In our current cultural and historical moment, it is common to have blended families. Single parents form new households, people wait later in life to get married or have children, and people who have been through divorce find the courage to marry again. But blended families have been present throughout human history, and we see them prominently in Scripture and in African American history.
We think of the patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob. Abraham with children from different women, and Jacob who had a large family with multiple wives and children with each of them. We can think of Moses who was adopted, Esther who was raised by her uncle, and Ruth, whose story revolves around her second marriage to Boaz. David who had children from different relationships and caused strife, and of course we remember Joseph, the stepfather of the Savior Jesus Christ.
In many African cultures, grandparents live with their adult children, children who are orphaned are raised by the closest of kin or the closest neighbor, and fathers have children from multiple relationships. During our history as Africans in America, the extended and blended family systems were how we survived slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing attacks on Black family life.
Growing up, I knew uncles who raised their wives’ children from previous relationships, I had aunts who raised their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We had cousins who had a different mother or father than their siblings, and cousins on their second and third marriages. My story is not unique in the Black community. But interestingly, these realities of complex blended families are almost treated as taboo in our conversation and daily lives.
I grew up with both of my biological parents married and in the same house. When I started dating the woman who became my wife, some people around us were surprised and concerned because she already had two daughters from a previous relationship. I was single with no children, a couple of prestigious degrees, and a good job, so for many people the thought of dating—let alone marrying—a woman who had children was a letdown or an offense. But it has been an incredible joy and an experience of God’s love to raise two daughters who are mine through chosen relationships and one who is mine biologically.
Don’t get me wrong, raising children is one of the greatest challenges you can ever have, most of the parents out there will agree with me. But it is also one of the most rewarding journeys a person can undertake. Raising children who do not share your blood takes a special person. But if I’m honest, I feel similar about my call to parenting all of my children as I do to being a husband. Let me break the myths: marriage is not for everyone. Raising children is not for everyone, either. But both are callings for many of us. And as Christians, we know both take the grace and power of God to do well.
Being able to raise and care for children who are mine not by blood and obligation, but by relationship and choice gives me a different perspective on how God loves us as His adopted children by the Spirit. Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:14–15 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”
When you raise children who are adopted into your family, you are able to share your spirit and more importantly God’s Spirit with them—even if you may not share blood. Having adopted children is different than having biological children for me. But it does not make the relationship any less important, loving, or powerful, just as when God adopted us by His Spirit. God’s love toward us as His adopted children is the same as His love toward Jesus, His only begotten Son. That is a powerful revelation and goal for our love as people in blended families: to love every member the way God loves Jesus, the way Jesus loves us, the way we are called to love one another. Although our relationships in blended families may be different, the love should not be different.
Having a blended family is not for everyone. But with intentionality, grace, and patience it can be an amazing experience of God’s love. Scripture and history show that blended families have always been part of God’s people. It is not a moral failure to bring children into a new family or marry someone with children. It should not be taboo to have a blended family. Our response as believers to blended families is clear: love them as Jesus loves us.
We love to see examples of successful black men who are also wonderful fathers. Dr. Myron Rolle is an inspiring role model with an incredible story. He was a celebrated football player who was drafted to the NFL. He received a Rhodes Scholarship and graduated Oxford University before he went to the league. And now he is a neurosurgeon in Boston working with brilliant minds from Boston University, Harvard, and others to tackle the most pressing issues of the human brain. He does all of this while being a devoted husband and father of 4 including two newborn twins. He’s a millennial who has lived his dreams.
How does he do it all? How did this middle class boy from the Bahamas become an exemplar on the football field and the field of medicine? How does he balance fatherhood with his research? UrbanFaith sat down with Dr. Myron Rolle to discuss his tactics and testimony in his book the 2% Way.
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
Have your touch
Just one day.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.