Jehovah Helped Me Meet Life’s Challenges
AS TOLD BY DALE IRWIN
“EIGHT IS ENOUGH! QUADS DOUBLE THE TROUBLE.” So read a local newspaper headline announcing the addition of quadruplets to our family of four girls. As a young man, I had had no intention of getting married, let alone having children. Yet, here I was—the father of eight!
I WAS born in 1934 in the town of Mareeba, Australia. I was the youngest of three children. Our family later moved to Brisbane, where my mother taught Sunday school at the Methodist church.
Early in 1938, local newspapers reported that Joseph F. Rutherford from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses might be refused entry into Australia. “Why are they doing this to him?” Mum asked the next Witness who called at our home. The Witness replied: “Didn’t Jesus say that people would persecute his followers?” Mum then accepted the booklet Cure, which outlined many differences between true religion and false. * Impressed with the booklet, Mum took us children to a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses the following Sunday. At first, my father strongly objected, but occasionally he wrote out Bible questions for Mum to give to one of the brothers. The brother, in turn, wrote out the Scriptural answers for Mum to give to Dad.
One Sunday my father came to the meeting with us, intending to voice his dissatisfaction with the Witnesses. However, after talking with the traveling overseer who was visiting the congregation at the time, Dad changed his attitude and even allowed our home to be used as a center for a weekly Bible study, attended by interested ones in our area.
In September 1938, my parents were baptized. My siblings and I were baptized in December 1941 at a national convention held at Hargreave Park in Sydney, New South Wales. I was seven years old. Thereafter, I regularly shared in the field ministry with my parents. In those days, the Witnesses took portable phonographs from door to door and played recorded Bible discourses to the householders.
One Witness who stands out vividly in my memory is Bert Horton. He had a sound car—an automobile equipped with a powerful amplifier and a large speaker mounted on the roof. Working with Bert was exciting, especially for a lad my age. For example, when broadcasting a Bible discourse from the top of a hill, we often saw a police car heading our way. Bert would quickly turn his equipment off, drive to another hill miles away, and play another recording. I learned a lot about trust in Jehovah and boldness from Bert and other loyal, courageous brothers like him.—Matthew 10:16.
When I was 12 years old, I regularly witnessed on my own after school. On one occasion, I met a family named Adshead. In time, both parents, their eight children, and many grandchildren learned the truth. I thank Jehovah for allowing me, a mere boy, to introduce Bible truth to this fine family.—Matthew 21:16.
Early Privileges of Service
At 18 years of age, I became a full-time pioneer minister and was assigned to Maitland, New South Wales. In 1956, I was invited to serve at the Australia branch office in Sydney. Of the staff of 20, about one third were of the anointed, with the hope of ruling with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom. What a privilege it was to work alongside them!—Luke 12:32; Revelation 1:6; 5:10.
My resolve to remain single melted away when I met Judy Helberg, an attractive pioneer sister who had been invited to the branch office temporarily to help me with a large project. Judy and I fell in love, and we were married two years later. Thereafter, we commenced circuit work, which involved visiting one congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses each week to encourage the brothers.
In 1960, Judy gave birth to our first daughter, Kim. Today, having a child would mean having to leave the circuit work and settle down. But to our great surprise, we were invited to continue visiting congregations. After much prayer, we accepted the invitation, and over the next seven months, Kim traveled 8,000 miles [13,000 km] with us by coach, plane, and train as we served far-flung congregations in Queensland and the Northern Territory. We did not own a car at the time.
We always stayed in the homes of the brothers and sisters. Because of the tropical climate, bedrooms in those days usually had curtains instead of doors, which added to our stress when Kim cried at night. The responsibility of caring for a baby and our assignment eventually proved too difficult. So we settled in Brisbane, and I took up sign painting, a form of commercial art. Two years after Kim’s birth, we had another daughter, Petina.
Coping With Tragedy
In 1972, when the girls were 12 and 10 years old, Judy died of Hodgkin’s disease, a type of lymphoma. This loss was almost unbearable for our family. Nevertheless, during Judy’s illness and after her death, Jehovah comforted us through his Word, his holy spirit, and the brotherhood. We also received strength from the Watchtower magazine that we received right after the tragedy. It contained an article dealing with personal trials, including bereavement, and showed how trials can help us to develop such godly qualities as endurance, faith, and integrity. *—James 1:2-4.
After Judy’s death, the girls and I became much closer. But I must admit, it was a struggle trying to fill the role of both father and mother. My two wonderful daughters, however, made the job much easier.
Remarriage and an Enlarged Family
In time, I remarried. My new wife, Mary, and I had much in common. She too had lost her marriage mate to Hodgkin’s disease. She also had two daughters—Colleen and Jennifer. Colleen was about three years younger than Petina. So now our family consisted of four girls, aged 14, 12, 9, and 7.
Mary and I decided that initially each of us would discipline his or her own biological children until the other children felt comfortable accepting direction from the stepparent. In our own relationship as husband and wife, Mary and I had two important rules. One, we never aired our differences in front of the children, and two, in harmony with the Bible principle recorded at Ephesians 4:26, we talked until we sorted matters out—even if that took hours!
Everybody adjusted surprisingly well to life as a stepfamily, but the memory of our losses did not fade overnight. For example, Monday night became “cry night” for Mary. After our family study, when the girls had gone to bed, Mary’s pent-up emotions often came pouring out.
Mary wanted us to have a child of our own. Sadly, she had a miscarriage. When Mary became pregnant again, a big surprise awaited us. An ultrasound revealed that she was carrying, not one baby, but four! I was in a state of stunned disbelief. Here I was, 47 years old and soon to be the father of eight! The quadruplets were born by Cesarean section on February 14, 1982, at 32 weeks. In order of birth, they were Clint, 3.5 pounds [1.6 kg]; Cindy, 4.2 pounds [1.9 kg]; Jeremy, 3.1 pounds [1.4 kg]; and Danette, 3.8 pounds [1.7 kg]. No two looked alike.
Just after the birth, Mary’s doctor came and sat beside me.
“Are you worried about caring for the children?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve never been down this road before.”
His next words really startled and encouraged me.
“Your congregation won’t let you down,” he said. “You will only have to sneeze, and a thousand tissues will be offered to you!”
Thanks in no small part to this outstanding obstetrician and his medical team, four reasonably healthy babies went home from the hospital within just two months.
The Challenge of Raising Quadruplets
In the interests of orderliness, Mary and I drew up a 24-hour schedule. The four older girls were most helpful as nursemaids. And the doctor’s words proved true—a mere “sneeze” and the congregation rallied to our help. Earlier, longtime friend John MacArthur had organized Witnesses who were tradesmen to extend our house. When the babies came, a team of sisters helped in the nursery. All these kindnesses were a demonstration of Christian love in action.—1 John 3:18.
In a way, the quadruplets were “congregation babies.” Even to this day, they view as family the many loving brothers and sisters who helped us out. As for Mary, she has proved to be an outstanding wife and mother who has selflessly cared for her children. She has really applied what she has learned from God’s Word and organization. There is no better advice!—Psalm 1:2, 3; Matthew 24:45.
Christian meetings and the preaching work remained an important part of our weekly routine, although it was a struggle to manage with four babies. A blessing at the time were the Bible studies we conducted with two married couples, who kindly came to our home. Even though this made things easier for us, Mary was sometimes so tired that she dozed off during the study, a baby asleep in her arms. In time, both couples became our spiritual brothers and sisters.
Spiritual Training at an Early Age
Even before the babies could walk, Mary, the older girls, and I took them out in the field ministry. During the toddler period, Mary and I each took two, and they were no burden. In fact, they often became a talking point with friendly householders. One day I met a man who claimed that if you were born under a certain astrological sign on a particular day, your personality would follow a certain pattern. I did not challenge him, but I asked if I could return later in the morning. He agreed, so I came back with the quadruplets. As he looked on in astonishment, I lined them up in birth order. We then had a friendly discussion, not just about their obvious physical differences but also about the big differences in their personalities, which was a blow to his theory. “Fancy me bringing up this theory to you,” he said. “I’ll have to do more research, won’t I?”
As toddlers, the four of them resented group discipline when they misbehaved, so we corrected them individually. Nevertheless, they learned that the same rules applied to all. When they faced issues of conscience at school, they remained firm for Bible principles and supported one another, Cindy becoming their spokesperson. People soon learned that a set of quadruplets is a force to be reckoned with!
Mary and I had the usual challenges in helping the children to remain loyal to Jehovah during their teen years. We can only say that the job would have been much harder had it not been for the support of a loving congregation and the abundance of spiritual food we received from the visible part of Jehovah’s organization. We endeavored to have a regular family Bible study and to keep the lines of communication open, although this was not always easy. Still, the effort has been worth it because all eight of our children have chosen to serve Jehovah.
Coping With Advancing Age
Over the years, I have enjoyed many spiritual privileges: congregation elder, city overseer, and substitute circuit overseer. I have also served as a member of the local Hospital Liaison Committee, whose function is to help doctors cooperate with Witness patients when blood transfusion becomes an issue. For 34 years I have also had the privilege of being registered to perform marriages. I have conducted about 350 marriage ceremonies, including those of my six daughters.
I thank Jehovah constantly for the loyal support that I have received, first from Judy and now from Mary. (Proverbs 31:10, 30) While supporting me in my work as a congregation elder, they also set a fine example in the ministry and helped to inculcate spiritual qualities into the children.
In 1996, I was diagnosed with a brain disorder that causes hand tremors and upsets my balance. Hence, I could no longer work at sign painting. However, I still find much joy in Jehovah’s service, although my pace has slowed. On the positive side, I have developed more empathy for other older ones.
As I reflect on my life, I thank Jehovah for always being there to help me and my family to meet our many challenges with joy. (Isaiah 41:10) Mary and I, along with our eight children, are also thankful for a wonderful, supportive family of spiritual brothers and sisters. All have proved their love in more ways than we could ever recount.—John 13:34, 35.
^ par. 6 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
^ par. 17 See The Watchtower of March 15, 1972, pages 174-80.
[Picture on page 12]
With Mum, my older brother Garth, and my sister Dawn, ready to travel to the 1941 convention in Sydney
[Picture on page 13]
With Judy and baby Kim when I was in the circuit work in Queensland
[Picture on page 15]
After the birth of the quadruplets, our four older girls and the congregation rallied to our help