“The story of fatherlessness is written in the heart of our generation.” Pete Billingham believes this story needs to be told more often.
I can remember the day that my dad died.
I was 13.
Being a teenager is tough.
Being a fatherless teenager is tougher.
Attending Sunday School at the Ebenezer Methodist Church was a part of my life from being a little child. The church had been on the same street a short walk from my home since 1833. It was fixture in the local community, everyone in those days knew the “Ebenezer.” Sunday afternoons were spent sitting on uncomfortable wooden pews in front of a flannel chart learning about Noah, Joseph and Jesus by kind hearted ladies who wore feathery hats and smelled of lavender. Each year there was a Sunday School Anniversary where good attendance each week was rewarded with a gift. In 1969, when I was 9 years old, I received the book, “The Boy Who Came Back,” the story of the prodigal son.
On Worcester Road in Bromsgrove was a large derelict building that once housed the Regal Cinema. In 1973 a church brought and part refurbished the space and from its opening day all of my family attended Calvary Church. It was lively, very different in style from the Ebenezer Church and, more importantly to a 13 year old boy, there were girls in the youth group. It was not long after we all started to attend this church that my dad died.
Being a teenager is one of the most difficult seasons in life. You are neither a boy nor yet a man. At 14 the world can be a confusing and lonely place. At 14 you learn this new language called grunting. It’s as if your mouth stops working. If you have a 14 year old son or brother you will know exactly what I mean. At 14 your hormones are racing. At 11 you look and say, “oh, this a girl.” By 14 you’re saying, “this, IS A GIRL!” Becoming a teenager is like setting out in a boat from a country that is safe, known, understood and heading into stormy seas and lands unknown. Being a fatherless teenager and trying to navigate those seas absent of male role models who could guide you through those stormy waters is a tragedy that faces thousands of young men today.
There is a growing epidemic of fatherlessness. As John Sowers writes in Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story, “The story of fatherlessness is written into the heart of our generation. It is heard in our songs, seen in our movies, read in our blogs. It is a story of shame, loneliness, and rejection. A story of missed potential and wasted opportunity. A story that desperately needs to be heard. Fatherlessness is a driving force behind gangs, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and suicide. And all too often, the fatherless are either marginalised or ignored.”
Being a fatherless teenager can be the toughest place to stand out as being different. That is unless someone is looking out for you. I am grateful that I had someone who looked out for me. At Calvary Church was a youth group leader, his name was Terry and he saw this lost, lonely, and confused fatherless teenager and he became my friend. We could dress it up and call it mentoring, but really he was looking out for me. He took me to football matches, he lifted the bonnet (hood) on a car and tried to explain what was under there. Then we did stupid things like I would ride on the bonnet of his car across the local car park, go tobogganing on sheets of polythene down hills far too steep for safety but memorable fun. Those times impacted my life in ways that I could never have imagined.
The story of my life has had many interesting chapters. When I was 37 the passage that was being written was about starting and growing a new church in my hometown Bromsgrove called NewSong. The 28 years since receiving that book had not been so good for the Ebenezer Methodist church. Slowly the congregation had declined and the remaining few were about to close the church. My wife and I had been attending a growing church in the town that had been invited to share the Ebenezer Church for services. I was now leading that church and wanted to create something new, relevant and exciting in the community.
I can remember as clear as if its today standing on the stage at Ebenezer Church (now called NewSong) for the first time and understanding I was “the boy who came back!” It was like the book that I was given when I was 9 years old was a prophesy of the future. NewSong is still a thriving church today. It is still a fixture of the local community 177 years since the church originally opened. It is still a thriving and growing expression of faith on that same street. Here’s the thing, I came back to that place, in the main part, because during those tough teenage years Terry cared enough to help me navigate those turbulent times. Having a mentor, a friend who cared for me through those difficult years as a fatherless teenager made all the difference.
So this brings me to today. I know that without the support, care, and love that Terry my friend and mentor showed me, my life could have turned out so different. I, with a great team, started and lead a project called One Hope, based in Kiev Ukraine, that mentors now around 300 fatherless children across Ukraine and the CIS. Throughout my life I have tried, though not always successfully, to care, support and mentor other fatherless teenagers. What about you? Do you know of a young person that is fatherless? Do you know a young person that is lost and lonely, struggling to navigate the terrible teens? Perhaps you could be the person to befriend, to mentor, to care enough to help guide them through those years and who knows how that could make their life and this world turn out?
I would love to hear from you if you were fatherless and someone helped you, or alternatively, you reached out and helped another please write and let me know.
This blog was based on a speech that I gave called “The Boy Who Came Back,” The speech can be viewed here.
Photo (main) moonhouse / flickr. All others courtesy of author.
Originally published on peterbillingham.com