Child: Dad? Hmm, not there… I wonder where he could be? He wouldn’t have left me… would he?? Dad?!!?Where are you??
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John Fuller: I wonder how many children are asking that very question about a father who is missing or unwilling to connect with them. Or he is so checked out from his family that he may as well be absent from the home. Today on Focus on the Family, we’re going to look at fatherlessness and how some men are willing to step up to be the dad for boys who have no dad. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, the research about fatherlessness in America is heartbreaking. The stats are stacked against these children who grew up without dads. And they are more likely to grow up in poverty, abuse drugs, commit crime, experience early sexual activity and even contemplate suicide.
And single moms are not to blame. I know many women who are working above and beyond to provide the best life and family environment they can for their children, including my mom, who was a single-parent mom. But the fact is, there’s something in our wiring, in our DNA that desperately longs for the unique strengths and companionship and approval that only a dad can provide. And when that’s missing, we have a deep sense of emptiness in our lives.
And as I mentioned, I know this firsthand because most of my childhood was spent without a father. My dad suffered from alcoholism and would blow in and out of my life. And I could never count on him being there for me, especially when I needed him. I shared this story in my bookThe Good Dad,where I learned that God is faithful even in the messiness of life and that I could depend on him to help me be a better father than what I experienced growing up. That’s been my heartthrob since I became a parent, was be that dad that I didn’t have. Thankfully, there were also some male mentors in my life that helped me know what it meant to be a man. And I think that was a God incident. I didn’t plan for it. But they encouraged me and helped me overcome the challenges that face so many of us that don’t have dads growing up.
And that’s why I’m excited about this topic today and our guests because their ministry is having a life-changing impact, turning around the pain and loneliness that fatherless boys experience. And they are giving them a new hope for the future in Christ. And I love it.
John: Well, our guests are John Smithbaker and Scott MacNaughton. And they’re both dads. They’re avid sportsmen. They have a passion for helping fatherless boys. And in 2005, they foundedFathers in the Field, which is a church-based ministry, connecting men to boys who are missing a dad in their lives. And the results, as you said, Jim, are just phenomenal.
Jim: They are. And let me welcome both of you to the broadcast.
Scott MacNaughton: What a pleasure. Thank you.
John Smithbaker: Yeah, thank you.
Jim: Man, you know, even listening to that set up, it’s got to grieve your heart, as it does mine, to know how many boys today and girls are growing up without a dad in the home. I mean, it’s probably one of the biggest plights in our country, don’t you think?
John S.: Absolutely, it’s our belief that it’s the society’s number one issue facing our country and our culture.
Jim: Yeah, it’s so true. Let’s start with that overall problem of fatherlessness. Some people say this is a national epidemic, just like we mentioned. And one of the leading social problems in North America today. Describe some common problems you’ve seen in the lives of those fatherless boys. What is the typical characteristics that you will see in those boys particularly who grew up without a dad?
John S.: The characteristics are somebody who is very angry because their hero has left.
John S.: And that manifests itself in a lot of different ways as they grow up, everything from being lonely to being confused to being behind the eight ball from educational studies and how to grow up to be a man. So they are searching daily for what it means to be a man and trying desperately to get the affirmation of males.So they can feel that they are becoming a man. And then also to try and fill a hole that’s in their soul in some way.And that’s where everything kind of goes sideways is when they start trying to fill that empty hole in their soul that their dad and his input and his affirmation into his life should have filled.
Jim: You know, the way that can manifest, too, you try to compensate. That was my issue. I mean, I was going to pretend everything was fine. And, you know, I can get along. And I can do this even if I don’t have a dad. And I think a lot of young boys live in that spot. They kind of try to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And that’s OK. And not everybody has a dad. And I can do this.
I can remember the effect for me, looking back now, especially in sports. And my dad was a big guy, 6’5”. And he played baseball. And he was athletic. But I can remember when I was quarterback of the football team. And I always said physically, I had the attributes that I thought I could keep going into college, and – but mentally and emotionally, what I suffered from was confidence. And I think now that I look back on it, I could trace that back to not having that dad who could give me that undergirding, so that when it’s third-and-3, I had to express that confidence in the huddle.
You almost take on an idea that oh, if it doesn’t work out, OK, so what? And that’s not a, necessarily, healthy perspective. It can mask an unhealthy perspective. And I think that’s how it impacted me. Um, that lack of confidence. Do you see that in the boys that you work with?
Scott: Absolutely. I think that they’re – they’re longing to have the joy of accomplishment and others recognizing it. And when that main person in their lives, the father is not there, then he has really starting to regress and starting to think life doesn’t really matter. My accomplishments don’t really matter.
Jim: It’s almost like you aim for getting by.
Scott: Yeah. Mediocrity becomes – or even failing – becomes part of their mentality because other things are failing in their lives, you know, and they begin to just go down that track.
Jim: John, let me ask you, you were a fatherless boy yourself and then you became a father. And I don’t want to put words in your mouth – I’d like to hear it from your heart – did you repeat the errors of your own dad? Or what were the circumstances that got your attention on the importance of fathering?
John S.: That’s a great question. I knew that I was broken inside, but like a lot of fatherless boys, they decide if they’re going to flee from the situation or fight for their father’s affection.And so what I like to say is about 15 percent of them become decision makers in trying to fight for their father’s affection. And that’s what I did. So I tried to win everything, accomplish everything, be perfect in the eyes of the world and so my father would want to love me.
Jim: Was he distant? He was alive but not engaged?
John S.: He was alive. He lived on the other part of town.
Jim: So your mom and he divorced when you were what age?
John S.: Yeah. My dad left when my mom was pregnant with me and my sister was 3 years old.
Jim: So you had some relationship with him, though?
John S.: No. I had, really, zero relationship with him until my high school years, until I started excelling at football, and then he would come by.
Jim: Oh, man, talk about performance base then, huh?
John S.: Yeah. But I was fine with that because that’s what I was all about (laughter). Not in a healthy way.
Jim: Well, it gave you something to connect with, but the fact that, I mean, but think about it, you had to earn his affection in that way.
John S.: Yes. And that came very natural to me because that’s what my whole life was programmed around, was earning my father’s return in my fantasy land perspective or his affection. And, you know, obviously, that’s very unhealthy.
And so to answer your other question,so when I, you know, got married and had my first child, I was not saved yet. I didn’t get saved until I was 40 years old. And my oldest daughter was, you know, probably 3 or 4 years old. And I look back on that and I was in the process of repeating what my father did. And I was – we were probably on the road to divorce because I put myself and my career and my accomplishments ahead of my family and my wife. And then when the Lord saved me,he made me realize that, obviously, there’s a different way, that I need to love my wife and family like Christ loves the church.
It’s pretty much universal that the father wound through fatherlessness or abandonment or being left behind, however you want to ascribe it, that wound is a deep soul wound, it controls these boys, acts as a behavior for their entire life. Because they have made a vow to themselves they will never, ever forgive their earthly father for leaving them. So this bitterness and this anger and this unforgiveness really controls their life.
John F: Uh-huh.
John S: And so I was driving to meet my uncle, who was one man who stood up in my life growing up to…
Jim: Was this your dad’s brother or your mom’s?
John S.: My mom’s brother.
John S.: Um, Uncle Bucky. And I was meeting him to go fishing late at night, scrambling after work, you know how it goes, to go fly-fishing on the Green River in Wyoming there. And it was probably close to midnight and I was driving to meet him.And I felt this overwhelming sensation. I didn’t know how to describe it then, but I pulled my truck over on this dark highway road and – and got on my hands and knees and saw all my sins flash before me. And I – I begged for his forgiveness. And I thought I was done.
And then I heard – our – my Heavenly Father speak to me and say no, now you need to forgive your earthly father for leaving you. And what he taught me there and what these boys deal with is that unforgiveness of their earthly father is the deepest of soul wound and it’s the deepest of sin that they do not want to give up because the Bible makes it clear that unforgiveness is a sin.
And these fatherless boys carry this sin with them, in addition to a lot of other things how we act out. But I gave up those pretty fast.But when my Heavenly Father asked to forgive my earthly father – and it’s something I was told myself every day I would never do because it’s the unforgivable sin – I said OK, I will. And at that point, I felt a rush over my – my body. And I knew I was healed. And I knew I was forgiven. And I knew I was a new creation in the Lord.
And that was, really, the foundation of the ministry. And that is what we do as a ministry, is we focus on the father wound and bringing the Gospel and translate it into a fatherless boy language so they can hear the Gospel. And we get to the point and we share the most important truth a fatherless boy will ever here. And we say son, I’ve something very important to tell you. And he’ll say yeah, what’s that – to his mentor father now because there’s a level of trust established. He’ll say son, you need to forgive your earthly father for leaving you.
Jim: And in this case – um – it didn’t necessarily work out to the expectation you had hoped for. And it’s important for people to hear that. And I – I would ask you, if you would, to describe that because it doesn’t always end up the way we think it should go. So what happened when you approached your dad to try to ask for his forgiveness and reconcile?
John S.: That’s a great question. You know…I went back and wrote a letter to my dad and, basically, shared with him, you know, what you did was very wrong, mattered greatly in my life, but through the power of Christ, I’ve been forgiven, and I’d like to share the gospel with you and with the motivation of since we’ve had no time on earth, I’d love to spend forever with you. And it was the most therapeutic thing I did. And we incorporate that into the ministry curriculum now. But…But it took me a long time to write and a lot of tears through it. But I was so thrilled to be able to send that to him. And I was so thrilled for him to receive it. But he didn’t receive it very well.
Jim: How did he respond? What did he say or…
John S.: Well, he wrote a letter back, basically blaming my mom for everything and not taking any responsibility for it.
John S.: And playing the blame game and – and all that. And so that – that was fine, but then I still had this overwhelming urge to go share the gospel in person with him. And I did. And I, actually, took my sister. I asked my sister to go along. And she went along. And I shared the gospel with him. And that was the last conversation I really had with him. And he said no, I don’t believe in that stuff. And then he ended up dying about a year and a half later of cancer…
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
John S.: And I tell these boys – I said, you know, forgiveness is different than reconciliation, but when you do forgive your earthly father for leaving you and your – your wound is healed, it doesn’t mean you don’t walk with a limp, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a scar that you bump into now and then, but that bitterness and anger, that wound is no longer festering. It’s healed. But there could be a scar that you bump into now and then.
Jim: Yeah, that’s well put.
John F.: This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller. Our guests are John Smithbaker and Scott MacNaughton. And it’s our privilege to talk with them about ministry to boys, in particular, without fathers. And if this is something you’d like to learn more about, we’ve got details at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Scott, you also have a father story.
Jim: Share that with us.
Scott: Well, mine started out in the way back in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, where my parents actually ran a children’s home. So I grew up in a children’s home where there were 50 children that were either wards of the state or orphans, and, uh, it was a Christian school. It was a – a farm, that we all grew up on and lived on for the first 11 years of my life. And, uh, my dad was both a pastor, and he was an agronomist. Uh, he had his master’s in agriculture, so his, um, he had a dual purpose of helping mountain folks make the best use of their two-acre plots on the side of the Kentucky mountainside in Appalachia.
And, um, so I was exposed to fatherlessness, at a very early age because the children that I grew up with and, and so it – it was always a part of my heart but I – I never thought that I, myself, would become fatherless. As I mentioned, my dad was a pastor. We left Kentucky when I was about, uh, 12, and ended up in, uh, Lander, Wyo., and where my dad was the organizing pastor of the church that actually startedFathers in the Field, and of which the church I am now the pastor…
Jim: Oh, interesting.
Scott: …But the story – the story has quite a – a middle gap, uh, there where my dad got an unbiblical divorce from my mother after 33 years. And uh, he was excommunicated from the church. And he, uh, – he never repented of that, and made excuses, like John’s dad, did as well, for 26 years.
Scott: But through faithful prayers, and many, many others, uh, even in the church that he started that still loved him greatly, he repented, just, uh, and actually asked my mom for forgiveness just a year and a half before she died.
Jim: That’s powerful.
Scott: And so there is the story where God truly intervened, both in my dad’s life, and in my life, and – and many of our, uh, family’s life and church family.
Jim: Let’s move, in these next few minutes, to the ministry, um, that you lead,Fathers in the Field. Describe it – the accomplishments, what your big goal is, what you’d love to see happen. John, what does it look like?
John S.: Yeah, it’s a great question, thanks. The mission ofFathers in the Fieldis to really intentionally deal with the father wound that resides in these fatherless boys – not to gloss over it, not to pretend it’s not there, but to speak honestly and openly with them.
And as I said earlier, the path that the Lord took me on is really what we wanna tell these boys. So we intentionally have men commit to them for over a three-year period and make an intentional commitment into their life with a signing ceremony that puts this commitment down – because part of the wound is understanding that men have let them down their entire life.
John S.: And one commitment, one broken promise after another is happenin’ to them all the time through relationships, through people with good intentions that aren’t following through, whatever it is – that callous and wounds on their heart develops over time. So we understand that it’s gonna take some time to peel those callouses back.
Jim: Well, in reality, they may be the first man in that boy’s life who actually kept his promise, which is so critical.
John S.: Well, it is. Well, it’s the beginning of the healing process – is the word commitment, and a man to live up to it. Part of what we do is coach and mentor these mentor fathers to say, listen, it doesn’t matter at all for the first year what you say to this boy. He not even listening to one word you’re saying. It’s like Charlie-Brown-talk to him.
John F.: Hm.
John S.: What matters is when you say you’re gonna pick him up at 8 o’clock to bring him to Sunday school and church, and that car or truck rolls up in – side – front of his driveway, his heart will leap for joy because a man lived up his commitment because fatherless boys across this country have looked out to the window when somebody has promised to show up, and they do not.
John S.: So that is what helps. Then when they see that you actually are living up to your commitment over a period of time, then they’re willing to listen to what you have to say. And all…
John S.: Credibility and trust – and that’s when we say, like we said earlier, son, I have something very important to tell you.
John S.: And – and the partthat I didn’t get to say is because that credibility and relationship has been established – this boy asked the most grace-filled question of that mentor father after the mentor father shared what he needs to do.He say – they all say the same thing, “I will never do that.” But they ask, but why should I? I mean, that is a powerful question from a fatherless boy who didn’t want to learn before – now is signaling he wants to learn because he asked that question – why should I?
John F.: Why should I forgive my father?
Jim: Scott, you have a story of one boy in particular that really touched you, and I’m sure, uh, you touched his life. What happened?
Scott: Well, the very first, uh, boy in our ministry -we call ‘em field buddies – and, uh, the men – I was the mentor Father. I had the privilege of mentoring Mason. Uh, he was nine and a half years old. At that point in his life, he had never met his earthly father. And we began this journey together. And, again, the trust issue was there. I mean, he was all on surface-level things, but he would never go deep with us. But, by the, uh, middle to the end of our first year together, we started talking about – and we – our first year’s curriculum is on the Lord’s Prayer. So they memorize the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, our Father who art in heaven; and we begin to unpack what that really means from a spiritual standpoint, from our heavenly Father never leaving nor forsaking us.
And, uh, we actually asked the question at the end of our first year about, uh, what would you do if you saw your earthly father, or, uh, would you forgive your earthly father? And I have his actual journal. It says, in big fifth grade block letters, I will never ever forgive my earthly father.
And it was that next week that he received his very first letter from his father, who was in jail. And, uh, he started that – an initial contact with his dad. He got to meet his dad when he was 10 years old. And – but it’s a story of great disappointment on his part as well because his dad got out of jail, promised him the world, delivered nothing. And so it became another scar wound on his life. But God used it. Over the next – I’ve now, ten and a half years with this young man, had the privilege of seeing him commit his life to the Lord, be baptize – I got to baptize him, uh, in our church – and, uh, to – to see what God was doing – just through intentional but natural things – things I love to do, I got to do with Mason and take him along.
Jim: How’s Mason today?
Scott: He – he is 20 years old. He is, uh, making his way in life. The way I know that God has impacted him is that he calls me, and he still wants to stay connected. He is asking, uh, for advice. And, you know, I think he’s still trying to maneuver, uh, spiritually where he’s going to end up.
Jim: So he’s normal?
Scott: He’s normal. (Laughter) Absolutely.
Jim: That’s a good achievement. I mean…
Scott: And – and the fact that he called me last week, uh, our favorite thing to do was turkey hunting together. He called me while I was turkey hunting, knew – and knowing I was there, and he said, I really missed it. He was very emotional about, uh, the times we had together.
Jim: I’m sure for him– and this is the point of the whole ministry, isn’t it? To demonstrate the love of our Heavenly Father to these boys who have no earthly father to hang on to. Man, that’s powerful. And I’m sure many boys have been transformed by what your mentor fathers are doing.
Let me speak to the men who are listening to us. I hope you’ve heard the heart of these men and their message. Children growing up today need the power and influence of a godly man in their lives. The research is clear. The presence of a father figure contributes to almost every measure of success in a child’s life. And that starts with your own family. Pay attention to the boys and girls that God has given to you– given to your care. Engage with them. Encourage them. Introduce them to the love of Jesus, the most important thing you can do!
And then consider how you can be a role model or a mentor father to a boy without a dad in his life. If your church doesn’t have a program likeFathers in the Field,look for opportunities to encourage or do something fun with a fatherless boy in your sphere of influence. It’s that simple! That’s what coaches and Christian men did for me and you’ll never know how much your kindness and attention can change the trajectory of one boy’s life.
John F.: Mm-hmm. And it starts with one step toward that child and offer to help and one resource that we’re going to point you to is, Jim, your book,The Good Dad,you mentioned it earlier, in which you show men how to overcome those father wounds, if we can call them that and the past mistakes to become better fathers. As you say, it’s not about being a ‘perfect’ dad, but just trusting God to help you connect with your child through love and grace and patience– and some fun– just what you were talking about.
Jim: Be the good dad.
John F.: Well, we have a complimentary copy of The Good Dad for you when you make a financial gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. That’s our way of saying thank you for supporting this ministry and our efforts to shore up and strengthen families. Visit focusonthefamily.com/radio to donate and learn more or call 1-800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Jim: John and Scott, I’ve got one more question for you and I think it’s a good one. What kind of feedback are you hearing from single moms when a Christian man engages with that son of hers and spends time with sharing God’s love? What happens in the heart of that mom?
John S.: Well, it’s certainly a big sense of gratitude, um. You know, the single moms, in our opinion, are the widows of our time. And 85 percent of these single moms are not coming to church. So what happens is, when we go in a church and get them engaged in the ministry, part of what we do is we have to educate the church how to go outside the church building, into the fields of the fatherless, and find these single moms because these boys, typically, are not in this church.
And once a church proactively reaches out into the life of a desperate hurting family, the gratefulness is unreal. And what happens is the church, then – that’s the other reason why we use the church – is the ministry ofFathers in the Fieldis specifically to the life of that boy, not to the broken family. But because we go through the church, the holistic approach of using the church really manifests itself in that family.
Jim: And that’s what churches are all about – or should be.
John S.: And single moms are just – just profoundly grateful.
Jim: Well, John and Scott thank you so much for being on the broadcast with us. John Fuller will hook people in, and if they want to get active and get churches – their churches – involved – I hope many do because there’s so many kids that are desperate.
Jim: …To have a father or a mentor in this life.And what a joy to point young boys in the right direction.
Scott: Thank you.
Jim: And that’s quite a way to spend some of your time on this earth. So thank you again.
Scott: Thank you very much.
John F.: And you will find information about Fathers in the Field at focusonthefamily.com/radio and as we’ve said, we really want you to get involved with that ministry. At the website, you can get a CD or download of our conversation or the mobile app so you can listen on the go. We’ll also have information about Jim Daly’s bookThe Good Dadand then finally, take a moment to fill out our Listener Survey, won’t you? Just tell us what you think about these broadcasts– what you like, how we might improve– your feedback is vital as we continue to bring these broadcasts to you on a daily basis.
Now, coming up next time on Focus on the Family: the testimony of a former soldier turned pastor who experienced a very close call with a failed parachute.
John Murphy: In that moment, my only thought– it wasn’t my wife, my family. It was– I just got back from a deployment where I could’ve died a hero and I’m about to die here, out here on this training jump.
Jim Daly: A practice jump.
John Murphy: Yeah.
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