By Jen Rice
My husband is the best father I know. Together we have five children: four sons, ages 22, 16, 10 and one daughter, age 9. My husband has schizophrenia.
Our children have watched him struggle; they know everything they want to about the illness he lives with. In our family, this is not a shameful secret to be kept hidden and denied but a fact. To our children it's a fact that doesn't matter as much as far more important facts. What matters to our kids is that their father is never too busy to spend time with them. If he's running an errand his first question is, “Who wants to come with me?” He has the patience to teach them anything they want to learn: how to pound a nail; how to garden; how to draw. Last week he spent hours helping our 10-year-old son learn to say the alphabet backwards just because he wanted to be able to do it.
In their father, my kids have unconditional love, and unconditional acceptance. When he sees them, his eyes light up—what a gift he's giving them! I love that they are growing up with a father who shows them how happy they make him every single time he looks at them. Not because of something they've done, but just because of who they are.
I know that my husband fights what seems like an unbeatable fight nearly every day of his life, but through this he gives another gift, a monumental gift. He gives them the gift of being their father first and last. They don't know how much he struggles and suffers. What they know is that their father loves them. That he can beat up all the bad guys, that he will always keep them safe. They know he tells the best bedtime stories, brings them treats that mom wouldn't, and that our family isn't whole until he comes home from work at night.
My husband is the best father I know and I never doubt it. I live with the proof every day. But since you don't have the privilege of knowing him I have two last things to add. First, I know that he counts all the battles and pain of living with his illness a small price to pay compared with having his children and being the best father he can be. Second, if our kids could change one thing about their father I don't think schizophrenia is what would come to mind; I'm sure they would demand that he stop his horrible dancing.