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“I remember grabbing his ankles–hanging on for dear life–as he walked out the door, dragging me as I pleaded with him to stay. I was fighting for his affection, literally. But it didn’t work. It never worked.”
–John Sowers, Fatherless Generation

It used to be my day job, ministering to the youth of this generation. Church work is good work if you can get it, even in Oklahoma.

Andy’s mother came to us one Monday morning, frantic. Andy was listening to Everclear. “Did you know that those boys are named after a liquor product?” she said. Andy’s father had long since pulled up his middle-American tent stakes, leaving his two sons with a mother who was forced to work the late shift to make ends meet. Andy’s dad might have been a trucker or an executive; it didn’t matter really. He was absent.

The product of a passed-over generation, Andy had been caught cruising in his Wrangler and singing anthems written by that famous made-for-radio rock band from Portland. His mother asked me to intervene, to explain the corruption wrought by wrong music. I remember the discomfort when we spoke, how I listened little, preached much. But if I had stopped long enough to listen to Andy’s music, maybe I would have discovered Andy’s core wounding.

In Chapter 1 of Fatherless Generation we meet John Sowers, a little boy clinging to memories of Old Spice, park swings, and a walk-away father. He tells his story bluntly, not hiding behind his Gordon-Conwell doctorate, his White House task force experience, or his organization known as The Mentoring Project. Instead, he speaks as one of the “[o]ver 33 million kids [who] are fatherless and searching for Dad.”

John Sowers knows the wounding that come from fatherlessness. He is an expert so we must listen.

Sowers writes of the Prophets of our culture, reminding us that Everclear, Pink, and Buddy the Elf (yes, from the Christmas movie) all echo this generation’s cry for father. And when he cited that Everclear anthem “Father of Mine,” my heart panged. When I read the lyrics, my heart broke.

Father of mine
Take me back to the day
When I was still your golden boy
Back before you went away…

And then,

I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame…

What if I had listened to those lyrics with Andy all of those years ago?  I could have told him that it wasn’t his fault that his daddy left, that he wasn’t lame. I could have been a listener, a mentor, a brother.  I could have helped him find a place of belonging.

I could have preached less, loved more.

I don’t know what happened to Andy. But my hope is that somewhere he’s found a good ear, a father figure, a place of rest. I hope he doesn’t wander as part of this “refugee generation, shuffling from one shelter to the next in search of belonging.” But should I ever run into Andy, I promise to jump into his Wrangler with him, crank some Everclear, and ask for his forgiveness. I’ll ask him to tell me about it.

And this time, I’ll listen.

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[fatherless generation] chapter 1: somewhere i belong

by Seth Haines time to read: 3 min
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