“Dad, you have some homework”, announced my daughter Lacy (2nd grade). She came home with an assignment from her amazing teachers (Mrs. Brooks and Mrs. Webb) to read The Sign of the Beaver with her father. Following each section of the book we had some questions to answer and some vocabulary words to define. It was incredible to have that special time with my daughter to talk about some of the powerful events happening in the lives of Matt and Attean throughout the story.
Even though I wanted to read ahead, Lacy was very strict about keeping us on the reading schedule her teachers had outlined for us. When we finished the book, all of the dads were invited to “Donuts for Dads” where we were able to take part in a book discussion in Lacy’s 2nd grade classroom. When I arrived the students were all sitting on the floor in a circle with small plastic chairs behind them for the fathers. I took my place behind Lacy and she took her comfortable and familiar spot in my lap. I was so impressed with the quality of the discussion, the animation of the students, and the excitement about the presence of a room full of guests. But the most impressive part of this wonderful event was that 18 out of 19 fathers were there.
When I first heard about the assignment I wondered how this would have been received at Cockrill or Park Avenue where most students from PTM attend school. I can picture several hands going up in the air. “What if my father can’t come?” “I’m not sure where my father is.” “I don’t have a father.” “My father is in jail.” (click here for some sobering statistics about fatherless children and youth). I thought about the students at PTM. Over 75% do not have involved fathers.
I thought about Keandre. I last talked to Keandre in 2000. I remember him telling me how he couldn’t wait until he was 23 (he was 12 at the time). “My dad will get out of jail when I turn 23”, Keandre explained. Keandre turns 23 this year. I wonder if his dad will make up for loss time. Will they read a book together? Will they dream and plan for the future? Will they support one another and make each other proud? I hope so…
I am thankful for my father who left no doubt in my mind that he loved me. I am thankful for my daughters who bring me such joy. And I am thankful for the incredible opportunity of being a surrogate father at times to boys and young men at PTM, and for the joy of watching others take on this role as well. I know it saddens God to see the wide gap that exists between those who have all of the resources for a life of hope and opportunity and those who face nearly unsurmountable obstacles, but I am encouraged by the ways God uses PTM to spread joy and hope.