Deacon Paul and Helen McBlain write the Marriage Matters column for CatholicPhilly.com. Members of St. Joseph Parish in Collingdale, they have been married more than 50 years and have seven children and 21 grandchildren.

She says: 

Julia says: My husband, Conrad, was someone I immediately connected with when we were in college. I got to know him fairly well and married him after we graduated, knowing he had poor coping skills. He is a chemist, so he works in a lab and he really does not have to interact with many people. He works with his elements and paperwork. His job is secure, so he does not have to fight to get funding for the research he does. His inability to cope had always been recognized by me, but until recently, this had not been problematic in our relationship.

Recently, we gave birth to our first child who has moderate birth issues. Our son has special needs and at times his behaviors are difficult (crying, being fussy) for us, as they require a tremendous amount of patience and bearing with a baby who will need several operations. Once our son has the required operations, he will need physical therapy and should have his birth defect reversed … but this will take much time and patience on our part.  Conrad has not adjusted to all the “extra” care required.

While I try to focus on the future — having a son who can walk normally — Conrad seems mired in our son’s present crying and seemingly interminable pediatric visits. Conrad has become despondent and interacts less with the baby. Even holding our son is something Conrad avoids. Conrad spends more and more time alone either reading or watching TV. His withdrawal has been considerable. This is a time in my life when I need his participation and input as well as his verbal support.

He says:

Conrad says:  I was very upset that our son was born with a birth defect. I wanted him to be whole. The prospect that it will require at least two surgeries and several years of physical therapy for our son to be close to “normal” depresses me. It is not fair that a small baby should have to go through all of this pain. At times when he cries and cries, I feel so inadequate to stop his pain.

I cannot handle his crying, and often times I will not touch him because I do not want to hurt him, and besides, I do not seem to be able to comfort him like Julia can. When his defect is corrected, I think I will be able to better interact with him as a father. I look forward to being able to go outside with him and throw a ball or play with him.

Meanwhile, I believe Julia should handle the nurturing and the holding and the comforting. At that point, I will give Julia a break and spend more time with our young son.

What do they do?

Conrad clearly seeks avoidance of a situation which both he and Julia must face. Through no fault of his own or his parents, but due to a birth process gone wrong, their son has a special need. In God’s eyes, this child is unique and “perfect” just as he is at this point in time. In Conrad’s attempt to push the burden of handling their son’s needs on to Julia because he is uncomfortable handling the situation, Conrad is being selfish and unconcerned with his wife’s needs. Does Conrad think Julia is happy and comfortable dealing with their baby’s frequent crying and fussing?

“For better or for worse” does happen in a marriage (“We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?” Job 2:10).

Fortunately, we live in a society that has physicians and procedures that can assist this baby to walk and “be normal.” Meanwhile, the baby needs a mother and a father’s involvement. If Conrad does not attach to the baby and be involved in his life, he will lose some important bonding time with his son. More so, if Conrad’s poor coping skills prevent him from caring for his son, who knows what future problems Conrad will ignore or avoid, causing Julia to bear the total burden?

Conrad needs to work on improving his coping skills now and to participate in some way with the care of their son. It is time for Conrad to “grow up” and face the cards dealt to him in life. Even though Julia knew Conrad’s coping skills were not really strong when they married, she still deserves to have him involved in his son’s life.

This child, thanks to our medical teams, will probably overcome his birth defect.  This child needs his dad be there when he wakes up from his operations and to be involved with the physical therapy. Having Dad arrive on the scene suddenly when the child is 4 or 5 is not the same as having Dad there from day one. “Entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3).