During the school year, I have invaluable, precious time to make sure dinner is ready when everyone gets home, to help my mom with shopping or go enjoy lunch together, to assist people on their faith journey as a spiritual director, and to invest quality energy with my writing and blogging. However, once my girls walk through the door, my favorite role as dad takes over. Whether its hearing about their events that day, helping with homework, serving up a snack, or just taking in one of their spontaneous dance routines or off broadway skits, it’s a grateful honor. This Father’s Day marks my first decade as a dad, and I’m actually thrilled to know I’m doing my best. When my girls see some of the physical struggles that I deal with daily, they are both quick to encourage me with a line from our current favorite movie, Avengers: Endgame, and with a smile that melts my heart they say, “Hey Dad, whatever it takes.” Here’s to many more decades!
Great article, Vincent. I hope your girls appreciate all that you endured and all that you have learned on your way to becoming the First Man in their lives.
Fatherhood is about more than rock-climbing and water skiing. It is about giving your girls everything they need to be happy kids and to become successful adults. And from what I can tell, you’re hitting it out of the park.