It was an unusually warm Sunday afternoon in February. In the midst of winter, a warm front helped the temperature reach a perfect 70 degrees. I was sitting in my car, having arrived early as I waited for my 1:00 p.m. worship service at the local prison. As I waited, I noticed a young boy who appeared to be 7 or 8 years old, playing with a basketball in the parking lot. Standing beside him was a little girl, approximately age 2. No doubt this was brother and sister, waiting with their mom for their scheduled time to go visit with an incarcerated man, who was likely known as “Dad.” The men of the prison could be seen from the parking lot, standing around, visiting, playing basketball, and enjoying conversation as they waited for their family members to be escorted through security for a visit. I wondered to myself as to how long that young boy with the basketball had been coming to a prison to visit with his father. How many Sunday afternoons did that little boy wait outside the checkpoint? How many times had he been frisked, had his shoes run through a scanner, and how many times did he walk past that fence with its razor wire to see Dad? How many times had he asked his dad as to when he would be home?
I can just hear the conversation in my mind: “Dad, are you coming home soon?” “Dad, I got a tent for Christmas and I can’t wait for us to go camping.” With tears in his eyes, he may have said: “Dad, when you come home we can play basketball together.” Or maybe, “Dad, I can’t wait for us to go fishing together like you promised.”
It just breaks my heart to see children, so desperately wanting a Dad in their life, and many finding disappointment again and again. I remember growing up in Texas, wanting so badly to be with my father, that I would tag along with him while he was catching pigeons (This is a long story for another blog). I don’t think I ever really enjoyed trapping birds, it was just an opportunity to spend time with my dad.
When I look at some kids today, I see that many of them are directionless. It makes me realize the value of fathers. When I see young boys hanging out on the streets after dark or being drawn into gang activity, or just running with the wrong type of friends, it makes me wonder if their life would be different if one known as “Dad” was actively involved in their life. For those of us who are known as “Dad,” take the time to be with your kids. For the men in our program at TPOM or even those who are still incarcerated, it is not too late to start being “Dad” to them. Many of us who have never been to prison at times struggle to find the proper balance between our careers and our need to be a dad to our children. Whether our children are 2, 12, or 22, it is not too late. Being together is what our children desperately want from us as fathers, but it’s the one thing that some of us, and I am including myself in that list, often seem to have little time for in life.