Fathers Day is fast approaching and many families will spend this day celebrating Dad. It’s a day where the king of the house is honored for the way he loves & protects his family, for his commitment to serve and make sacrifices, and for the way he leads by example.
Now for the many young boys who get to share in this father’s day celebration with their dads, there are just as many who won’t ever know what that feels like; These are the kid’s whose fathers are incarcerated, dead, or just completely removed from the child’s life. This absence means the child will now grow up without that father figure whose responsibility it is to guide his son and teach him what it means to be a Man. This separation can have severe emotional & social consequences on the child such as trauma & trouble in school, homelessness, and a number of other painful feelings including shame, guilt, anger, low self-esteem and many others.
For times sake, I’m going to focus the rest of this post on the boys whose fathers are absent because of incarceration. I feel the most connected to these boys in particular because like them, I know the pain and heartache that comes with growing up with a father behind bars.
As some of you may know, my biological father has spent the last 30 years in different maximum-security prisons all over the state of Texas. When will he get out you ask? As of right now - Never. He’s currently serving a life sentence for a lengthy record and multiple offenses that go back to when he was younger. As a child with a father in prison, I remember feeling so angry and embarrassed. I remember seeing other kids with their dads and wondering why I couldn’t have the same. I felt ashamed and guilty for him not wanting to be in my life; feelings that no boy should ever have to feel.
To hide from the embarrassment, I buried my feelings. For years growing up, I pretended to be okay on the outside but deep down, I was in so much pain.
Years had passed and I was now living in Los Angeles fighting for my dreams of being in the entertainment business. A close friend of mine who knew me better than anyone also lived in LA and she had recently seen a therapist who she swore, “Changed her life for the better!” “You have to make an appointment to see her,” she said. Although I was a bit skeptical at first, I went ahead and made the appointment and was scheduled to meet with her the next day.
After arriving at the therapist’s office and introducing myself, we jumped right into why I was there. Before I knew it, I started opening up and talking about my dad and all the anger I had built up towards him because of the pain he caused My Family & Me over the years. I remember how great of a listener she was which helped me to trust her. That trust is what gave me the permission to pour out my heart. After a long conversation, she asked me a question:
“Scottie, how would you feel about going to visit your Dad?”
I explained to her how hard that would be for me. I hated doing it as a kid because of how nervous I would get; so nervous at times that I would physically get sick. She was heading into dangerous and unfamiliar territory and I started to squirm in my chair a little. Then she said something to me that I will remember for the rest of my life:
“You know Scottie, The real maturity of a Man shows when He can give his Father what his Father never gave to him.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. As hard as it was to hear, I knew she was right. I had lived far too long with anger in my heart - I no longer wanted that for myself.
So that next week, I worked up the courage and the strength and for the first time in over 20 years, I went and visited my Dad. We had a great visit and I could just tell from looking at him and listening to him that he was excited to see me. And you know what? I was excited to see him.
For the first time ever I asked him why he wasn’t in my life? His response changed the way I saw him and changed my entire perspective on life.
He began telling me that His dad, My Grandpa, was murdered outside of a bar when my grandma was 8 months pregnant with him. He said that growing up without a Dad was extremely hard and to cope with his overwhelming feelings of pain and shame, he would turn to drugs, alcohol, & violence. Like me, he too didn’t have the example of what it means to be a father. No one ever told him what to do so he was left to figure it out on his own. He then told me that after I was born, he held me for the first time. As he was holding me in his arms, he said he started feeling extremely vulnerable. All those old feelings started coming up again which brought back the memories and brought back the pain. So to cope with his pain and his feelings of vulnerability, he turned to what he knew felt safe and normal; the drugs & the alcohol.
Visiting with my Dad and having our first heart to heart conversation as adults, I realized that for most of my life I was upset with him for not being there without even realizing that he went through the same thing I did. For over 20 years I held onto blame, held onto anger, and held onto a false image and idea of who I thought my dad was or wasn’t. Having a father who is incarcerated or absent from his sons life creates an unstable environment that can have lasting effects on the son’s development & well-being. My dad’s life was far from easy and all that he went through and all that he had, or didn’t have, is still with him today…So instead of thinking negatively about the past, I decided to look on the positive side of things. Instead of continuing to live my life blaming him for his mistakes, I made the choice to forgive him.
Now of course, he’s made many mistakes and he’s taken full responsibility for those mistakes. But sometimes I find myself thinking how different his life could’ve been if he had HIS father growing up.
That last sentence, “…but sometimes I find myself thinking how different his life could’ve been if he had HIS father growing up,” is the exact reason I started mentoring young men. The difference we can make just by showing up and doing what we can to guide and teach these boys how to become men could be the difference between life & death, making the team or getting cut from the team, or like my dad, going to prison or living a life of freedom. That motivates me man.
Now If I can be honest with you, My Dad is going through one of the most difficult periods of his life right now. For someone serving a life sentence, it’s easy to lose hope and it’s easy to believe there’s nothing to live for because there’s no chance of getting out. But regardless of his situation, my Dad continues going to God because he believes in The Power Of the Lord. He recently wrote a letter to my Grandma that really inspired me and I want to share a piece with you:
“If we trust God and step out in faith, he will be there and will help you and answer you in your cries to him for relief, as Abraham did, and he entrusted himself to God, and God credited him with righteousness. Living a faithful life earned Abraham the title of “God’s friend.” I would like that more than anything Mom, being God’s friend.” - DAD
For someone who lives every day of his life in a 6 by 8 foot prison cell and has every reason to lose hope, his Faith is what keeps him going. That inspires me to my core and I hope it does the same for you!
Maybe you have a strained relationship with your Mom or Dad. Maybe you know someone in prison. Maybe you’re fighting for a dream that many people say you can’t accomplish. Or maybe like me, you’re holding onto something you were never meant to hold on to. Whatever the circumstance or however bad it looks, NEVER LOSE HOPE AND NEVER LOSE YOUR FAITH!!
I Love you Dad.