a view from the margins: single dads eeking by

i am loving sharing these stories from my friends!  every time i re-read them, i am blown away by their beauty and depth.  janice’s view of  God’s ghetto” and kate’s perspective on mental illness have gotten us off to a great start.  i thought we’d enter into another dimension from the margins, ones that tends to get ignored sometimes-single daddies struggling to take good care of their kids and put food on the table. i talk about single moms all the time. their situations are so tricky, and i am deeply passionate about the Body of Christ caring deeply for them and doing whatever we can to support them on the journey.  what’s interesting, though, is that i sometimes notice how i overlook other friends who are single parents, too; they just happen to be men.  the extra shame & pressure put on men to “provide” can really be damaging, especially in the world of evangelical christianity. i am blessed to have an amazing brother on the journey, “bob”, one of my dearest companions and faithful friends.  God is telling a beautiful story through him and this interview will never do it justice, but I did want you to peek into what his life and experience is like as a dad with no money, no house, a fairly unreliable car, and an amazing faith.  enjoy.

 

share a little of your background, what kind of family you came from, how you ended up as a single dad trying to pull off life for you and your kids.

 I grew up in a family that was middle class, denominationally Christian, and emotionally dysfunctional.  I was married for 10 years, in counseling for most of these years, and finally gave it up.  As hard as divorce has been for my two children, It is better than growing up with a really bad relationship as a role model.  I didn’t finish college, having indulged in my distrust of authority (not a good choice) and following my creative dreams (a good choice).  Now I work full-time in a blue-collar service job, (30K) and pay 50% of my income to child support.

 

when you lay in bed in the middle of the night, what are some of the thoughts & questions that rattle around in your head about yourself?

 

 Fortunately, God has blessed me with sleeping like a rock wherever I lay down, so I don’t have that trouble.

okay, then, what do you say to him when you are wide awake, alone in your thoughts, when you think about your life?

I have officially been one of “the poor” for about 8 years.  That used to bring me down all of the time.   That corrosive identity is not so bad now, because the emotional feeling of being poor is being lifted from me (by God’s grace) more every day.  Even so, in the tougher times I still wonder out loud “what were you thinking, God?” and “what kind of Image are we created in anyway?”  On rare occasion I lose it all and wonder if I am living inside of an empty delusion.  Fortunately, I have come to understand that Faith is not a noun–a “thing” that I have to have, get, keep, or hold onto in every damnation-threatened second (by my own bootstraps).  Faith is a verb. Faith lives in the love which is in, among, and between us.  When I lose mine, someone else is there outside of me with love and care, and I remember what it is all about.  Faith is our living account of the relationship we have with God;   In a way, it is like our story book, and we are not the only character in it.

 

what is the hardest part about never really having any margin financially?

 

Birthdays and Christmas for the kids, and car repairs.

 

how does the system work against you ever getting ahead?

 

Since I don’t like to think of myself as a victim, I don’t want to answer the question.  If I had to think of this rationally and dispassionately, I could write three pages on it.  For now though, I need to remember the serenity prayer.

 

 

do you think it’s different for men than women, a single dad vs. a single mom, why?

 

Yes.  The baseline assumption is that men are either deadbeat, or a cash machine.  I’m not looking for sympathy, but that is a good thing because there isn’t much of it out there for fathers.

 

what does it feel like to go to a food bank? describe that experience for people who have never been there and probably never will.

 

Humiliating going in and somewhat relieved coming out.  It is embarrassing to be a middle-aged white male in that situation,  My race, gender, social expectations, shoulds and oughts get loud in my head when I have to go in for food, which was twice a month recently.  I’m almost getting used to it, but not really.  I also wish that I didn’t have to go in so that I could leave more for other deserving folks, but the pantry seems to have enough to go around.  It is a relief to know that my kids can eat, and that I probably have enough money left for fuel.

 

 

 

how has and does God sustained and strengthened you?

 

All day, every day.  I feel God’s strength in the building calm in the center of my life, even though I haven’t tried to create it.  I feel His Love around and through me, in the love of people and in the fabric of life itself.

 

can you think of a tangible moment where you felt God providing for you in a completely unexpected way?  what did that look like, feel like?

 

Yes, many many times, and also before the Refuge existed.  When I have been really out of money, food, or housing after the divorce, those things showed up through the kindness of others.  Sometimes through several small actual miracles of being given more food in the bag of the drive-thru when I was down to my last two bucks, and I had just spent one of them on the dollar menu.  I started realizing that God was providing for me.  While I didn’t stop working at doing the best I can, I learned that I didn’t need to have the anxiety of being thrown to the wolves all on my own.  I began to understand Jesus’ seemingly pithy teaching on sparrows and lillies.  Not only did my anxiety start lifting, but God removed depression from my life at the same time.  I have lived for about 4 years without it now.

 

are there any really stupid things christians have said to you along the way that made you really angry or hurt your feelings?

 

As far as “really angry or hurt feelings” goes, until I came back into community with the Refuge, I had left “the faith” for about 20 years.  Jesus never left me, which made it sweet to praise him and risk community when I came back.  But honestly, I pretty much stayed away from christians.  The occasional AM radio bit or TBN on television did not encourage me to draw any closer to christianity, that much is sure.  It didn’t make me angry, just sad and made me want to stay away.  I clearly wasn’t their type.

 

 

  • ps:  i first asked the question with “that made you want to punch them” and here’s what he said: While I have heard a lot of stupid things from a lot of people (including myself),  I have not wanted to punch anyone for it.  Christ taught us about refraining from violence.  I know that your question is metaphorical and humorous, but I think that anger management is a serious issue for both men and women. (yeah, i think i’ll be changing the wording on that question from now on!)

 

 

what are some of the ways people have helped you the most?

 

Food, housing when we’ve needed it, clothing for my children, gift cards and cash to help me through Christmas, cars to borrow when mine is broken (several cars in rotation for months), an engine to fix my car, encouragement, the joy of community, prayers that I never see.

 

have you felt marginalized by “the church” or christians sometimes?  how?

 

 I don’t feel like sharing my life’s experiences with people who have committed themselves to looking all shiny, and perfect, and together on the outside because my story would be a threat to them.  There is a fear that surrounds poverty, people don’t want to get anywhere near you for fear of “catching it”.  Most folks only want to help at a distance, the greater the distance the better.  Hence, the popularity of missions to help people of radically different cultures and situations who are at a great geographic distance. There is nothing wrong with that kind of giving, but when it is used as a way of safely assuaging guilt so that we don’t have to love our actual neighbor, I think that is a problem.

 

what are some of the things you cry out to God in the middle of the night?

 

Wow, you’re really pretty!

 

what have you learned about yourself, about God on your journey?

 

That I am loved. That God is real and lives among us.  That the Lord’s Prayer and the greatest commandment are about us right here and right now.  That God’s Kingdom, and the redemption and holy transformation he has promised us shows up in this place when we love one another and care for one another.  And that it is easy to love God when you step into the life that Jesus gave us.

 

what has a tangible, safe, loving communty meant to you?  what are you learning about yourself and people and God through it?

 

 More than I can express here.  But this work is worth doing, and has rewards that are best described by Jesus and Paul in scripture.  It is one thing to read about it, and quite another to live it.  It is beautiful.

 

what words do you have for someone who is barely making it, in debt up to their eyeballs, can’t put food on the table or see a way out?

 

They can’t kick you off the planet for being poor.

Hang in there, and be honest about your situation.

Keep working.

Find some safe people to share what’s going on.

Trust in God, even when hearing the phrase “Trust in God” makes you want to say “#@%* that”.

 

Learn to receive, and you will see how much giving you can do at the same time. 

what words do you have for “the church” when it comes to journeying alongside single dads and folks who are really living on the edge financially?

 

Figure out how to do it and take the first step.  Oops, no, that’s wrong.  Take the first step–listening, asking, risking real relationship. Giving, helping, caring.  Do that before you figure out how to do it.  The Bible is not an operator’s manual.  It is God’s love letters to us.  It reveals what needs to happen (love and care) without giving systematic instruction. So begin where you are. Keep trying. Be willing to risk and expect to make mistakes.  Pray together. All of the committee meetings in the world will not relieve you from risk and mistakes-  In fact, try to nurture a living fellowship that makes committee meetings completely unnecessary.   So, get used to taking risks and making mistakes.

 

any other thoughts you’d like to add?

I often work on having compassion for wealthy people (who are all around me in this particular affluent city).  I especially pray for those children of wealth who drive Audis and Range Rovers, whose comments I hear sometimes.   Their situation is not their fault.  They have their own struggles to overcome in their lives, spiritual challenges far more difficult than I face in my situation.

thanks, bob, for sharing a slice of your journey with us.  my favorite line–to God:  “wow, you’re pretty!” oh that is so beautiful! i have deep respect for your dedication to your kids, to God, to this community.   i am wondering how many others of us out here have unintentionally neglected to see what life might be like for single dads like you.   and how we, as brothers and sisters, might be able to encourage and support and love the men we know who are battling to survive, provide, live, and love, no matter their circumstance.

8 Comments

  • This statement is what really hits the nail onthe head!
    “There is a fear that surrounds poverty, people don’t want to get anywhere near you for fear of “catching it”. Most folks only want to help at a distance, the greater the distance the better.”
    SO TRUE.
    My 32 year old brother is a single dad of an 8 yr old special needs daughter. I am so proud of his commitment to her on so many levels. Single dads who invest and pour out…deserve some props and support…he is very invested in a faith community that always seems to need his help…but rarely knows how hard his life is…or offers to give back to him in real or tangible ways.
    Another group of people who are largely invisible to most in our world today are the growing number of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren because one or both of the parents of the children are on the streets,incarcerated or dead.
    In my experience, most times these are “single” individuals, divorced or widowed themselves… over the age of 50…(though some are as young as early 40’s and still others are nearing 80)living on fixed incomes, disability or their meager Social Security. There is very little financial assistance available for these people…unless they are able to gain legal gardianship or be certified as ‘foster-care’ providers by the state…
    Kathy, I know it seems we who currently live our faith outside the ‘I.C’ knock it or hold it in contempt…but I have to say…I have watched the IC turn its back on the fatherless, alien and widows of our generation over and over and over…passing them by for flat screen TV moniters, smoke machines for ambiance during worship…paid professional muscians…expensive give-aways for the youth ministry( ipods, gift cards etc)…tailgater parties for superbowl ‘fans’ after church on Super bowl Sunday!!! Cool. There seems to be plenty of capital for marketing…for t-shirts and fobs…and postcards for every freaking teaching series they are promoting…etc etc…etc…and yet…less than 20% of most church budgets are allocated for compassion, mercy care or missions…so little is set aside for caring for the least of these…those who are down on their luck…struggling to make it financially or even just emotionally…
    This is what makes me want to pull my hair out of my head! This is why I have left the building…because inside…I felt obligated to help keep the ‘machine’ running at the expense of giving to people and para church organizations who are passionate about helping the poor…the homeless…the mentally ill… the newly jobless…the exhausted,overworked…and disillusioned.

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    First I want to thank Bob for sharing his story…answering your questions Kathy. Bob, you are so grounded, loving father, and have a definite heart and relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I will be praying (seriously, I will) that Father continues providing for you in neat and surprising ways. As well, I’m so glad you found The Refuge.

    Second, thanks for posting this interview with Bob, Kathy. It helps me, and others get a better idea of the struggles of single dads.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    Walking In The Spirit
    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • This post still has me reeling. “Bob,” thanks for being so honest and for revealing what it’s like for you. I honestly had NO clue. Even more pathetic, it never even crossed my mind of what it might be like for the single dad who is supporting his kids. What an eye opener (and a heart opener, too). This is one of those posts that will leave me changed forever, and I’m glad for it.

    Reply
  • Bob, thanks for sharing a bit of your story!! I would love to see a photo of you as I think you probably would have the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen, cause I do think the eyes reflect the heart and I’m sensing some serious kindness in yours!!
    Kathy, thanks again for the peek into your community!!

    Reply
  • Kathy: You really did this time. I have been a full time single dad for 18 years my oldest my daughter is turning 20 yrs soon and is moving out into her own apartment in a few days. I’ve been in Christ for 31 years and have spent most of my walk feeling unaccepted by the body of Christ. However the Leadership and others have always been more then willing to accept my spiritual gifts and talents when they have helped them. Once I became a single dad the marginalization and disenfranchisement only became worse. As the church ignored my needs and those of my son and daughter, but once again were more then willing to receive what I had to give.

    Your choosing to share this brothers story is so important I can’t even put into words. I’m in tears right now and can hardly see to type as this was one of the extremely few occasions that I have felt that the a christian cared about this.

    As you acknowledged the church does not much better regarding single moms, yet frankly t does a poor job and loving them and pretty much treats single dads as if we don’t exist and are flawed human beings with a disease they might catch.

    The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the only ones I have ever felt completely accepted and cared for by. Sorry for such a long comment this time.

    Tom Wilson
    http://www.ReligionFreeJesus.com

    Reply
  • joy – so glad to hear your perspectives here. let ’em rip. my friend here sometimes says “imagine what would happen if we took all the resources that ‘the church’ spends here in denver alone for one month on salaries, buildings, and programs and used it instead to pour into people’s lives, the community, etc. it is millions and millions of dollars that could really, really, like really help people. ah, but that’s another story. and yes, the widows and the orphans are the divorced, abused, left behind, abandoned and they come in all shapes and sizes and colors and aren’t limited to just women. keep preaching it, girl!

    amy – yes, bob is one of the most deeply compassionate and thoughtful people i know. i am glad that his story touched you…

    donna – i’ll see if i can make that happen for convergence! can’t wait to hang out and i am so glad that our communities are so deeply connected. we really have the same heartbeat…love your voice around here, btw. xo

    tom – well then, my friend, your response was enough to make this whole post worthwhile. i am so glad that you were touched. i realized as i posted it that it is not an area that gets addressed very often and even i notice how often my language focuses on single moms and unintentionally ignores single dads. i have deep respect for you guys and am saddened by the way ‘the church’ (there’s that word again) has not supported you the way it could have. i also think you hit on something very important–sure, when the organization can “get” something from people, it is always happy to take, but what about “giving” unconditionally no matter what it receives. a true healthy relationship works both ways…thanks, as always, for sharing, and congrats on your daughter off on her own! 🙂

    Reply
  • I’d like to thank Bob for sharing his story. I have been dating a single dad for almost a year now and I find it difficult to understand what goes on in his head sometimes with reguard to his situation. He is not a dead beat dad and has the children more than 50% of the time. They are two beautiful little girls and I couldn’t imagine my life without any of them. Their father works hard to provide for them but often will need the help of his parents. I love him and help out as much as I can by filling in the gaps. Mostly this involves coming over with groceries to make large dinner with plenty of leftovers every week, laundry on movie nights, and once in awhile a little treat for everyone (go to the movies, pay to use the local pool). I don’t have much, but I can help him. I never really understood why he would seem to get a little depressed over something small. Bob made me realize that it isn’t so small. I can tell him over and over again that his family is here to help and so are his amazing friends, but that is still going against many years of learning the expectations of a white male in his 30’s. I guess I thought it was all pride, but it isn’t just that, it is going against a lot of what you learned growing up.

    Reply

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