Week 16:Hope For The Fatherless
Weekly Digital Detox Reflections
Welcome back to the ongoing weekly digital detox reflections here at The Endeavor. If you are new here, thank you so much for subscribing! If you have not yet had the chance to see what these reflections are all about, check out a few of these links. If you’ve now been here for most of the 16 weeks, thank you so much for sticking around! I’m thankful for each and every reader.
I’ll admit, I spent more time online and on my phone this week. While I do hope to get back on track and further disconnect, I must say, this week I was able to see and utilize some of the best aspects of our digital environment. Last Thursday evening, I got a text from my brothertelling me about a spontaneous virtual hangout that would be hosted by the gracious . I promptly disregarded my digital detox and got ready to join and am so glad I did! It was a wonderful experience to meet Sara virtually, along with , Mandy from , Maya at , , Erica at , Kristin at , and . The idea was to chat and have a writing session that would be followed by a discussion about what we wrote and were working on. We mostly chatted, touched on upcoming work, and didn’t really write much, but it doesn’t matter because it was a blast! Thank you Sara for hosting us! It was wonderful and I would gladly do this again.
I also broke my digital detox routine to engage in a discussion provided by the incredibleand his powerful wife Ruth at.
They kindly hosted a virtual coffeehouse-style get-together for those who could not attend the conference so they could hear from a few who did. For those, like me, who were unable to attend the conference and the virtual get-together, they posted wonderful reflections and discussions for the hangout, provided YouTube links to talks given at the conference, and then provided excellent discussion questions for those who still wished to engage to share their thoughts and opinions with others. I endeavored to answer all 10 questions and engage with other readers. This kept me up way past my bedtime and connected to the internet longer than I have been in months, but it was well worth it.
The spontaneous get-together I joined, and the discussions prompted by Peco and Ruth have really given me a jolt of energy and hope. There is a strong community of well-intentioned, thoughtful, and clever people here on Substack who seem to genuinely want the best for the world. For people who have issues with The Machine and those who long for a tangible community, the community here should at least tell us that there are more people than we might think who want the same things. The trick now is to transition from fun, meaningful online interactions to even more frequent fun and meaningful interactions in real life with people we can hug and laugh with. I’m hopeful and encouraged that people are waking up to the realization that this is what we long for and need.
Where My Thoughts Have Been
Fatherlessness is the unfortunate stain on my life that can never be removed. I’ll be 33 in January. While I still, hopefully, have a long life ahead of me, I have already learned a few important things. I have learned that if you can come to terms with hardship in your life, whether self-inflicted or out of your control, you can learn from them, and share the lessons. I have learned that sharing your experiences, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve overcome adversity can be powerful, life-changing, or even life-saving lessons for others. Sharing the lessons you’ve learned can be one way God can use even terrible things for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. Remember, God uses ALL things for good.
I am at peace with the fact that I grew up without a father. I don’t celebrate it. I wouldn't recommend it. I will not repeat it. Nonetheless, I have come to terms with it. What I aim to do in these reflections is share some of my experiences and thoughts on fatherlessness in hopes that maybe one reader will come across this post and find encouragement and hope for their own future.
During the 1980’s, my mom was doing what most people had been doing. Partying, doing drugs, and trying to make it. During this time she had been married, divorced, and even suffered a miscarriage. Her mother had died and her lifestyle had put a wedge between her and her father, my PawPaw. She was hurting. During all of this, the man who would become my father was in her circle of friends, but they never actually had a relationship. He was considerably younger and the cousin of her ex-husband, so this would have been inappropriate. Well, in the early part of 1990, in a moment of intoxication, they were together and Susan at 28, was then pregnant with twin boys, and Eddie (my father) at 17 was the father. My father, given the circumstances and lifestyle he knew my mom had been living, was reasonably skeptical and wanted proof that he was indeed the father. My mom understood this but always said knew he was the father. After Derek and I were born, my mother obliged my father and had the tests done. The results were clear. He was the father.
From what I can remember, Mom told me my father would come around sporadically from time to time when we were toddlers but my mother was cautious with allowing us to spend time with him because, at this time, he still got drunk pretty regularly. One day, in an attempt to allow him to be more involved, my mother begrudgingly agreed to drop us off at his place for a birthday party he was having. After a few hours, which I’m sure seemed like an eternity to my mother, she returned to pick us up from the party. Upon her arrival, she found my brother and me unattended in the street playing on a big-wheel tricycle while my father was passed out drunk on the couch. Outraged, my mother took us home and this was the last time we would see our father until we were teenagers. Obviously, I do not remember any of this which is why I will tell people, should it come up, that I really didn’t meet my father until I was 15-years-old.
What I’ve shared so far is grim. But I’d be lying if I told you that I had a horrible childhood. My mother was amazing. As soon as she got pregnant, her life totally shifted and she devoted herself to being a mother. My PawPaw, that’s southern for grandfather, was himself, an amazing man. He was strong, kind-hearted, selfless, and highly capable of achieving anything he wished to achieve. He was my primary male role model. For more about him and how crucial he was in our lives, check out this article my brother wrote about him. Along with PawPaw, my mom had many amazing family and friends who stepped up to help her out in any way they could. My childhood was full of family, friends, and laughter, and my memories of growing up are very positive. It must be said, however, that even in the best of times, the lack of a father in the house was a dark cloud that hovered above our heads.
I remember being in elementary school and understanding that not having a dad was odd, and not at all good. It was not something I ever wanted to broadcast. But special occasions where parents, specifically dads, were encouraged to show up for their kids, were to me gentle but embarrassing reminders that my brother and I didn’t have one. My PawPaw always showed up to these things and for that, I am grateful, for it did provide some comfort. But each of these events came with a tiny jab of the reminder of being fatherless. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I got used to these jabs and eventually, they stopped hurting, though they didn’t stop coming.
If special occasions were gentle reminders of his absence, the small yet significant moments missed were more brutal. Every game ball, home run, kiss from a girl, or middle school fight was a moment I as a boy wished to share with my dad but couldn’t. The older I got, the more I realized as wonderful and loving as my mother was, there was a role she simply could not fill. For a long time, my PawPaw was there and did his best, but we always knew something was missing. Our move away from PawPaw further exposed this.
For a few years, we lived in Covington, GA in a house with not one but two other families, with a total of 10 people in one house. Looking back, I’m not sure what forced this move. I’m not sure if Mom lost the house in Atlanta due to bankruptcy or what, but for some reason, we moved in with the Birdsongs and Barns. The Birdsongs were also a broken family, having been through a divorce, followed by the suicide of their stepfather. The Barns were also a family of divorce and broke like we were. I don’t have time to do a deep dive into that living situation, but I must include what became a band of brothers. Corey Birdsong was the only boy in his family and was just a couple of years older than my brother and me. Tony Barns was maybe a year younger than Corey. The four of us lived in the upstairs part of this house together and we were about as wild as you can imagine four poorly supervised teenage white boys would be in the early 2000s. We practically lived in the woods, or in the creek. We stole wood from treehouses, set frisbees on fire in broad daylight, vandalized property that was still under construction, shot BB guns and pellet guns at random targets, again in broad daylight, and faked seizures at the entrance of the neighborhood scaring the hell out of passersby. This was fun, but also pitiful. Here you had four boys, either with no father or fathers that were too busy, who desperately needed good men in their lives to rein them in and help them hone their perfectly natural male tendencies towards becoming men. I believe when we moved from Covington to Barnesville, God was stepping in to provide those good men.
Very soon after moving to Barnesville, through a now lifelong friend, my brother and I became very involved in the Methodist Church. Here, for the first time since moving away from my PawPaw, we were around good Christian men. Eventually, we became so close to these men, that they claimed us as their own, and even called us their sons. This was amazing. It still is amazing. It can move me to tears if I think about it too long. Yet, the absence of my father was still a very real force in our lives. And then, we got to meet him.
One day when we were 15 years old, Mom asked my brother and me if we wanted to meet our father. I don’t think we really discussed it much, we just said yes. And so it was arranged for us to meet at a Shoney’s in Forsyth, GA. We met and, it was weird… It wasn’t bad at all, just weird. How could it be anything else?
From there, we agreed to start seeing each other and getting to know each other and things were going well. We went fishing together. He took us to one or two concerts. He had by then had other children, our half-brothers, who we were getting to know. He helped buy our first car, helped us repair that car, and was coming around regularly. I’m not sure what happened to him, but at some point, he decided he needed to get his life in order and make things right. He swallowed his pride, admitted his mistakes, and made genuine efforts to be in our lives. At then, tragedy struck.
One summer evening, about a month after we graduated high school, we got a phone call telling us that our father, Eddie Mitchell, had been killed in a car accident. My brother was out of town with his girlfriend and her family. So Mom and I got in our car and drove to the hospital. Upon arrival, I was asked to go look at his body and confirm it was indeed him. It was. And so I then called my brother and broke the terrible news. Unfortunately, this is not where the story gets better.
About six months after the death of my father, a few days before Christmas, my PawPaw, the true male role model and father figure in my life died from ALS. In no time at all, I had lost the father I barely knew, and my grandfather who had down his absolute best to fill that role.
From College to Now
From here, Mom moved back to Atlanta, and my brother and I went three hours south to Statesboro, GA to attend Georgia Southern University. From this point forward, I can confidently say we began to heal, albeit slowly. My brother and I each formed serious relationships with Christ, and with the women we would marry, and started to come to terms with all that we had been through. During this time, my mother was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer which eventually ended her earthly life. This was of course a crushing blow. At the age of 23, my brother and I were on our own. No mom, no dad, and no grandparents to see us through. I recognized then and now that this was hard, and even seemed a bit unfair. But through these hardships, the love of God shone through.
God had provided my PawPaw, not as an alternative to or substitute for a father, but as a wise man who embraced and fulfilled his role as a grandfather as well as any man ever has. God provided other kind, selfless men in my life to learn from. He gave us lifelong friends with incredible fathers who took us under their wing and loved us by showing us how to be good husbands and fathers. He provided us the opportunity to eventually meet my father, and grow to love him before his death. He provided a mother who did everything within her power to take care of us and love us with all of her being. He has provided us with amazing wives and beautiful children. Above all, God provided us with His salvation, love, grace, mercy, and wisdom to see us through these challenges.
I understand that my brother and I are extremely blessed to have turned out the way we did. The statistics for growing up without a father are jarring in the most terrible ways. The fact that we are not in jail, don’t abuse drugs, and both earned bachelor’s degrees make us anomalies of some sort. But I have hope and believe that growing up without a father does not have to be the wound in your life that will never heal. It can instead, become a scar with a lesson to teach. If you or anyone you know has grown up without a father, pray for them, reach out to them, and do your best to be there for them. If you attend a church and know of any children or young people who do not have a father in the home, befriend them, look out for them, get them involved in the church, and make sure they know they are loved and accepted.
I now want to include some links to various podcasts, websites, or resources I believe will be helpful to fathers, or men in need of strong, good male influences.
If you have any more resources, links, books, or podcasts that you would like to recommend, please comment and let me know.
One more thing I wanted to share as sort of a bright side to the hardships of my life. My father’s last name was Mitchell. My mother’s last name was Petty because of her marriage meaning I am only a Petty by name, not by blood. This means, given the birth of my son, that I am now at the very root of a lineage of the Petty family. An actual patriarch. How many people can say that in 2023? I pray that I can become a great husband and father, and set a strong and noble foundation for my family to build upon.
To be a great husband and father means that I cannot allow myself to be a distracted man. These digital detoxes and the journey toward digital minimalism are crucial to making sure my family and their well-being remain my number one priority. If you know you are neglecting your family and your priorities by spending too much time online or on your phone, I urge you to be honest with yourself about it and to find ways to detach and disconnect from your devices and connect with the ones you love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us, we sinners.
Thank you for reading! Do your best to disconnect from the artificial, and connect with others.
And as always,
Keep thy head cool and thine eyes true.
Howard Pyle, Man of Iron
Scripture of the Week
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Ephesians 6:4 KJV
Word of the Week
(verb) Expostulate- to express strong disapproval or disagreement.
Example- We should all collectively expostulate fatherlessness.
Why expostulate? It’s just a good word.
Music of the Week
“My Father’s Eyes- Eric Clapton