There was a time in my life as a young man that I only cared about myself. But my life was changed forever on March 17, 1991 at about 3 AM. My son was born. I was a father and my life would never be the same again. I had prayed for a son for years, a son who’d look like me, and who would be like me who I could be a father to and a role model for. I didn’t want my son to have to search the streets for a father figure the way I had to. My father left my mom, and me and my older brother, Tony, when I was a just a little boy. That was a blow that rocked our world. My brother and I wondered why he left us and as the year of neglect began to mount I began to hate my father.
Even as boys we understood that parents might not always get along, but what about us? What did we do wrong? He left us. We took it personally. It was in the early 1960’s when we lost contact with our father. Although there were divorces in the 60’s, divorce wasn’t the typical fate for married couples back then.
I can remember when kids would tease me saying “You don’t have a father.” That hurt because I did have a father. I wasn’t manufactured in a test tube. My father existed but he chose to leave one day and he didn’t come back. My mother never said why. He abandoned us. And it crushed me when we heard that he had started another family on another side of town. He lived with his other sons and daughter but he didn’t so much as send my brother or myself cards on our birthdays or at Christmas.
My mother was sensitive to the plight of her sons. She knew we felt rejected and neglected. So, she told us that she was our mother and our father. She wasn’t of course. Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable parts. The greatest mother would be a failure as a father. God intended for children to be raised by both parents. But when a father isn’t available God can be a Father to the fatherless.
There is a bond that fathers and sons share that women can’t wrap their minds around. Men are equally befuddled about the nuances in the special relationship mothers and daughters share. My life changed when my son was born! I had a new buddy! A homeboy! A wide-eyed little man-in-the-making who needed me for guidance and strength and to know what a man is. A nurse in the delivery room commented that she hadn’t seen a man so happy to be a father after I proudly cut the umbilical cord.
I imagined us watching the Eagles play football together, giving each other high fives and chest thumps and of having the first talk with him about his first girl friend. But I have found that being a father is much more than that. It’s about suffering when your child has a 101 degree fever and after rushing him to the hospital praying that God will guide the doctor whose hands are giving your child a spinal tap.
Being a father is telling your son that his homework has to be redone when he’d rather go out and play. Being a father is watching a teenager struggle through adolescence knowing there are some things he’ll have to go through and conquer on his own. Being a father is recognizing that the little guy who was once your clone is now a thinking, independent individual who often disagrees with you.
Being a father, being a parent, is mostly about unconditional love. There is nothing that a child can do that a parent won’t forgive them for. As the old expression goes, we can hate the sin but love the sinner. The Apostle Paul wrote that love never fails nor gives up. God is the ultimate Father and His agape love was so great that He gave His only Son to exchange His righteousness for our sins in agony on a cross. I have always loved my son and always will. He won’t ever have to wonder like I did if his father loves him. I have told him and demonstrated it to him countless times through the years.
And through the years, I have learned that I never really hated my father. I hated his sin but loved him. When I was about 18, my brother Tony found our father and took me to see him. My world was rocked again, because in an instant I knew I couldn’t hate him. While we talked I studied him to see what we had in common. His lips… his voice… his height…his gestures…his taste in music...we were both photographers and as such had a romantic view of the world. I wasn’t his clone but it was clear that we shared a similar gene pool….And he did love me…he didn’t show it the way I wanted him to, the way I needed him to, but he did love me in his way.
Now, I have a beautiful, godly wife, a son, a stepson and a step daughter and I will endeavor to always be apart of their lives. I will remember their birthdays. I will share with them. I will be there for them and most importantly I will love them in my way, not my father’s, and will never abandon them. It’s been a long time since I only cared about myself.
Brother Kenya Branch
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