From Fatherless to ‘Abba Father’

From Fatherless to ‘Abba Father’

LITTLE FOUNTAINS: The author, John Fountain, at age 3 with his younger sister, Gloria, circa 1964.

I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives—from my life at age 4—the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs.

The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water.

The God who held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements, by death and by hopelessness; who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be OK,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son.

I believe in God, God the Father, embodied in his Son Jesus Christ. The God who allowed me to feel His presence—whether by the warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or that voice, whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me (even when I was told I was “nothing”) that I was something, that I was His, and that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA and little else, I might find in Him sustenance.

I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father, as Abba-Daddy.

I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers. I thirsted for the conversations fathers and sons have about the birds and the bees, or about nothing at all—simply feeling his breath, heartbeat, presence.

I had been told about my father’s drinking problem and felt more than anyone the void created by his absence: from school assemblies where I received awards, at graduations and church plays and at all of those irredeemable moments that occur in a little boy’s life.

STILL DAD: “It didn’t matter that Daddy was ‘no good.’ What mattered was that he was my dad.”

Still, it mattered not that Daddy was “no good,” as I was told, nor that the physical portrait of him that had once existed in my mind by my teenage years had long faded. What mattered was that he was my dad. And I was his son.

That fact alone drew me to him. It also made paternal rejection my cross to bear.

As a boy, I used to sit on the front porch of our apartment, watching the cars roll by, imagining that eventually one day, one would park and the man getting out would be my daddy. But it never happened.

When I was 18, I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979, as I stood in a small church finally face to face with my father, lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled.

Killed in a car accident, John Fountain Sr. died drunk, leaving me hobbled by the sorrow of years of fatherlessness.

By then it had been years since Mama had summoned the police to our apartment, fearing that Daddy might hurt her—hit her—again. Finally, his alcoholism consumed what good there was of him until it swallowed him whole.

I had not been able to cry at his funeral. But sixteen years later, standing over my father’s unmarked grave for a long overdue conversation, my tears flowed. They flowed freely as I began to have that talk that I had always dreamed of having someday with my father.

Much of what I said at the gravesite that day remains a blur, though I do recall telling him who I was, telling him about the man I had become. I told him about how much I wished he had been in my life. But it was only those words that I found most liberating that I clearly remember saying:

“I love you, Dad,” I said, wiping away tears, “and I forgive you.”

With that said, I climbed into my car and drove out of Long Corner Cemetery, away from Evergreen, Alabama, away from death and back toward life. And I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He—God, the Father, God, my Father—had found me.

This post is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. For more information, visit WestSide Press Books.

I’d Rather Have You

By John W. Fountain

I’d rather have your breath
That’s real.
Have your touch
Just one day.
To feel
Rather see your face
Again and again with my eyes
Than imagine in my mind.
Rather have you here
Than have to seek to find.
Rather know your foibles
And love you in spite.
Never have to imagine with all my might.
I’d rather know your imperfections
Than be left with my own reflections of the man
I can’t see
Can’t remember
Can’t hear
And each September forget which day
Was the day you were born.
Instead I mourn
The man I never knew.
How much I’d give
How much I’d do
Just once to hear you
Just once to see you
Just once to be with you
To walk again hand in hand
To know and touch the man
Who is my father.

 This poem is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood by John W. Fountain.

The Myth of the Unwanted Child

The Myth of the Unwanted Child

LIVING PROOF: Radiance Foundation co-founder and pro-life activist Ryan Bomberger.

Ryan Scott Bomberger is co-founder of The Radiance Foundation, an organization whose mission is to illuminate, educate, and motivate others about the intrinsic value of human life. He is also the creative force behind a controversial billboard campaign that described black babies as an “endangered species.” What didn’t make the headlines is the fact that Bomberger was conceived during a rape. He is both an adoptee and an adoptive parent. UrbanFaith talked to him about his work and what motivates it. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UrbanFaith: What does the Radiance Foundation do?

Ryan Bomberger: The Radiance Foundation is comprised of three main components: media campaigns, one-on-one community outreach where we live and in other areas, working in conjunction with other organizations, and our educational component. We create all the content, whether video, print, web, or otherwise to illuminate the truth that we are all born with this beautiful intrinsic value. We want people to understand it and embrace it and to effect positive change in their own life and in the lives of those around them.

How did you become passionate about the pro-life cause?

I’m passionate about the pro-life cause mainly because I had two parents who defied the myth of the unwanted child and believed that they could simply love a child and help unleash that child’s purpose in life. They had three biological children and then adopted ten. That’s what inspired me throughout my life to reach out to the broken, to reach out to those in need.

My wife Bethany and I started the Radiance Foundation in 2009. For our first public campaign, we decided to tackle the subject of abortion. Like a breast cancer awareness campaign, we wanted to address where abortion’s impact is the greatest so we addressed the black community’s crisis of abortion. That is what led us to launch TooManyAborted.com and the billboard campaign that has been in numerous states across the country.

What inspired media frenzy around those billboards?

It was the billboard that stated “Black children are an endangered species.” We were the first organization to ever do a public ad campaign about abortion’s disproportionate impact on the black community. That campaign exploded in the media. Each subsequent campaign that continued to highlight the disproportionate impact while promoting adoption as a life affirming alternative has continued and it’s raised the ire of Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups. They’ve tried desperately to remove our billboards. Three hundred billboards later, they’ve never removed a single one. I think part of that is our diligence in doing the research. When these billboard companies look on our website and they see the message we’re conveying and they see how documented all of the information is, they feel satisfied and comfortable that the billboards that they’re placing up there, although they may be controversial, they are rooted in fact.

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SHOCK TREATMENT: This billboard set off a storm of controversy when it was posted at dozens of locations last year in Atlanta.

What about the billboard that was removed in New York City?

Those are from a different company. Their billboards have been brought down. Ours, thankfully, haven’t.

In the New York case, the parent of the child that was used in the billboard objected. How do you deal with challenges like that?

That’s not been an issue. We use some original photography and in some of our work we use stock photography, but that’s part of the agreement. When that particular parent signed away the rights, there was no caveat as to who could use it. That’s the thing with the pro-abortion or pro-choice side. They’re always trying to find the distraction, and they succeeded instead of talking about the numbers. In New York City, 60 percent of black pregnancies end in abortion. It is epidemic in that city, the home of Planned Parenthood. They successfully were able to divert the conversation, which I think is tragic for all of us.

Are you able to speak on this issue more easily because you are an African American man rather than a white activist?

I don’t believe in hyphenations, I’m just American. I happen to be as black as Obama, which means I’m mixed, biracial. There are times when I feel like I have to use the label, but the thing I like to focus on is that because I’m biracial I’m able to be a bridge on a number of different issues. However, I may say I’m biracial, but the next person wouldn’t have a clue. Throughout my life, I’ve been treated unfortunately in quite racist ways, so it does allow me to address this. I am a black, biracial child who was adopted and so it does give me an authority in a sense to speak from that perspective. It’s also hard to argue with my story of being born of rape.

What has the response been?

We were completely overwhelmed and inundated with email responses, phone responses, media interviews. But what it showed was this issue that many believe is a settled issue isn’t settled. The unexpected portion of the response was the venomously racist emails and phone calls we would get. I can’t tell you how many emails and phone calls I’ve received that have said, “More niggers need to die” or “Abortions don’t kill enough niggers.” But thankfully, the majority of the responses have been incredibly positive, particularly from African American women, from post-abortive men and women. And so, we know that there’s been a positive impact.

I would say the other response that we weren’t expecting was a direct response from Planned Parenthood. Our billboards have caused them to hold two separate conferences. One was a phone conference and other was a bloggers/journalists conference. So in the last year-and-a-half, two major conferences from the nation’s largest abortion chain to try to figure out how to combat specifically our TooManyAborted.com campaign.

What tactics have they employed?

Their response has been relatively simple. They love using buzz words, so they have resorted to calling us racists or mysogynists or anti-woman. That would pretty much encompass their strategy. Every billboard we’ve placed, there would be this response and it comes from a Planned Parenthood funded group called Sister Song that is a radically pro-abortion minority collective. Their whole tactic is laughable considering that the team of leaders nationwide that have endorsed and championed this campaign are all black, and many of them are black post-abortive women like Catherine Davis, like Dr. Alveda King. What they can’t do is refute the numbers. Even in their phone conference, which I managed to attend, they couldn’t refute any of the actual numbers, mainly because they’re from federal sources and from Guttmacher.

Were you shocked to be called a racist?

Having grown up in a multi-racial family with Native American, Black, Vietnamese, White, White and Black, to be called a racist is just laughable. The ultimate consequence of racism is death and we’ve seen it in American history. We’ve seen it in the horrific acts of lynching. That’s the ultimate end of racism and here you have individuals across the nation who are passionately pro-life being called racist. We are simply trying to save life. That’s what abortion does, though, it’s a complete inversion of things: an inversion of justice, an inversion of racism, an inversion of reality. So, yes, it was shocking and ludicrous.

At toomanyaborted.com, I read an article that connects feminism to abortion. Is there a way to separate the positive aspects of the feminist movement from the negative aspects?

I consider myself a feminist. I think the distinction is from an ideological or poltical standpoint where that falls on the spectrum. There’s liberal feminism, which I think in large part has been very destructive because of its emphasis on areas of “equality” that have nothing to do with empowering a woman. We emphasize those aspects of feminism which are healthy and we talk about liberal feminism that advocates abortion for any reason at any cost, and often to the exclusion of men. We also talk about many of these pro-abortion groups, which are radically feminist and their destructive approach to gender relationships and even gender itself. How did Roe V. Wade empower a woman? Our conclusion is that it’s empowered men far more than it’s empowered any woman.

You’re an adoptive parent of four children. Are they all adopted?

Two are adopted, my oldest and my youngest. My wife recently went public with how she was a single parent at one point and was faced with the same decisions. She understood, but she never considered abortion. Our daughter Hailee Radiance transformed her life. She transformed my life. That’s the beauty of possibility. Our youngest, Justice Nathaniel, is such a gift. His biological mom, we love, honor, and cherish her, and we’re trying to help her get back on her feet. She’s made some bad decisions, but there’s always redemption.

What do you have coming up next?

Our fatherhood campaign is now focusing on one of the biggest missing components in childrens’ lives. Forty-one percent of children in our nation are born in homes without fathers, and that statistic is even more drastic in the black community because it’s almost 73 percent in the black community, whereas it’s 35.7 percent in the white community. Our Fatherhood Begins in the Womb campaign is our way of calling men to responsibility and calling out the culture of abortion that has encouraged abandonment. The problem is widely ignored, but we see the results: higher incarceration rates, higher drop out rates, higher poverty.

RYAN BOMBERGER’S STORY

Fatherhood the ‘Courageous’ Way

Fatherhood the ‘Courageous’ Way

TO SERVE AND PROTECT: The officers of 'Courageous' (from left) Ben Davies, Ken Bevel, Alex Kendrick, and Kevin Downes. Each man faces a different struggle related to fatherhood.

A disturbing trend has subtly crept into the American family, and its onslaught was so insidious that it went unnoticed for 40 years. It’s called the absent father. Fatherlessness affects more than 25 million children in America. Emotional fatherlessness affects millions more. Absent fathers are the root cause of children who are oftentimes abused, live in poverty, and suffer psychological distress, which produces: 63 percent of youth suicides, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, 85 percent of all children with behavioral problems, and 85 percent of all youth in prisons. Children without a father become the statistics of every negative report and they most often live with a mother burdened by the stress of a lack of support for her children.

Alex and Stephen Kendricks (creators of Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Flywheel), realizing that fatherlessness has grown to epidemic proportions, prayerfully went about crafting a movie that would rivet our focus to the urgency of this problem. The brothers have written their fourth movie called Courageous, which addresses the issue of absent fathers. A Provident Films and Affirm Films production, Courageous depicts the lives of five men — four urban cops, and their newly found working-class friend, who through a series of tragic events are forced to look to God for guidance as fathers and husbands, as well as keepers of the law. Not since Will Smith’s portrayal of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness has a film made a more vigorous plea for fathers to take their parenting role seriously. The intended purpose of this film is to challenge all men to have the courage to step outside their comfort zones or bad histories, and to have enough integrity to put away their excuses and be the fathers they’ve been called to be.

The actors in Courageous aren’t your dime a dozen, glitzed and spritzed glory seekers — but they are ordinary Christian men and women called out by God through the Sherwood Movie Ministry of Albany, Georgia. They have nurtured wounded spirits, jumped from moving cars, run for causes, and have sounded the trumpet call to all fathers who are out of their children’s lives in any sense, to come home and step up their game as the leaders, lovers, providers, and protectors of their families.

UrbanFaith spoke to two actors from the Courageous movie, Robert Amaya and Ken Bevel. Amaya, a Latino, plays Javier Martinez, a family man who was laid off from his blue collar job and is facing the challenge of providing for his wife and children with very few resources. Bevel, an African American who’s also an ex-Marine, plays the role of Nathan Hayes, an urban cop struggling to forgive his deceased father for not being there for him and his mother. His greatest ambition is to be a better husband and father than his father was.

QUALITY TIME: Actor Robert Amaya portrays Javier Martinez, a devoted family man who was laid off from his job.

Addressing the absent father issue in the Latino culture Amaya said, “The second most violent area in the world is Latin America and this violence usually comes from men or women raised without a father.” He offered that, violence due to absent fathers is not only a problem for Latinos, but it’s a blanket problem in America and in the world across the board, because every father leaves a mark on his child. What Amaya along with the makers of the movie are hoping to accomplish through Courageous is, “To let all fathers, Latinos included, know their responsibility under God, and reconnect them to the Lord so that they can be at home with and engaged in, their children’s lives, because it’s the father’s responsibility to call out the men in their sons. In other words, to teach them how to be men, and to show daughters what they should be looking for in the men of their future.”

Amaya, the father of a 2-year-old daughter, says, “Since working on this film, I have found that it is not enough to just listen to my daughter say her prayers at night. I must live before her and teach her the principles of the Bible that we are to live by through Scripture memory, stories, and family time that stresses the values of the Bible.”

Though Amaya’s character Javier shows a gentle, lovable man who doesn’t overtly embody machismo (a Latino concept of masculinity and power), Amaya says of Javier, “Under the light of machismo, he shows that he’s not a weak guy. His strength lies in the fact that he loves the Lord, he loves his family. He shows that men can be gentle and loving to their families, gaining the loyalty and love of their wives and children. When men are great leaders they are also loving leaders. God calls us to be the men in our families but to also be family men who don’t have to be domineering and harsh.”

Statistics show that 28 percent of white children are in single-parent homes, while 35 percent of Hispanic children are in single-parent homes, and the figure is equal to the combined totals of white and Hispanics for African American children, at 63 percent.

Phillip Jackson, the executive director of Chicago’s Black Star Project, told Reuters, “Father absence in African American communities has hit those communities with the force of 100 Hurricane Katrinas. It is literally decimating our communities and we have no adequate response to it.”

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE: Ken Bevel portrays Nathan Hayes, a dedicated police officer trying to avoid the mistakes his absentee father made.

However, Bevel feels that Courageous will offer a message of motivation and hope to African American men on the importance of fatherhood and throw a lifeline to those men who are ready to change. Like the character he plays in the movie, Bevel says, “I grew up without a father — loving and yet resenting him, because I didn’t have him to give me leadership and wisdom at those critical times in my life, so I kind of fumbled my way through being a youth into being an adult — not really knowing how to treat my wife, not really knowing how to treat my family.But I determined to depend totally on God to put some strong men in my life to show me how to be a man, and He did.”

Some of the same issues affecting fathers and children today were highlighted in the film, such as physical and emotional absence. Bevel believes Courageous will show men that they can return and not only be good fathers, but great fathers, if they follow the plan God made for them as found in the Bible.

“There’s something about this movie that will cause men to see that it’s the responsibility of the fathers to guide and raise their kids. Nobody wants to have children and be a bad father. Nobody wants to go into a marriage and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to divorce my wife five years from now.’ What’s lacking among African American men who grew up without fathers is guidance, and this movie provides a model that shows them: this is how to love the Lord, this is how to follow his Word, this is how to love your wife, and this is how to love your kids.”

Bevel, the father of a 3-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son said, “When I saw the last scene in Courageous, the man in me stood up. It caused me to want to do greater things for God, and to lead my kids and my wife in every aspect of our lives. I wanted to lead my family in Bible study, to be intentional about what we watched on TV and how we spent our time together — to be careful with what I said in their presence. I wanted my children to hear me praying for them and see me studying the Scriptures, so that they would imitate their father.”

Both Bevel and Amaya, with help from their wives, worked out an intentional plan of leadership, guidance, and love for their children with amazing results.

If you are a father who is out of touch with your children, just pause and reflect: Where will your son learn how to treat women? Who will teach your little girl her true worth? Where will they learn to stand up for what’s right? Who will instruct them on the value of an education? Where will their work ethic come from? Where will your child learn about the importance of abstaining from substance abuse and illicit sexual activities? Where will they learn to obey authority? How will your children learn to love and respect God, others, and themselves, if you don’t teach them?

Dads — please don’t turn away. The bravest thing you could ever do as a man is to be present. Your children need you. Now.

Courageous opens Friday, September 30th, in theaters across the nation. Watch the trailer here.

Fatherlessness stats taken from the Courageous website and Fathers.com, a website of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

A Tale of Two Jordans

ON THE AIR JORDAN: Actor Michael B. Jordan's television work can be seen on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood.

Actor Michael B. Jordan’s compelling roles on two underappreciated TV dramas illustrate the need for biblical manhood and fatherly guidance in our society.
As an avid Portland Trail Blazer fan, I never thought I would enjoy saying this again, but I’ve been having a great time watching Michael Jordan in his prime. I’ve seen some amazing, compelling performances from him. He’s all over my TV. The only weird thing is, his dominant sport is football, not basketball.

I’m speaking, of course, of Michael B. Jordan, rising star in Hollywood. Early fans knew him as Wallace on HBO’s The Wire. Since then, he’s been on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Burn Notice, and Lie to Me, to name a few.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching him most recently on two shows in particular. In the fifth-and-final season of Friday Night Lights (currently on DirecTV, later to air on NBC), Jordan plays quarterback Vince Howard, a troubled kid who gradually becomes a team leader under the tutelage of legendary coach Eric Taylor. Jordan also plays Alex, the unlikely love interest to teenager Haddie on NBC’s Parenthood.

The most striking thing about both of these nuanced, three-dimensional portrayals is that they seem to typify the need that young Black men have for older male role models. Every time I watch his self-assured, vulnerable humility on-screen, I think to myself, ‘that guy needs better men in his life.’

I realize the last thing we need is another piece on Why Our Young Black Men Need Fathers. It’s obvious. If you don’t already believe that, you have bigger problems than this article can address.

It’s also obvious that impartations of manhood are not limited to fathers, and that they’re most necessary in situations where fathers aren’t doing their jobs. For most of Jordan’s run on FNL, Vince’s dad was in jail. Meanwhile on Parenthood, Alex’s dad was an alcoholic.

What’s not always obvious is that this impartation happens in ways that defy our expectations and preconceptions of manhood is supposed to look like.

One man to another
But before we can explore this, we have to define our expectations. Manhood is imparted when one man calls it out in another; when he recognizes it, validates it, and supports it. That’s how it’s shown many times over in the Bible; that’s how it works. This is one of the lessons of To Own A Dragon by Donald Miller and his mentor John MacMurray. A great read, Dragon (which was recently revised and re-released under the title Father Fiction) is a window into the impact one man can have on another when he chooses to live as an open book. It’s a stunning portrait of discipleship, one interaction at a time.

It should go without saying that this impartation can only happen through men, because you can’t pass on to someone else something that you don’t have yourself. Unfortunately, this is no longer common knowledge. The Root recently featured an exploration of professional women considering single motherhood, which, considering the plight of today’s young Black male, is naïve at best and destructive at worst. Just because there have been many single Black women who have done a great job compensating for the lack of men in their sons’ lives, doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist.

FRIDAY NIGHT TRUTH: Michael B. Jordan portrays high school football player Vince Howard on NBC’s Friday Night Lights. He’s pictured here in a scene with his coach, Eric Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler).

The good news, though, is not just that you don’t need to be a father to impart manhood, but you don’t even have to be an official “father figure” … you don’t have to join a mentorship organization or program. You just have to keep your eyes open, and make a difference where you can.

You see this if you watch my man Mike B. in both of his recent roles. Men who were not his characters’ biological fathers were still able to make meaningful gestures to impart manhood. Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), Adam Braverman (Peter Krause), and Vernon Merriweather (Steve Harris) all made decisions and had conversations that served to affirm the character of Vince or Alex. None of them were particularly affectionate or emotional, yet all of their interactions were meaningful.

(I’d say more, but you know … spoilers.)

Great results, great expectations
In a recent interview, Michael B. Jordan admitted mild frustration at having such a famous namesake. On that level, I can sympathize. Yet, I believe it’s no coincidence that he’s turning out such impressive performances. With famous names come great expectations. And there’s something about high expectations that help young people respond well.

This is the main lesson we’ve learned from the Tiger Mother phenomenon, as documented by right here at Urban Faith by writer Kathy Khang. We do our young ones a disservice when we lower our expectations for fear of them crumbling under the pressure. As Cliff famously said to Theo, it’s the dumbest thing ever.

And yet, it’s not enough to have high expectations. We’ve got to be able to help our young men navigate the battery of hazards and pitfalls that accompany great talent and great expectations. My heart was heavy as I watched fictional quarterback Vince Howard’s father illegally negotiate with Division-I schools, knowing that real-life quarterback Cam Newton of the newly-crowned BCS champion Auburn Tigers, is still under investigation for the same thing. (And by the way… Newton’s father is a reverend. Lord, have mercy.)

Clearly, we need more men in our country who can and will continue to take the opportunities around them and make positive impacts in the lives of our youth.

Find a spot, and take it
That’s one thing I consistently saw from my own father, a reverend himself, growing up. If I had to pick only one positive attribute that I could take from him (trust me, there are dozens), that’s the one I would want to emulate. Even now that he’s retired, during outreach events, church services, or on afternoon bike rides, my father is always on the lookout for a young man who needs an impartation of hope and destiny. And when he sees an opportunity, he goes for it.

It’s for this reason that, as I’ve continued to grow as a musician, he implores me to continue doing hip-hop music that offers hope and models discipleship. And that’s why, if someone is feelin’ our material, they should just go ahead and take it.

Because whether it’s in the context of doing Christian hip-hop music, coaching football, leading a church ministry, or just talking straight with the young man who wants to date your daughter … every man has an opportunity to call out manhood in a young man who needs it.

And you don’t have to be Michael Jordan to make it happen.

The series finale of Friday Night Lights airs Wednesday, Feb. 9th, on DirecTV. NBC, which co-produces the series, will begin its broadcast of the final season on April 15th.