This summer, I came face to face with what fatherlessness looks like for millions of kids. God interrupted the summer of a family at church. You know, the thing that God does when He interrupts our lives taking us outside our comfort zone? They live in a typical middle-class neighborhood (not affluent by our standards) in a North Dallas suburb.
This family has a heart for outreach and have been outreach leaders for their church. So reaching out to the less fortunate and freely giving of themselves is a way of life and not uncommon for them. Their children ages 6 – 13, being home-schooled, know how to behave and are leaders in all they do. The little one is like a pied piper in attracting other kids.
While playing basketball and riding bikes through the neighborhood, they met a young boy who was visiting his aunt and uncle for the summer and was very much a latchkey, street-smart kid. He lives on the west bank in New Orleans. Calvin* was immediately attracted, like a fly to honey, to this family.
They found out that he was almost the same age as their middle son; he did not live with his mother, but with another woman not related to his family. Through neighborhood connections and God, they found out that this woman has a steady stream of men coming and going — and that Calvin even worked as a drug delivery boy for a local dealer. No wonder he was drawn to this intact loving family!
The Johnson family* spent about 8 weeks with Calvin as a daily visitor in their home. This was not easy, as Calvin had no training in boundaries, common manners, sharing, respecting property or any of the things that you and I make sure our children and grandchildren know.
We tend to just assume, All parents teach their children these things — but, as we all learned this summer, that is far from true. Needless to say it was a growth experience for the older two boys who tended to be embarrassed and angered by Calvin’s behavior, especially when they took him to the church’s summer camp.
The Johnsons learned it is much easier and less risky to reach out through an organized church outreach than deal on a day-to-day basis with a child who has not been taught basic life skills, only street skills. When he went with them to the store, she had to keep a close eye on him because he has no developed moral compass. What is acceptable in his environment is far from acceptable by this family’s standards.
Photo: Thomas Leuthard
It struck me that what we experienced through this family with Calvin was just the tip of the iceberg. He represents probably close to a million latchkey kids who live in very unhealthy situations, left to themselves with no stable family unit around them.
When it came time for Calvin to go back to New Orleans, it was difficult for these devoted parents to see this lost boy go back to that environment. They knew he would be better off staying here, where he had developed a small support group. All they could do was pray that the time they spent with him will make a difference as he moves forward in life. The two older boys were ready for him to leave; he had broken their toys and taken stuff without even thinking there was anything wrong.
However, the teachers at church who worked with him at camp and at regular services told them they saw Calvin’s behavior improve, and that was confirmation something good had happened.
The Johnson’s received this little stranger and treated him the same as their three boys; behavior that was not tolerated in their home, they did not tolerate in him. Mrs. Johnson spent time with him explaining how his bad behavior affects others and teaching him how to respect boundaries. They even threw him a birthday party – his aunt and uncle did nothing for him.
Photo: AdoptedAndLoved.com / The Radiance Foundation
But it was the Dad that he was truly drawn to. As the time drew near for Calvin to leave and go back to New Orleans, he put his head on this man’s shoulder and said, “You’re my daddy.” They acknowledge this may have been a form of manipulation, but underneath they knew it was the heart cry of a youngster who longs for a “daddy.” It was heartbreaking.
This is what fatherlessness looks like! Calvin is only one of millions of fatherless children longing for a daddy. As the time approached for him to leave, some of us had sleepless nights knowing he was going back to an atmosphere that was not going to prepare him for a successful life. It was heartrendingly sad. In our discussions of this family’s life-changing experience, they often said they believed that Christians could have much more of an impact if each family mentored a youngster who needs a stable family and especially a “daddy.”
The fatherless are not just from inner cities; sadly, they are in all our neighborhoods. I believe the church must move outside its four walls to best make an impact on the culture — reaching out to the fatherless and motherless as loving, stable mentors. Outreach programs are good, but nothing beats one-on-one mentoring and unconditional love.
Pray with us at Bound4LIFE that the church would step outside of its four walls to really care for the “widow and the orphan.” Have dinner discussions asking, “What can we as a family do to reach out to the fatherless around us? How do we connect with those in our neighborhoods?” As you pray, ask the Lord to open your eyes to those in need around you, and ask Him what you can do; if there is anyone in your life you can reach out to and love with His love.
*The names of some of the people in this story have been changed for their privacy.