(This post has been adapted from a former iteration of this website and various other websites that reposted it in March of 2010. Posted here in October of 2012 and edited June 27, 2013)
I grew up fatherless. I saw my dad a few times growing up. I knew his name and whereabouts. I spent about two weeks with him in 1992-ish and he was always very kind to me when we saw each other. I got cards most birthdays and most every Christmas. But he wasn’t a part of my life, was never married to my mother, and we lived many states away from each other most of my childhood. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I began to get to know my dad and to develop a friendship with him. We are a testimony to genetics and I’m proud to be his son.
My mother was young and I was a surprise. I never wondered if she loved me but I also knew she struggled in many ways raising a son herself.
The path of fatherlessness was a long and painful road shrouded in insecurity for me. It is a path so far off the one God meant for families that I didn’t know I was even on it until I had my own kids. As I’ve been reflecting on my role in my own kids’ lives, it’s proven to be extremely painful for me as I look back on my childhood. So I figured I’d write a bit about it:
I look at my son and my daughter now and I see young souls that need a type of protection their mom couldn’t provide in spite of her commitment and good maternal instincts. They need a structure and authority I alone can provide. They need a dad they respect to hold them with grace when they expect nothing more than justice. These are things my kids can only get from me. For all the beauty and wisdom that is their mother, she provides a separate set of skills and wisdom I can’t offer them. God designed the nuclear family to raise healthy children.
What potential in me was lost not having a father and being exposed to men who were perfect losers? What struggles would have been overcome earlier in life or avoided altogether? What could my father and I have learned from each other? How much less am I equipped to be a father and husband having not had many positive male role models for most of my elementary and Jr. High years? How much relational heartache and how many unhealthy situations as a kid would have been avoided? How did the fear and insecurity that plagued my childhood affect me today?
My mother did her best but the best mother could not have provided what I needed. I needed a dad. I needed an identity as a young man. During a recent Father’s Day weekend, I told my wife something I’d never told her before: my experiences with the dreaded Father’s Day card creation at school. I remember well-meaning teachers having us all make Father’s Day cards in elementary school to take home to our dads. I struggled to make one particular card in second or third grade and I stared at it for a long time when I got home before throwing it in the trash. I didn’t want to ask my mother for his address…and I didn’t know if he even wanted a card from me. There were no tears at the time…those came only recently.
It was a God-send to have my uncle and his family take me in my freshman year in high school. To study (and I DID study intently and consciously) not just their relationship but their friends’ relationships as they sought to serve their Creator and their families was vital in helping me overcome my many relational and spiritual shortcomings. Having men in my life like Robert Rangel, Kenny Howell, D.A. Haworth, my grandparents, Robert Benoun, and a myriad slightly older guys in the “College Group” mentor and/or take an interest in me was key to me overcoming some paralyzing fears and weaknesses. Thank God they let me tag along and they pursued me even when I didn’t want them to. It was painful to have some of them call me on my B.S. and to expose my faults. It was actually physically painful at times to realize an older man loved me unconditionally when I grew up hating and distrusting older men. It was embarrassing to have older women and my peers expose my lack of social graces, my complete ignorance on all things chivalry, etc. But it was a gift.
I look back at my teenage and young adult years and shudder. I was generally articulate and respectful compared to many of my peers but I was completely clueless about relationships, how to treat a woman, and how to be an honorable man. I was scared to death of adulthood. I didn’t know what being a godly male entailed. I treated some so poorly as a result of my lack of discipline and my fear of abandonment I wish I could track them down, hug them, and say I was sorry. A couple of you know who you are and already know I’m deeply sorry.
Thankfully, as an adult, I’m in a community of healthy families I can glean from. I have spent most of my teenage and young adult life trying to learn what it is to be a man of God, a good husband, and father. My wife grew up in a healthy home and teaches me daily about patience and grace.
But can you ever truly recover from being fatherless? My kids will, thankfully, never worry about this. They will never wonder if their parents love them or where they come from. They’ll never have a gnawing feeling in their soul that wonders what a family would be like as I did growing up. They’ll never lack for instruction from a well-rounded parental team. My children will always know they are safe with us. Hopefully my kids will be better equipped than I was to deal with the types of pain I’ve written about before and will probably visit them sometime in their lives. I’m grateful I can be for them what I always wanted for myself!
There is a spiritual and physical poverty that often comes with being fatherless. My mother and I never had much by way of money growing up but the spiritual emptiness and fear I faced was what was paralyzing in many ways. I believe every kid in this situation – no matter how poor or dysfunctional – only needs one of two things to escape into a healthy adulthood:
1. A lack of the dreadful “Attitude of Poverty.” Some people have an innate drive to rise above their circumstances. These kids won’t settle for less than better than their parents could provide physically or otherwise and strive for more.
2. Older men (for boys) or older women (for girls) that relentlessly pursue them and love them unconditionally outside their parent(s)/guardian.
I had both. I’m forever grateful to God that he spoke to me directly as a kid and He provided men and women who rescued me from my circumstances and came alongside my mother to love me unconditionally.
I am impressed with dedicated single parents. I am in awe of foster children who press on with much less than I had. I think many kids grow up very well adjusted in single-parent homes. But there’s nothing like having a mom and a dad. There’s nothing like living in the family unit designed by God to nurture young lives. May God use my family somehow to encourage others who are fatherless…if they are anything like me, they could use all the encouragement they can get. I’m extremely grateful I know both of my parents today and understand many in my situation don’t get that luxury.
I would rather have grown up with both parents. I feel in my heart that my potential as a human being is somewhat limited by a less-than-ideal upbringing. My task today, however, is to be grateful for my past and strive to provide better for my children. I can’t wait to see them start their own families far better equipped to do so than I ever was.
Proverbs 1:8-9 – Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.