We were best friends, and had been since childhood.
Even though we were only a year apart in age, somewhere along the way I became his protector.
Perhaps it was because I was bigger, or perhaps it was because my dad made me a fighter. Although I resented Dad’s parenting methods, I had to admit they came in handy dealing with bullies. My friend had the heart but lacked the training. Nevertheless, he always stood his ground, until he lost his ground.
His moments of peace from neighborhood bullies were directly tied to my arrival and departures. Summers were nice, and fall and winters were tough.
As I reflect on our friendship, I guess the reason I cared so much was due to the fact that my friend didn’t have a dad, which is something that’s haunted him all his life. I have watched as that hurt manifest itself in various ways throughout our friendship. As a kid and a teenager, he cried. As a man, he expressed his pain in other ways, turning to drugs and alcohol.
I am as powerless as he in regard to fighting a ghost. Actually, it is worse than a ghost — he is mourning the fact that he never knew his dad. Therefore, he has no memories. He is plagued by the constant thoughts of what could and should have been.
We went our separate ways for a while during college. In spite of, or perhaps because of, his situation, he excelled in school. He worked hard, but whatever success he experienced, it never seemed enough. For every step forward, he took two steps back. Even during moments of prosperity, it always seemed as if a dark cloud was just beyond the horizon. Regardless of our many talks and my words of encouragement, he rarely saw the glass half full. He was always waiting for the other shoe to fall, and if said shoe was delayed in its fall, he would kick it off. It was as if the one thing he could control was the arrival of failure. Quitting was how he dealt with the mounting pressure of prolonged success. In his heart, he wasn’t ever good enough.
It has been said that “a dad is the first person on the planet who can choose to accept or reject you.” The fact that his dad rejected him seeps through every fiber of his being. His dad’s rejection clouded his vision of his worth. His dad never told him that he was good enough or that he could do it. I watched him start journey after journey, only to see him become weary of holding himself up by his own bootstraps. Almost without fail, he came crashing down. I gathered from his actions that his objective was to become numb and not to feel or think about anything. He needed to chase the blues away, if just for a while. He had to keep anyone or anything from ever hurting him again.
My friend and I have been roommates about four times. He recently came to me for help. He confessed what I already suspected.
“What am I going do?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “This is outside my field of expertise. Either you are going to get some help and get better, or you are going to die.”
He got some help. That very night I drove him to a place where experts could help him. In the years that followed, we’ve keep in touch. He still struggles, because no number of experts can take away or fill the void left in the heart of a fatherless child. Since he vows never to have a family until he can be a father, his relationships suffer. The irony is that his fear of being a father is because he wasn’t fathered. Unlike when we were kids, I can no longer protect him. Truth be told, I probably never really could.
What I witnessed my friend endure, I see each and everyday. I see it in the students I’ve taught, in the athletes I’ve coached and in the youth I’ve mentored – empty seats in the stands where their parents should have been sitting and those same parents’ failure to attend a parent teacher conference. Is it any wonder that our prisons are full and our youth rebel when the first individual to have a choice to be in their lives walked away? We have sowed the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.
I would like to reference two points in the Bible; the first being after Jesus was baptized by John. The scripture states, “A voice came from the heavens and said, this is My Son in Whom I AM well pleased.” And at his death, Jesus looked toward heaven and said, “Father, why have you forsaken Me?”
And after that he gave up the ghost and died.