Fathering The Fatherless
Guest Editorial by John Smithbaker
Father's Day, 2009
The father-son relationship—there is just nothing like it. This Father's Day, as you dust off the old family album and journey down through memory lane, what is your favorite snapshot with your Dad? Maybe it's that great picture of the first fish he helped you reel in on the South Platte. Or how about those warm summer evenings hanging out with him at Garden of the Gods? Or, could it be his proud smile you saw beaming back at you after you bagged your first deer in Colorado?
Oh, how I wish those were the kinds of photos I had in my father-son album. Instead, I see blank pages. My father abandoned me before I was born. And for nearly forty years, I sought to fill the void of those blank album pages with things I thought would make even better memories—the snapshots of me excelling in high school sports, becoming Homecoming King, and ultimately succeeding beyond my dreams in the business world.
Society looks at me and says, "See, you didn't need your dad." But the reality is that a deep, inescapable current of anguish relentlessly drove me to succeed at all costs. I was motivated by an unconscious desire to win my father back. In the end, it didn't work and it easily could have cost me my relationship with my own children.
Sadly, my story is not unique. One out of every three children in America lives absent his or her biological father (source: the National Fatherhood Initiative's 2008 report, The One Hundred Billion Dollar Man). The majority of abandoned children deal with their loss in one of two ways—either with an insatiable appetite for success or with self-destructive choices.
Nearly 70 percent of prison inmates grew up in fatherless homes. Fatherless children are 30 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and twice as likely to drop out of school. They are also at a greater risk for suicide. The wound of abandonment is a devastating problem of epidemic proportions in America that demands a better response than, "Forget about your Dad. You're fine without him."
This Father's Day I propose a different response—one that is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, but highly-effective. I know, because it worked for me. I propose forgiveness.
When a fatherless boy learns that he has a Father in Heaven who loves and forgives him, he is empowered to forgive his earthly father and break free from the torment of abandonment. This truth is the foundation of a non-profit, Christian outdoor adventure ministry called Fathers in the Field. Fathers in the Field partners fatherless boys – "field buddies" – with mature, faithful men – "mentor fathers" – who believe the majestic outdoors provides a perfect classroom to learn about the liberating love of God and the healing power of forgiveness.
Combining faith, fatherhood and forgiveness with the kind of blood-pumping, outdoor fun that no videogame can match, Fathers in the Field works through local congregations, like Forestgate Presbyterian Church and Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. Avid outdoorsmen are equipped to reach out to fatherless boys in their communities and introduce them to the Father who will never leave or forsake them. Mentor fathers and their field buddies participate in fun, rugged outdoor excursions, community service projects and meaningful conversations that explore God's love and forgiveness.
Fathers in the Field empowers faithful Christian men to make a real difference in the lives of children who desperately need their commitment and example to restore their confidence and introduce them to the healing power of unconditional love and forgiveness. It's a powerful calling worth pondering this Father's Day.
John Smithbaker, a long-time outdoor industry advocate, entrepreneur, and founder/CEO of North American Gear, headquartered in Lander, Wyoming, started Fathers in the Field in 2005. For more information, visit www.FathersintheField.com.
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