The Fatherhood Project
The Father I wasn't Looking For
Father. When you think of that word, what comes to mind?
For some of you it brings a smile as you think of the man who taught you how to throw a ball or ride a bike. For others maybe it's anger or indifference towards the man who left or was never even there. One thing is for sure, we all have a reaction to the word. For me it's an odd mix of sadness tinged with hope, and a sense of reverence.
Without retelling my entire story here, let me make a few things clear. My dad and mom remained married until the day he died just over two years ago. Many of the friends I grew up with were not nearly so fortunate. Yet, I understand the sting of fatherlessness. For many of my formative years, my dad was too busy fighting his own demons to give me the tools I needed to face the battles in my life. He was the biggest, smartest guy I knew, but I could never tap into that strength when I needed it. When I look back on those years I distinctly remember feeling alone and afraid. I was afraid someone would ask me to do something and I wouldn't know how. It seemed that everyone knew more than I did, and so I hid within myself. I became the shy guy. I was bitter for years over this. But that story is for another time.
When I was around 16 years old, my friend Ryan introduced me to a man named Brent Woodard. Brent was a local police officer. He was also a youth leader at Ryan's church. Brent and his wife Kim would have the entire youth group out to their house where we would play football, have bonfires, and just be kids. I remember feeling so happy and safe there. It was an escape from the uncertainty I had known. Those days altered the course of my life.
Brent was a young guy, only about 10 years older than me. He was fun and at times a little crazy! Once a week he would open up the church for a bunch of us guys to play basketball. He had the ugliest shot, but it always seemed to drop when he needed it to. A few times he invited me to go on ride alongs with him in his police cruiser. He worked the night shift and he would flash his lights and go 80 mph in a 45 mph zone just to get home for break. I mean what's the use of having those lights if you don't use them? During those rides, we would talk about girls, school, God, and really anything I wanted. He always seemed to hear me and understand my point of view. Ryan and I would randomly show up at Brent and Kim's house unannounced, sitting and talking with them into the middle of the night. I remember how his wife and kids would look at him. I would think, "I want to be looked at like that one day". He was a man who actually walked the talk. He was handy, adventurous, strong, and confident. But the thing that stood out the most is that he actually seemed to care about me.
Several years ago when Ryan called me to tell me Brent had died, I felt this ache I still cannot put into words. Anyone who knew him would tell you it was far too soon, but it was more than that. It was only then that I truly understood what he had done for me. He was a father to me. He was a guide, showing me the way a man lives. He let me into his world. He let me walk with him and made me feel like I belonged. I never felt like a project or a charity case. He loved me. My relationship with Brent was a springboard for my confidence to try new things and tackle challenges. I have traveled the world, spoken in front of hundreds of people, I have even attempted to fix small plumbing issues at home (trust me, it's a big deal). As I look back over my life I see how God gave me fathers to help me along my way. There have been many, but Brent stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The world needs men who will choose to be fathers. It's an intentional investment in the life of someone else with no guarantee of return. There is no perfect way to do it, but in a world where absent fathers are the norm I have made it my life's mission to be present and engaged.