By Will Baker
It was a hot, sticky evening as the fathers worked with their sons over those ancient sawhorses. There were about 12 young men hard at work with their dads, creating their own canoe paddles from unshaped planks of pine. The fathers trying to keep their boys from cutting off their fingers; the scoutmasters reminding the fathers to let the boys do the work. Two of the sawhorses stood empty, waiting to be put to use. Two 13-year-old boys stood, waiting quietly, against a dusty cinder block wall.
We were waiting for the men who would take the place of our fathers to finish speaking with the scoutmaster. I needed someone because my father is blind; the youth to my left needed someone because his father wasn’t a part of his life. He had lived a hard life. The scars on his body told stories I wasn’t mature enough to read. I only knew he took a light touch and would lash out if you pushed him too hard.
It was surprising to many when that young man who waited beside me graduated high school. It was even more surprising when he told the scoutmaster he wanted to go to college. The men who had been in that room, so many years before making paddles, wrote letters to every college they could think of. Getting their own children into places like UF, Stetson, High Point and Elon had been easy compared to this.
Eventually a retired colonel found a small college in Appalachia that would take him. When he arrived the dean met with him. This is what we were told he said: “I’ll give you one shot, just one, but any young man with that many adults willing to vouch for you deserves a shot. Don’t let them down.”
As a child I often found myself waiting against those walls. It’s surprising how often a young person (because this isn’t just limited to boys) is expected to have a father participate. So today I’m saying thank you. Thank you to the men who give their time to help children whose fathers aren’t there. Thank you to the fathers who pull double duty, who have children of their own who need them. Thank you to the men who stepped in for my father. Thank you to my father who always made sure there was someone there for me.
Thank you, because this story, our story, is one of hope and salvation. Often it seems like children today are facing monumental hurdles. As more and more children grow up in single parent households (if they’re lucky enough to have one parent in their lives. The young teenager next to me on that wall wasn’t.) the issues surrounding fatherhood in America can seem overwhelming. But we aren’t the first or the last people who will have to deal with this.
The Bible is full of people who were raised without their fathers. The biblical heroine Esther was fortunate to have a male role model appear in her life. She didn’t have a mother or father so her uncle Mordecai stepped in, raising her as his own daughter. Mordecai gave of his time and resources to lift up this child with no father. Esther teaches us that when men lift up the young it’s never just a one way street; rather it’s circular, coming back around to where it began. It’s only a matter of time until it’s Esther who saves Mordecai.
A few years ago my old scoutmaster got a phone call from the young man who waited against that wall with me. He was in town and wanted to meet at a nice restaurant for lunch. After paying for the old scoutmaster’s meal he handed him his business card. Before his name was the word “Reverend,” after it came the words “Doctor of Ministry”; looking up the scoutmaster saw there were tears in his eyes, a smile on his face and the words “thank you” coming off his lips. He hadn’t let any of the men who were like fathers to him down.
Thank you to all the men who have been like a father to me.