June 21, 2015
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #388: Father’s Day
Happy Father’s Day! Growing up in a loving household with Christian values, I assumed that everyone had a great father like I did. My dad never had his own interests and hobbies, but like my mom, made us kids the center of his world. In the conservative, home-schooled, church-going world I was a part of, I mostly knew incredible dads who were positive examples to their children (with the notable exception of my maternal grandfather, who disowned my mom and all of us grandkids when I was in my mid-teens). I knew very few divorced households and even fewer single-parent homes. My, has my narrow perspective widened over the years. True, the world has changed, but I’m changing too, and I hope my new perspective makes me more compassionate.
I think I first noticed a shift in my thinking about what is considered normal while I taught first- and second-grade kids on Wednesday nights at church. A full 50% were from what we called at the time “broken homes,” where their parents were divorced, remarried, or living with a significant other. Nearly twenty years later, that term isn’t used so much anymore, probably because marriages, relationships, and individuals shift and change so much that a solid, two-parent home is no longer the norm, and the end of a marriage doesn’t signal the end of a home.
Many dear friends of mine, in fact several who receive this weekly letter, have sadly seen their dreams of a perfect marriage come slowly or suddenly to an end, and many more are in loveless marriages. I know of others who came to the brink of marital collapse before finding the strength and counsel and humility and forgiveness to somehow make it work again.
Good friends of mine have turned out to be incredible fathers, as each of my brothers has, as well. And I’ve known guys who somehow turned out to be absolutely terrible at fatherhood and life in general. In all these things, the church, God’s people, seem to fare no better than the rest of the world, having similar failure rates, divorce rates, and single-parent rates as everyone else. Rather than parse here the serious possible factors and causes that bring us to such a state, I don’t think we need analysis or suppositions, so I’ll focus more on what our response can be.
I’ve often spoken of the world’s worst fathers I happen to meet here, and for me, it never gets tiring to hear their stories, sad as they are. You can imagine that I hear the worst of the worst, but other stories are just as tragic, as fathers knowingly and willingly abandon their wives and kids in favor of criminal behavior leading to prison.
One guy in his mid-thirties is excited to learn he may get to see his son soon. While he lives a few cells down from me, his son, just eighteen years old, has been caught up in the gang life for years and continued in gangs while on what we refer to as the “mainline.” Housed at the same facility as his father but on this prison’s mainline compound, my friend was certain he’d never see his son again. Just last week, however, he got word from staff that his son had taken steps to “drop out,” quitting the gang activities and being placed into protective custody. It should be a matter of a few months in segregation before he joins our prison compound, where he can be free from pressure to conform and focus on eventually getting out of prison. His dad is excited to finally see his son again.
Another guy in my pod hasn’t seen his two children in years. His family is tired of him going back to prison, but he isn’t. This is his sixth term, and he told me he’s not certain he’s done with it quite yet. He loves the gang lifestyle, though he spent a year in a wheelchair after his most recent shooting incident. (My opinion: if you are over the age of forty, yet still riding a bicycle that cannot change gears, you deserve to be shot. #StreetJustice)
Both men don’t need condemnation or criticism but understanding, encouragement, and counsel. Though I hope to have my own children someday, I’ve already not been the best example of a father, yet I can certainly provide hope and support for those like my current cellie, Duffy, who are striving to be back in their kids’ lives.
For Father’s Day this year, I got to spend the entire weekend with my dad, who drove the 25-hour round-trip journey just to spend time with me. This meant the world to me, especially since so few guys here even have a father they know. In fact, of the 3,000 inmates at this prison, only 10 of us got to hug our dads on Father’s Day. And even though my dad has made his share of mistakes in life, I’d love for people to think that I’m like my dad, who took a few hours this weekend to visit with a good friend of mine whose dad hasn’t visited him in years.
Just because someone’s family dynamic or cultural history may differ greatly from ours, and even if they make radically different moral choices than we do, it doesn’t mean we can’t treat them all as our Heavenly Father treats us, with love we don’t deserve, passionately pursuing us for His kingdom. I want to be my Father’s kid.