We live in a time of great upheaval. No thinking, reasoning human being can deny it. It’s a time when down is up, dark is light, and anyone who suggests otherwise is the enemy of personal freedom. The roots of this present chaos are clearly traceable, but few people are interested in truth anymore, much less civil discourse. The fundamental nature of our most cherished values has been shifted in the name of progress. Courage, justice, equality, responsibility, and compassion have all been redefined. The results have been catastrophic for society—but particularly for men, and especially in the context of fatherhood. One man is pushing against this tide; reclaiming the idea, the original design, of man as a servant leader. He, like many other men in his situation, is not challenging the culture from a position of political power or privilege, but from a position of struggle and humility.
Brandon Buell is the father of Jaxon Buell, or Jaxon Strong as he’s known around the world and in his popular Facebook community. Jaxon was born with microhydranencephaly, a rare brain malformation that extremely limits life expectancy and has no known cure. Yet Jaxon baffles the top neurologists in the country. At almost 1 ½ years old, he’s far surpassed all medical prognoses. His mere existence is a miracle. But with that existence comes profound surrender. Brandon knows this firsthand. He knows about fear and doubt. He knows about allowing himself to be moved, shaped, and broken. He knows the great power that lies in serving his family and the inherent strength in their sacrifice together. He knows the importance of fathers in a culture that doesn’t.
As a father, a man is a role model in a world without role models. He embodies the fire that exists in every man’s soul that yearns to protect, honor, and sacrifice everything for those he loves. Being a father makes a man reach far beyond what he ever thought he could. Being a father creates purpose and legacy. “Something truly remarkable is happening,” Brandon explains. “It’s something that will outlive Jaxon and probably outlive us. As his father, it’s my job to protect his story, to be sure it’s told in the right way.” To be sure, Jaxon’s story is one of courage—why his family honored life instead of falling victim to fear and doubt. It’s one of fantastic scientific potential—how Jaxon can contribute to the advancement of brain theory and the study of traumatic brain injury. And it’s a story of humanity, revealing what can happen if you just give a child a chance in a society that tells you there isn’t one. “Jaxon is up against severe odds, yet he still leads a meaningful life,” says Brandon. “He smiles. He communicates. He relates to us. He responds to his surroundings. Why not allow that life to happen? There’s so much potential there.” The Buells celebrate Jaxon’s life and count every day as a blessing. Yet the unknown is still a dull ache, a nagging reality.
“Any parent that has endured burying a child knows it’s not fair. It’s not normal. We’re not supposed to outlive our children. Unfortunately, my wife Brittany and I will likely have to face that someday,” he admits. “But in a way, our fear is like that of all parents. No one wants to get that call in the middle of the night. No one wants to hear those terrible words, ‘Your child has cancer.’ The unknown remains in the back of our minds, but it’s not our focus. We want to celebrate his life now. We want stay focused on the meaning behind it. And as Christians, we believe that we’re going to see Jaxon again in heaven, in his perfect form.” Brandon and Brittany understand that fear, no matter how nagging or gripping, can’t change Jaxon’s legacy and certainly won’t change his purpose. And fear, like hardships, can be a great teacher.
“When you have your entire life shifted by this incredible change, by your infant son who has enormous battles he has to face, you just don’t care anymore about the petty things—the promotion at work, rush hour traffic. None of it matters.” Indeed, such profoundly impactful circumstances grow a man up. They twist and stretch and heave and launch him into territory unknown. Into the total selflessness of being a father.
In a very real sense, selflessness requires enormous sacrifice. Denial of self. Diminishment of pride. Yet it lets loose our human capacity to give and to serve, not only in our own families, but in our communities, and throughout the world. In this way, Jaxon’s legacy and Brandon’s call as a man to protect it, is most powerful. What began as a way to share an incredible story on Facebook grew organically into a blossoming community of nearly 344,000; into a place where other moms and dads share stories of their special-needs children and gain inspiration and strength. “We welcome that,” says Brandon. “It should be about everyone else.”
Many times, the role of a husband and father requires a man to walk behind. It requires him to lead steadily from a place of silent strength, not dominantly from a place of pride, entitlement, and self-focus. Caring for a special needs child magnifies this role a thousand-fold because mother and child are the focus. Naturally, their relationship is cast into the spotlight and the man wields his strength in the shadows. “I feel an incredible responsibility to be strong every day. But in reality, my wife and son carry a bigger weight than I do. Not a burden, but a weight. Brittany’s job never stops. She cares for him 24/7. She loves him unconditionally. Truly, one of the main reasons Jaxon is still alive and thriving so much is because of what she has done. Honestly, I struggle sometimes because there’s just not a lot of opportunity to be afraid—to actually express my fears or to vent any frustration that I feel. But in these situations, dads are naturally placed behind the scenes, as they should be. It may be a tough role, but it’s important to let your wife and children shine, because they certainly deserve the spotlight, more than the dads ever do.”
“The bravery of my wife and son has made me a better person,” Brandon explains. “My wife is braver and stronger than I am because of what she does every day. We’ve realized that so many difficult circumstances in her life have prepared her for this time. My son is braver and stronger than I am because of what he goes through every day. Together as a family, there is great strength in our sacrifices; strength to persevere and to overcome.”
Together, Brandon and Brittany must build the rock upon which the family stands. She must build it. He must build it. When there are tough times behind closed doors, they must be there for each other to encourage and lift one another up. “Strong and weak times ebb and flow,” says Brandon. “It’s the crux of a marriage.” Through Jaxon’s Facebook community, Brandon has spoken with many fathers in special-needs situations, some who have already lost their children. Most know their charge is to let mother and child walk before them. Most know intimately their incredible responsibility—to always be an example, to create a healthy environment for the family, to avoid making decisions that hurt their last name, to stop making choices based on self. “Whether you ever get the glory for it or not, it doesn’t matter,” relates Brandon. “Your life is an example of what it means to be a leader with a sense of purpose. And that sense of purpose comes from serving. It comes from allowing the focus to be on your family, on your legacy.”
It seems we’ve forgotten about legacy and lost the art of respect in our culture today. We’ve lost the ability as a society to communicate effectively with each other, to be in the moment, to cherish life, to be thankful, and to lead by serving others. To that end, Brandon has strong words for his millennial generation. “There’s no excuse to live without purpose, to live with a false sense of entitlement. It’s breaking us. Men need to earn our way. We need to be responsible. We need to be true leaders in our families, in our jobs, in every part of our lives,” he admonishes. “Although it may seem okay for now to go through life lackadaisically, when you don’t work toward the responsibility that men naturally have to others, you’re really not building yourself up either.”
From Brandon’s vantage point, some of the strongest people remain silent. They’re not the loudest in the room. They’re just consistent, steadfast reminders of what leaders are supposed to be. It’s the way he lives his life—by example.
“Silent strength in leadership,” he says, “Shows the true impact, the true soul, the true heart of a father and husband… Of a man.” It is a legacy we all must protect to truly begin to heal our nation.
Sarah Quale, Educe president
We believe Brandon Buell’s voice is critical for these times, not only in the special-needs community, but also far beyond. Please share this important story with your friends and followers and help reclaim right leadership in our country, in our culture, and within our families.