Father Learns, To Love Is To Let Go

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Curtis Ward is a dedicated dad -- and you can hear it in the memories his eight children will treasure this Father's Day.

Kady, 13, likes that her dad taught her to play basketball. Abby, 5, said she enjoys running errands with him. Andrew, 3, looks forward to the hugs.

But it's not the activity that's important to Ward, it's the time he gets to spend with each of his children, particularly his youngest child, Cassandra.

"We're like stewards," Ward said. "Our children are not our own. They're for our training, to see how well we can do to give them a good start in life."

Cassandra was born with a rare disorder called Trisomy 18, which is similar, but more severe than Down syndrome. Only one in 20 babies with the disease are born alive. Of those born alive, only one in 10 live to be a year old.

As a result of Cassandra's condition, her body has difficulty distributing oxygen and digesting food, and she has two holes in her heart.

Ward and his wife Wendy learned of Cassandra's disease just five days after her birth. It was a heartwrenching and humbling experience for the both of them.

"At first you want to protect your child, and when you know you're going to lose them, the father is helpless," Ward said. "It goes against what it means to be a father, the protective role of the father."

Ward said before Cassandra, now 21 months, was born he was overprotective of his children. But he knows that Cassandra's health is out of his hands, and so he does his best to take care of her while he can.

"I don't worry too much (about Cassandra's health) because she's in the Lord's hands," Ward said. "I enjoy my time with her whenever I can."

Cassandra's condition has also taught Ward that he can't protect his children from everything.

"I don't feel that I need to have so much control on what they're doing, (and) to let them be a little freer," he said.

Instead he chooses to focus on teaching his children the lessons that matter most to him, like perseverance.

Before Cassandra's birth, Ward said he was afraid of disabled children, but now he knows that they are here to create just as much love as any other child. In some ways Ward sees Cassandra as having a more valiant spirit than other children because she has much greater obstacles to overcome.

"She chose us, so we chose her," Ward said.

Cassandra's birth hasn't distracted Ward from his other children. If anything the experience enhanced his relationship with them. Ward said he's become more involved in his children's lives by making breakfast and getting them ready for school every day, and nurturing them and attending activities when Wendy is unavailable.

"Most guys might find it demeaning to have to take on some of the simpler household tasks, but he just took it on naturally," Wendy said. "He's not taking (his expanded role) as a negative, he's taking it as a positive," she said.

Wendy said she could tell early on that Ward would be a good father because of the way he treated children.

When they lived in an apartment early in their marriage, Wendy watched him reach out to children in the complex who didn't have father figures in their lives.

"I believe each (child) has unlimited possibilities," Ward said. And because they're in their formative years, he wants to help them get a good start in life.

His advice to other fathers: don't take your children's love for granted because if you don't invest in them, they won't take the time to invest in you.

"I don't suggest anyone try to be a father unless they have some spiritual support," Ward said.

"Naturally we (men) tend to think of ourselves a lot and we wouldn't enjoy being a father unless we change."

Even with all his experience, Ward knows he doesn't have all the answers.

"I continue to learn all the time, "he said.

He just knows that he'll get out of fatherhood exactly what he puts into it. And so he puts in everything he has.

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