Being a father to the fatherless
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 24.7 million children live apart from their biological fathers; many have little or no contact with them at all. The consequences of this statistic are overwhelming, considering that children lacking a father figure in their lives are at an increased risk of mental illness, behavioral issues, poverty, suicide, and substance abuse, and they are 20 times more likely to get in trouble with the law.
But there is still hope for these young people. There are men in our communities and extended families who have been filling in that gap by mentoring and “fathering” those who need it most. Several students who have been involved with Diakon Youth Services shared their stories of how someone took time to be a father figure and have a life-changing effect on their lives.
Several years ago I hit rock bottom just about the time that the Diakon Flight Program started. Everything was still in its infancy and everyone involved was learning, teaching, and growing. But, secretly, I was at my all-time low. My stepfather denied me the privilege of going to a Flight weekend and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I attempted suicide. My mentor, Rob [Kivlan, then of the Diakon Flight Program], was always there for me. At my lowest point, I could only think of one thing to do—call Rob. As I lay on the floor talking to him, he was the one who saved me and gave me hope. He helped though all of this and stood me back up on my two feet.
He has shown great qualities of a mentor—empathy and the ability to love unconditionally above all else. Everything about me has changed because of Rob demonstrating these qualities to me. I vowed to raise and treat my child as Rob has treated me. I’ve even turned my back on him, and he still had his arms open wide to welcome me back. He has taught me patience, compassion and the ability to love unconditionally. I can only hope to continue to grow and be an amazing man like he is.
My favorite memory would be the Grand Canyon hike we took a few years ago. A friend and I were lagging behind the rest of the group. Rob held the rear of the hiking line. We were all so tired and ready to give up, but Rob kept us going; he kept us alive in all reality. It turned out that a trip I hated at the start became one of the greatest accomplishments I have under my belt, and I will never forget it.
I was at the lowest part of my life when I found out that I wouldn’t be able to move up to the next grade because I had failed too many classes earlier in the year when I was messing up. It was too late to make up for it now even though I was finally on the right path.
My mentor took me out to eat and we talked about how our past actions have consequences that can follow us even when we have made a change for the better. He told me that I couldn’t go back and change those wasted semesters, but that I could move forward and do my best from this point on. I could either let this setback make me fall further behind or use it as motivation to do better. It was so important to me that he listened to me without judging me.
My mentor and I also have some great memories of doing community service work together. It is a lot of fun to give back to our communities and we both love working with kids. He has really helped my life change for the better! He has taught me so many things about how to approach life and look at things that happen in life differently. I used to view everything as a setback, but he taught me to look at everything as an opportunity.
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