The dadcraft Life: Tim Ellsworth
Let’s start simple: Tell us about your family.
My wife Sarah and I have been married for almost 20 years. We have three kids (Daniel is 13, Emmalee is 10, and Noah is 8), two dogs and two cats. We homeschool our kids, although they do go to a local tutorial program two mornings a week. We’re very involved in our church, Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson, Tennessee, and much of our life revolves around our church family.
The last few years for your family have been marked by Noah’s battle with leukemia. How has that process shaped you?
That’s a difficult question to answer, because our dance with leukemia over the past three years has been such an all-encompassing and all-consuming one that it’s not easy to separate myself from it and analyze its influence. It also brings to the surface feelings and emotions that are still raw (and that will probably forever be raw). But I’ll try.
In general terms, I think our battle with leukemia has made me more sympathetic for and empathetic with others who are facing difficult illnesses — kids and adults alike. It’s one thing to see a child without any hair and feel sad for what he or she is going through. It’s another to see your son take chemo for almost three years (though he never lost his hair completely) and know intimately what it’s like for those walking through similar circumstances. I know how difficult it is for parents whose children have major health problems, and I’m more understanding of their plight than I used to be.
It’s made me more grateful for the small things in life. When people would do nice things for us, or for Noah specifically, in an effort to brighten his mood, those gestures meant more than I can put into words.
It made me love the church more. I can’t even begin to describe how awesome our church is. When I think of all the ways they’ve ministered to us over the past three years, I am utterly overwhelmed. I’m sitting here even now with tears in my eyes as I write this just thinking about how thoroughly our church family has loved us. I mean, check out what greeted us at 5:45 a.m. as we left for Noah’s last day of treatment. That’s just a small sampling of what we experienced from our church over a three-year period. I could probably write a book about it.
Wow … thanks for your candor. Continuing in that vein, how have the last few years affected your role as a dad?
As a dad, specifically, I can think of a few ways that the last three years have shaped me:
I think leukemia made me realize afresh how precious my children are, and how much I want to take advantage of the time God has allowed me to have with them. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. It’s easy as dads to be consumed by issues other than our children, but I hope I’ve learned how to prioritize better.
I’ve learned better how to celebrate. With the challenges we’ve been through, we made it a point to celebrate milestones and anniversaries as much as possible. Whether it was going out to eat, going bowling, watching a movie, going out for ice cream, or whatever, these celebrations gave us an opportunity to remember God’s faithfulness to us in both large and small ways.
I hope that I’ve been able to show my kids what it means to depend upon the Lord. Cancer is something totally out of our control. I’m all in favor of teaching kids how to be self-reliant and how to fend for themselves, and I certainly think there’s a time and a place for that. But leukemia showed me that despite all my efforts, there are plenty of things in life that I cannot control. When we’re faced with such circumstances, it’s easy to become despondent and hopeless if we don’t have someone to whom we can entrust our well-being.
That’s just for starters. I could go on and on, but this is already probably longer than what you anticipated or wanted.
No … that was great. Thanks. We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
I think it’s made me more patient, and it has made me more willing to put others ahead of my own selfish interests and desires — at least sometimes. I’m still selfish, and I’m still a jerk lots of the time. I’d just be a lot worse if I hadn’t been a dad.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
Being present. I’m not the world’s greatest dad by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve fumbled along and messed up plenty of times. But I think I have been successful in giving my kids an appropriate priority in my life. I’ve tried hard to make sure I go to their sporting events, musical performances, and school activities. Generally, I’ve succeeded in that.
We always ask: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your father?
The good news that God saves sinners. My dad is a pastor, and I became a Christian through his teaching and example. I’ll always be thankful for the love he has for the Lord, for the Bible, and for the church.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
I love reading to my kids. We’ve read lots of books over the years, and we’re currently in the middle of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga series. Other favorites have been The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and the entire Little House on the Prairie collection. And reading to them gives me a good excuse to read kids’ books.