I have to tell you about Sugar Bear. He’s fifty-five, and he’ll tell you that the worst day of his life was back in the early 90s, when he was released from prison.
As he was being processed out, he saw one of his sons … being processed in.
Earlier this month, columnist George Will wrote about Sugar Bear and his unlikely story. His difficult journey began with his first arrest for grand theft auto … before his fifth birthday. He grew up on the streets of LA, without a positive father or father figure in his life. He eventually became a father of five children, but has never married.
This is exactly the kind of story that many people, myself included, would point to as evidence that our entire nation is in crisis; the statistics connected with repeating cycles of father-absence are staggering. And don’t think this scourge is limited to Compton and South Central. Fatherlessness and disengaged dads are also a chronic problem in the suburbs as well.
All fathers need to step up and start living out Championship Fathering—loving, coaching, and modeling for their own children, encouraging other children, and enlisting more dads. Those are key points in my message wherever I go, and they’re important.
But I’m happy to say that Sugar Bear is now evidence that some good things are happening in our nation, even in the most desperate of circumstances. His road to recovery led him to World Impact, a faith-based inner-city outreach, and more recently he connected with Dr. Ken Canfield, the founder of the National Center for Fathering, who is now working with World Impact.
In Sugar Bear’s case, recovery was tied to a faith awakening. He clings to Psalm 68, where God is described as “a father to the fatherless” who “sets the lonely in families.” Today Sugar Bear is active in helping others at a local rescue mission, and he’s trying to build bridges with his children.
George Will’s closing comment is right on point: “Bailing an ocean with a thimble? Perhaps. Still, this [story exemplifies] a very American approach to social regeneration: One by one, from the inside-out.”
Our vision here at the National Center is that no child would go unfathered; we believe every child needs a dad he or she can count on.
And we do try to keep track of the big picture. But at the same time I want to remind dads—and challenge all men—to address these issues as individuals. The best way to improve outcomes for children is “one child at a time.”
When we hear the bleak statistics, each of us should be asking ourselves, Am I doing everything I can to help my child—and other children in my sphere of influence—to thrive academically, socially, physically and spiritually? Am I constantly watching out for barriers and influences that could get in the way of these children reaching their full potential?
We can’t predict exactly which roles our children will need us to fulfill. The role of an at-home dad will be much different from a dad who works long hours outside the home. A father whose son loves football will do some things differently on a day-to-day basis compared to a dad whose son prefers to play chess. Or, if a dad has a child with serious health challenges, that may require a nearly constant level of attention and care.
Fatherhood is a big and honorable and challenging role, and it’s wise to see the big picture. But it’s also one child at a time.
Here are 4 Action Points for the week. Please help us by sharing your ideas below.
- Plan some one-on-one time with each of your kids. Move out of your comfort zone—or try something new that you know your child enjoys—in an effort to bond with him or her.
- Take a sober inventory of the attitudes and lifestyle that you’re modeling for the children in your life. Do you make insensitive jokes about others? Which of your habits or choices would you be horrified to see your children follow? “Like father like son” is more than a cute cliché; often it can be eye-opening and scary. (Consider reviewing this list with your bride or a close friend.)
- Make a list of the children in your neighborhood who need a dad’s influence. Check that list regularly, and commit to making some small or large, positive contribution to that child’s life during the next month. Include him or her at a family meal, social outing, or trip to the ice cream store.
- Look again at those areas I mentioned where you can help your children thrive: academically, socially, physically and spiritually. Come up with a plan for how you’ll address each area in a specific way with each of your children.
You can read George Will’s commentary here.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.