“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…
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.
Wow Seth… dude… what a great way to kick off chapter one. I love how you’ve connected with this chapter and brought in Andy’s story… and yours. As I listen to this song and think about what you’ve shared here, I cannot help but to think about all of the young men who I know in similar situations. And my heart breaks.
I’m also an Andy. So I look forward to working through this project and finding some healing for myself.
The hard realization was that we are all affected by the fatherlessness that is rampant in our generation. I had a good father, but I was still impacted by the ruins of fatherlessness in the life of guys like Andy. I think the question that sticks with me from Chapter 1 is, “what should our response be to those lamenting their fatherlessness?”
It’s a tough question because I’ve failed so many times. It makes me think about lamentation, repentance, the stuff that a good Lenten season is made for.
Amen to that…
Seth – what an incredible post. Thank you.
I was at a youth leadership training not too long ago and we were talking about how sometimes the music kids listen to can really clue us in to what’s going on in their lives. Andy’s story is such a great reminder of that. How many times do we turn our head and say “oh those kids and their music” instead of really taking the opportunity to listen to what their feeling?
You hit the nail hard on its head dude … awesome!
Thanks, Crystal. Such true words you share. What conference was it? Would have loved to have heard that advice while I was in that line of work.
I guess that’s Sower’s point in this chapter. He’s asking us to listen to the culture; see the sign posts. We are collectively screaming for father. I can’t wait to see how he unpacks this more going forward.
On a side note, I wish I could grow a beard like Sowers.
It was actually a training for Sources of Strength – which is an incredible peer-to-peer youth suicide prevention program that helps pre-teens and teens build a healthy support system. It’s a one-of-a-kind program – I’ve never seen anything like it!
He DOES have an awesome beard, doesn’t he?!
This was one hit too close to home for me. I remember condemning “Jessie” for sleeping with her boyfriend and pleading alongside her father and mother for her not to move out of the house as they demanded she break up. I tried to show love and yet I condemned. Two weeks later her Dad left the family to pursue his own extramarital relationship. How could I have been so foolish.
Sadly, this was not my only condemning mistake. I am reminded of a principle I learned from Doug Fields (I do not however recommend, “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”). The idea is simple – “building dog houses.”. Doug took a fatherless troubled teen into his home over a weekend and built a dog house. Spending time with this kid changed his life.
I had the opportunity to pay a kid in my own youth group to spend two weekends landscaping my yard. I am convinced this was the “turn around” moment in his life.
Saying a prayer for all the Andy’s and “Jessie’s” out there.
My heart goes out to Andy and all those affected by an absent father – those truly absent, and those physically present but essentially absent…so painful…praying that all may know the love of a Heavenly Father, who will never abandon us (Heb. 13:5)…powerful song and video. Great post, Seth…Thanks!
@sethhaines:twitter definitely did a great job with this post! he hit on something that resonates deeply with me personally, and i love what you say about knowing the Love of our Heavenly Father. in the absence of an active dad in my life, He is the one who i’ve looked to as well.
thanks for stopping by and sharing this encouragement!