Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Father's Eyes

When I lived in Wilmington, NC my wife and I were members of, and regular volunteers at Port City Community Church.

The main pastor Mike Ashcraft, used to tell us on a regular basis, that the biggest problem facing our city, our state, our country, and the next generation was the plight of fatherless children.

Children... boys and girls growing up without their father's present in the most formidable years, to teach the rights and wrongs of being contributing members of society.  This plight knows no prejudice.  It doesn't see skin color, economic circumstances, or even fear of responsibility.

When you do what I do for a living, you meet children all too often who have lost their father to either death or incarceration or sheer flight from responsibility.  Two days ago I was charged with covering a vigil for a man murdered in the neighborhood he was born and raised in.  I interviewed his pregnant girlfriend who openly discussed how she was on the phone with him the moment he was shot.  She heard his final breath and dieing scream for help.

Moments later I would meet the little beauty you see pictured above.  While unaware of her relationship to the late man pictured on her t shirt, the expression on her face as she read over the words scribed on that sign she is holding, simply captivated me.  

I cannot tell you how many of these vigils I've shot in my career.  I can't tell you how many hours I've recorded of family members mourning over the loss of a loved one.  I can't tell you how many widows I've interviewed.  I can't tell you how many fatherless children I've met.

What I can tell you is this, I'm one of the lucky ones.  From the moment I entered this world, my father has always been my biggest champion.

He gave me his name.  He made sure I always had a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in.  He made sure we always had food in the fridge.  He taught me how to shave.  He taught me about forgiveness.  He taught me how to accept God's grace and live by it.

He taught me to admit my mistakes and own up to them.  He taught me that the unconditional love of a good woman is hard to find, and something to truly cherish and never take for-granted.  He bought me my first car and my first camera.  He taught me how to be a man.

In the late 70's he met my mother.  A struggling single mom who could barely afford the bare necessities for my older brother.  He would go on to buy him shoes and clothes before he even looked at an engagement ring for my mom.

In his own selfless ways, he displayed compassion and generosity that I believe resides in me.

He made a 7 year old boy his son and married my mother on July 14, 1979.  He has always maintained that even though they aren't blood, Buck is his son as much as I am.

Growing up, the oldest of 3, in rural southeastern North Carolina on the shores of Lake Waccamaw, he began working at the age of 12 at a local grocery store.  He would take food in lieu of a paycheck so that his family would have food for the week to eat.  I carry this lesson of hard work in my heart and go back to it anytime I think I've had a tough day on the job.  He taught me that a strong work ethic pays off and that people do notice it.

My father and I haven't always had the most perfect relationship.  It got pretty rocky in my early  twenties, and we even went a while without speaking.

Through the grace of God, and an insistent mother whom I am quite thankful for, we got our relationship back and it has been better than ever.

I still seek my father's counsel on tough decisions, financial advice, how to handle rough situations at work, and oftentimes I just call him up to shoot the breeze.

Realizing your parents are real people with their own real world problems was one of the toughest pills I've ever swallowed, and also one of the most rewarding.  I've seen my father navigate just about every high and low a lifetime can see, and I've witnessed him come out a better husband, father, and friend on the other side.  I've seen him beat cancer.  I've seen his heart grow.

I know that there is hope for this next generation because in a world plagued by the lack of fathers, role models, and heroes I am truly one of the very lucky ones.  My story of redemption and reconnection with my own father is a true testament to that.

Superman doesn't always wear a cape.  Sometimes he wears a weathered Willie Nelson t shirt and has a beard.  Sometimes he looks just like you do. 

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