My Father Cries Like I Do

Father July 2, 2013

Caleb was going to be his name. Joshua was just too common…

And Caleb was the other faithful spy.

They were both warriors for the kingdom of God.

They were both strong.

They were both mighty. But our son was not.

I remember the looks on the faces of the medical staff in our room.

Their faces said someone had just died.

But someone had just been born: our son.

“Something’s wrong,” they said. “We have to do tests,” they said.

I held Caleb briefly without wires and hoses. “Your son has Downs syndrome,” they said. “Your son has a hole in his heart” they said. I, being stupid, couldn’t decide which was worse.

I, being more stupid, actually wrestled with the idea of whether to grant my weak son such a strong name.

I screamed at God twice that month.

After the first time, Caleb came home, prepared to be connected to a giant tank of oxygenic grace to grant him the strength to survive until surgery.

His tiny, defective heart did not have the strength or structure to do the job on its own.

In the house he was connected. On the road to the doctor’s office he was connected.

Oxygen, Mom and Dad were his constant reality.

He was home 13 days until it was clear that his surgery had to be sooner, not later. I researched everything I could to find out how to be a good father to a son whose needs were desperate.

I became “proud papa of Caleb.” 
I was encouraged by practical people. I was encouraged by prayerful people.

We have pictures of his first day home. We bathed him. I held him with his head elevated, asleep on my chest.

My father was reluctant to hold him, lest he tax Caleb’s weak constitution.

We would hold on until his surgery brought him the strength for new challenges.

He was home 13 days before he took a turn for the worse.

In seven days all would be well. The doctor said it. 
The nurses said it. 
Our prayer partners said it.

So we knew it to be true.

During those seven days the nurses gave us an unintentional blessing.

During those seven days God gave us an intentional blessing.

The nurses were understaffed. Caleb had a private room.

The nurses encouraged us to stay with him so that he would have the care he needed.

God encouraged us to stay so we would have the level of care we needed.

We traded off. Mom was there. Dad was there. Mom and Dad were both there. Grandparents and aunts and friends came to visit. 

Surgery day came, and we were told how well he had done.

We were told to go home and rest. We went home and saw a stupid movie about angels. We actually slept together for the first time in a week.

We returned to the hospital. 
The nurses told us how well he had done. 
The doctors told us how well he had done. 
I went to work and emailed all my prayer partners with the good news.

Then… a call at work. Caleb is crashing. Get here now.

They had taken out his little heart to repair it. His heart muscle quit firing.

They were taking his little heart out to massage it back to life.

Now they were sewing up his little body to let us spend our last moments with his lifeless form.

I held him again without wires and hoses.

I have never cried like that. I pray that no one cries like that.

My father held him for the first time. (No weak constitution to tax.) I learned…my father cries like I do.

As I drove solo on an errand in preparation for Caleb’s funeral, I screamed at God again.

I cranked up the music as loud as it went, and I screamed out my frustration and loss. I screamed, wanting to know, “How could You do that?” He told me, “Your father cries like you do.”

I wasn’t even a sparkle in my father’s eye when he laid my sister to rest. If I had seen him then, I would have known that my father cries like I do.

My Father in heaven lost a Child. I had mine for 28 days.

He had His for an eternity, suddenly broken after 33 years. His Son didn’t die of a congenital weakness.

He died for our congenital weakness. He died with the screams of His tormentors asking, “How could you do that?” He died asking His Father, “If You can avoid it, and please don’t do this.” He died knowing that His Father cries like I do.

I live, God, knowing that You cry just like I do.

This article originally appeared in the Adventist Review magazine in 2011.