The truth is, sometimes life feels a lot more like a savage game of chance than a carefully curated course. Sometimes you get a life you never would have chosen.
What do you do when life gives you the unexpected?
My husband and I married in 1991 and, like most young people, we thought we had this “life” thing figured out. We would build a strong family together, be successful in business, make an impact on our community, and live the American dream. It was going to be fantastic! If we were lucky, one of our kids might even be a doctor or an astronaut!
After a traumatic miscarriage we finally gave birth to a beautiful son.
Before long it became apparent that our son was not the typical infant we had expected. As the story unfolded we eventually came to realize that Jon Alex would never be the high-achieving child we had imagined in our dreams—in fact, he would have profound disabilities and would need total care all his life.
That possibility was not included in our life plan.
My husband, Jeff, had the hardest time adjusting his expectations to fit this new reality. He had no idea how to relate to a child with special needs so he distracted himself with work and other duties. He hid to avoid dealing with his overwhelming disappointment. It was rough on all of us. I think that this is the case for a lot of men. They don’t know what to do, so they hide. Fortunately, over time, Jeff began to change. He learned how to connect to Jon Alex in a meaningful way.
He learned more and more about how to navigate life as a special-needs dad.
In fact, he got really good at it, and together we decided to help other people who were learning to deal with life as a special needs family. We wanted to create a safe and welcoming space for people like us who are so often marginalized by society. In 2005 we began a ministry called Rising Above. Eventually, Jeff gave up a successful career to lead this work and now it is a thriving national resource for the special-needs community.
While serving special needs families, it quickly became apparent to Jeff that dads are the ones who struggle most to adapt and adjust to a special-needs diagnosis. He knew from his own experience what the pitfalls were and he was overwhelmed with a desire to help dads find their way on this journey. Ultimately, he wanted to write a book that was a useful “how to” manual for these dads. He wanted to give them practical advice and tried-and-true guidance for this difficult path. He started in earnest to organize and compile his thoughts. He did a book proposal to pitch the idea, and landed a book deal with Kregel Publishing—it was a dream come true.
But, in another heartbreaking twist of fate, Jeff passed away unexpectedly in May of 2017, leaving his legacy work unfinished.
It has been my great privilege and honor this year to shepherd his book to completion. I can’t tell you what it means to complete this project! Obviously, I am thrilled that my husband’s legacy will live on, but more importantly, I truly believe this book has a powerful message that can change the survival rate for special-needs families.
One of the things I appreciate most about Jeff was that he became a man who was willing to share the gritty unguarded truth about life. He started out as a person who cared a lot about appearance and image, but the humbling journey he embraced changed him into an advocate for the “least of these.” He allowed his disappointment to become his joy. He rewrote his own story and it is powerful.
In his new book Common Man, Extraordinary Call, (affiliate link) Jeff talks about his early years as a special-needs dad and the difficulty he had accepting a life he did not anticipate. He speaks with honesty about his lack and how hard it was for him to connect with Jon Alex. He shares the pitfalls men can expect and the warning signs that a dad is going AWOL or abandoning his post as leader. He is an authentic voice for men who are struggling to get their arms around the assignment of being a father to a disabled child.
Jeff addresses the challenge of becoming a special-needs dad by comparing it to becoming a soldier. He walks men through basic training and gives detailed, specific and practical instruction on how a man can: protect and defend, provide for, strengthen, and equip his family. He also warns of seven common landmines that pose a threat for most fathers, and he helps you prepare for “civilian assault” or the attacks special needs families often encounter from people who do not understand their struggle.
He also coaches men on building a strategic band of brothers who will support them on the journey. It was Jeff’s deep conviction that men must band together and be there for each other in order to survive this challenging assignment. He gives men useful strategies and encouragement on how to do this. He also helps them see the importance of these vital connections. This is a particularly significant contribution in light of the fact that so many marriages fail after receiving a special-needs diagnosis. Jeff believed that a strong bond of male friendship could help men adjust more quickly to a diagnosis, ease marital strain by providing balance, and allow for much needed accountability if men truly commit to these friendships.
Common Man, Extraordinary Call is full of personal stories and vulnerable confessions about his own mistakes and failures. Jeff shares from his heart and calls men up to a higher standard. He gives them practical examples of how to handle real-life scenarios by employing the SMEAC tool. Overall, he provides men with a useful field guide on how to survive the unexpected complications of being the father of a child with special needs.
Men, Jeff knew how hard it was to do this life, but he learned how and it was the making of him! He compiled years of experience, mistakes, and lessons learned into an inspiring, practical tool that can help you! You have what it takes—but we can all use some practical authentic help and encouragement to navigate the rough spots.
If you want to be encouraged and inspired to walk this path in a stronger, better way, then read Common Man, Extraordinary Call.
It was Jeff’s dream to give you this book, and you won’t regret taking the time to read it.
His personal tagline for life was Chosen, Called, Committed—he lived it every day.
Let him inspire you to do the same!