The Boy Whose Father Never Came



There is an image I cannot get out of my mind.

It is that of a little boy, about 9 years old, sitting outside, waiting for his father.  This little boy was a part of a summer program, and the kids were going on a field trip; the boy’s father had promised he would chaperone.

At first, the little boy, who was no angel, was his normal, precocious self, bothering other kids, taxing teachers and denying any wrongdoing if a classmate accused him of some infraction.

But after a while, he slipped outside the school and sat on a rock, alone. I kept my eye on him; he sat there for some time, looking, straining, really, as he looked down the street.

Finally, I went to him and asked him why he was outside. Ignoring my question, he said, “Could I use your phone so I could call my father? He’s supposed to be here. He said he was going with us.”

I called his father’s number …but nobody answered. I told the little boy and he persisted. “Well, call my mother. She’ll be able to call him.” I followed directions and called his mother and gave him the phone. He asked, pleaded, for his mother to call his father, and I guess his mother said that his father wasn’t available.

Big tears welled up in his eyes…he hung his head, and said, before he hung up, “OK. I love you.”  I assume his mother said for him to be good…or some such.

There was a quiet moment, and then it was like I could see fire well up in his eyes, with a heat so hot it melted his capacity to feel. The teary eyes were now angry and hurt. This, I could see, had happened before, and not a few times. Part of the reason for his unruly behavior was now apparent to me.

Those who want to have children ought to wait until they are ready to have children before they bring new lives into the world. As I sat and watched that little boy, I thought of how angry children grow up to be angry adults; depressed children grow up to be angry adults. Kids who live with disappointment, persistent and regular disappointment, learn not to hope, not to dream, not to care.

Every child needs love and nurturing. Parents who promise their children anything …and then simply don’t do it…are messing with the lives of innocent souls. Children don’t know how to verbalize their disappointment; more often than not, when a parent is unavailable, either physically, emotionally, or both, are doing damage to little people who just don’t have the wherewithal to cope with what they are left feeling.

Contrast what a child who has love and support can and will do with one like the little boy I’ve described here.  Gabby Douglas, who wowed the world with her gymnastic skills, had not only a mother and family that loved and supported her, but had a surrogate family as well, who loved her.

Maybe…no, I am sure, this little boy has something significant that he’s supposed to share with the world as well; perhaps he was born to be yet another Olympics  hero…but I doubt we will ever know it, because disappointed, angry children get stuck, first in their own disappointment, and later in a justice system that is often not so just.

Too many children are born and dumped.  The men who produced the sperm that fertilized the egg that produced too many children make babies without even thinking about taking care of those babies, and the women who lie down with a man, any man, for sex that produces children are likewise, many of them, not interested in being a parent.

I sometimes wonder if pro-life advocates think about that. There is so much push to protect fetuses and not nearly enough attention paid to the children who are actually born…and dumped.

I don’t mean to be unusually harsh on the parents of these children. It’s likely that the parents are giving what they received, and withholding what they don’t even know exists. They parent as they do   because they never experienced love and support  and therefore,  they cannot conceive giving it…but that doesn’t make what they do fair to the children they produce.

Who knows what the little boy whose father never came has inside him? What gifts that might enhance this world will be  squandered and lost because this little boy feels detached and neglected and ignored by his father? Who knows that that’s the reason, or at least part of the reason, that there is so much crime, so many gangs? Little children grow into young people looking for ways to fill the gaps…and sometimes, that never happens.

I think I’ll follow-up with this little boy. I think I’ll try to show him that he is a child special to God, special to the world…and worthy of love. The fact that I cannot get him out of my mind must mean that my seeing him sit on that rock, alone and forlorn, looking for the father who never came, was not a mistake.

A candid observation …


A Death in the Family

My sister died yesterday.

Her death was not unexpected; she had battled cancer like a trooper, the first time, 20 years ago, and then again, last year this time, when it came back.

She was tired of fighting, tired of going back to the hospital, tired of getting blood and medicine and more blood. I think she just said, “OK, already. Enough.”

She is the first of our siblings to die. My parents both died years ago. We five children have always had each other. Now we are five, minus one. It feels strange.

I have learned not to despise death, or even fear it, but rather, consider death a part of our life cycle.  I keep thinking of John Donne’s sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud:”

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so,

For, those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,

Die, not, poor, death, not yet canst thou kill mee.

I can rather hear my sister saying that to Death as it approached her. She defied death and the doctors, from the first time she was diagnosed with cancer until the end. Doctors said she would be gone much sooner than now; my sister told them both, “I think not.”

When I saw her in April, we were able to talk and laugh and share. What she wanted most was a cup of coffee from McDonald’s. I ran out to get her a cup and the last thing I did before I left that time was to bring her another cup of that coffee. It felt good to give her something she wanted. I took a picture of her, in her hospital bed, with her bald head and IV…and cup of coffee. That picture will forever make me smile.

I am, as a pastor, very familiar with losing people I love. I am even more familiar with the loss death deals as a member of a family. Death doesn’t affect the one who dies nearly as much as it wrangles those left behind.

This coming Monday would have been her birthday. Well, I guess it still is …it’s just that she’s celebrating it in a different space.

Is she gone? Well, physically, yes, but her spirit is all over the place. No life, once shared, is ever fully gone. I took a walk this morning and saw two amazingly beautiful Blue Jays. It was if she had sent them into my space to remind me that her spirit is forever.

There is a comfort I feel, remembering my tenacious sister and John Donne’s poem: death didn’t beat her. She took Death by the hand and led it to where she wanted it to wait until she was ready to go.

Death clearly, in this case, cannot be proud.

That would be a candid observation.

Jon, Kate and Divorce

Nobody should ever have to go through the pain of divorce.

It hurts like hell. It’s like one of your limbs is being pulled off, without anesthesia. The pain goes on and on, because, I guess, its root is so deep. Having loved, lived with and slept with someone alters one’s emotional balance with that person forever.

That being said, I ached as I watched Jon and Kate last night talk about their family and now, their imminent break up. While I didn’t like Kate much – she was a tad pushy for me – I ached because she is getting ready to do the single mother thing, and it is no fun. I found myself kind of resenting Jon because he said he was “excited” about this new phase of his life. I guess so; he will not have the every day contact with the 8 children, and will have more freedom to do what he wants.

But this divorce thing bothers me. It bothers me that it is so easy to get married and so much harder to get divorced, comparatively. People enter marriage with not the slightest idea of what the ‘worse’ is in the phrasie “for better or worse,” but clearly, they are not remotely interested in weathering the storms which always come in marriage.

Indeed, I have heard young people say, when I’ve asked them why they want to get married, that if things don’t work out, they’ll just “get divorced.” That seems to be a half witted attitude to take into a marriage, a stop gap, if you will, or an easy out. The definition of things not working out gets diluted when people see divorce as the answer when their infatuation, lust or both, wear off.

The truth of the matter is that marriage is work. Sometimes we have to work to like the spouses we say we love, and sometimes, that is not easy.  Of course, everyone who is married knows that. The problem is that too many of us opt out of the work and move on, leaving families in shambles and hearts tattered, while we flit off to the next experiment.

I think we have a problen, in that we lift up marriage as the ideal of all relationships, but we don’t really teach what marriage is. In fact, when young people “get married,” what they are excited about is “the wedding” and all the pomp and circumstance that goes with weddings. They don’t have a clue about “the marriage.” Marriage is seldom ideal, but it is especially not ideal when two people have slept together plenty, but have not taken the time to really get to know each other as individuals. A good bed partner is not necessarily a good spouse.

So, what to do? From where I sit, I can only try to really teach what marriage is, not the romantic stuff we want it to be but the brutally hard work it actually is. I can try to teach communication skills, and rules for handling conflict. I can try to get the would-be marrieds to know each other as deeply as possible, so they can identify their fundamental differences and learn how to navigate them. I can get them to learn each other’s expectations and to see if they’re able to meet those expectations, and I can get them to learn each others’ love languages…

And I can try to explain to them that divorce is the worst pain ever, for them and for any children they bring into the world.

I heard just recently that the divorce rate in America is at 50 percent. Fifty percent of all people who get married do not make it. That is a devastating statistic and a devastating reality, which means that there are a lot of angry, devastated people walking around looking to get into another marriage. How come that doesn’t sit well with me?

I am almost at the point where I want to say “no more marriage,” at least not until you’re old enough to be able to be selfless enough, patient enough, wise enough and secure enough to handle what marriage requires.  Hmmm. That would put the average age of marriage “up there,” making it harder for some people to have children. But I keep thinking that fewer children with parents in happy, well-adjusted marriages has to be better with more children in marriages where there is no love, or children who live through the pain of their parents’ divorce.

Kate and Jon’s children will internalize complex feelings from this break up, just like my children did. Kate will have to swallow tears and anger as she works not to let her children see her pain, not realizing that her pain will come out in other ways. It has to. Jon will fight feeling like nobody understands him and that he is missing a lot of his childrens’ growing up.

They will get through it, but their lives will be forever changed, all of them. Life ain’t been no crystal stair, as poet Langston Huges wrote, and this family will taste the bitterness of that thought. I know. I’ve been there.

And that’s just a candid observation.

And that’s just a candid observation.