Fathers in the Field

Faith • Fatherhood • Forgiveness

Ministry gives father figures to those who need them

By Melissa Weinman

Today many will celebrate their fathers and thank them for their guidance in life. But for a child without a father, the Hallmark cards and neckties can be the reminder of an absence.

Brian Holcomb of Gainesville is working to help fill that void and act as a father figure for a child who does not have a biological one in his life.

He and his 9-year-old pal build things in his workshop, go hunting and study the Bible together.

Holcomb started working through an organization called Fathers in the Field, a national ministry that matches boys with positive male role models.

Holcomb already had started to mentor the boy, whose mother sang in his church choir, when his pastor approached him and asked him if he would be interested in taking part in the program.

“It essentially formalized something I’d already been doing,” Holcomb said. Another man in his church volunteered to be a mentor and was introduced to a boy who didn’t have a father. Together, the group took on a number of activities, ending with a big turkey hunting trip.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Holcomb said.

The organization was started by John Smithbaker of Wyoming in 2005.

“He’s a very successful businessman and family man,” said Allison Griffin, a spokeswoman for Fathers in the Field. “But he struggled with years of inadequacy and hurt that his father abandoned him.”

Griffin said after spending so much time feeling angry and hurt, Smithbaker was able to make peace and forgive his father, but he realized there were many kids out there who were experiencing the same feelings he had.

Statistics show that children raised in homes without fathers account for a high percentage of high school dropouts, teen pregnancies, suicides and drug addiction. “They are at risk for bad things to come in their lives,” Holcomb said. “With numbers like that, things need to be done.”

The bonds are created through outdoor activities like camping, hunting and fishing. Participants also are required to attend church services and Bible studies and perform community service.

“Those are good teaching opportunities and it gives the boys the opportunity to talk about their feelings,” Griffin said. “They also learn lessons of forgiveness and unconditional love (that) the acceptance of God in your heart can bring.”

Holcomb said the program is just as enjoyable for the mentors as it is for the boys. Now retired with two grown daughters, Holcomb said he enjoys having someone to spend time with in his workshop.

“His favorite thing is getting in my basement workshop and building things,” Holcomb said. “He’s learned how to run saws and drill holes and make wheels and frames, and he’s just learned a lot about working with your hands. He’ll come over with an idea, and I can see each time that something I teach him the time before he’ll incorporate with his new idea. It’s kind of cool to see how his 9-year-old mind works. ... That’s a highlight for me.”

Holcomb said he also enjoys being able to do something to help someone else.

“I believe it’s God’s gift that I’m able to help people,” Holcomb said. “Just helping this little kid grow and teaching him things and hoping he stays out of trouble and helping him beat those statistics that are working against him — those are my reasons for doing what I do.”

Volunteers have to take Fathers in the Field seriously. Men are asked to devote at least three years with their mentee.

“It’s a commitment,” Griffin said. “It’s a relationship of trust. You are taking care of the hearts and spirits of these boys and you don’t want to take that lightly.” Fathers in the Field has participants all over the country. There now are 36 churches that participate in the ministry because they see a need in their communities, Griffin said.

“The numbers are growing all the time as people hear about it,” Griffin said. “It’s terrific.”

Though Holcomb’s church will not be sponsoring Fathers in the Field next year, he plans to continue being a mentor for many years to come.

“Once you’re involved in a child’s life, you can’t just walk away,” Holcomb said. “Hopefully, someday he’ll take care of me when I’m an old man.”

This article was originally published in the Gainesville Times, Gainesville FL, on June 19, 2010.

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