We are excited to have John Sowers, Founder of The Mentoring Project, join us today on the blog to share his story.
“Fatherlessness is a personal tragedy and a collective epidemic. Some 25 million American kids are growing up without dad. One third of those will never see their fathers. Fatherlessness is the engine driving some of our worst social problems, from gangs and youth violence, to teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, school dropouts and suicide.”
– John Sowers, Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story
Unfortunately, most of us identify all too well with the fatherless crisis that is engulfing America. For most of you, like me, it’s very real, very personal and the defining characteristic of our childhood. We are experiencing the first generation of children who witnessed the voluntary abandonment of their fathers en mass.
I was two years old when my dad walked out the front door, forever. Other kids are older, many younger. My heroic mom worked three jobs to provide for me and my brother – shoes for sports, braces for wandering teeth and some modest lessons to supplement my schooling and encourage me in my drawing. While my mom worked nearly around the clock, my grandmother was my primary caretaker. She picked me up from school nearly every day with her signature half-frozen Gatorade slushy. She gave me a boost in my step every time she said, “John, you are a right handsome young man.” My mom decided that while I was surrounded by the love of my mom, grandmother and brother, it wasn’t enough. She wanted me to have another voice, a uniquely “guy voice” speaking into my life. As it happened, were no uncles or grandpas around so, she enrolled me in a community mentoring program.
I was six when I first met Tom.
Before Tom, the only man I could remember being around was my little league baseball coach. Coach Castle drove an old beater Jeep Cherokee. It had wood paneling and smelled like stale pipe smoke. Sometimes after practice, Coach Castle drove us to Terri’s Hot Dog Stand and bought us fried cherry pies. Coach didn’t talk much. So I just watched him – squinting, like I was looking at a lunar eclipse. Men were an anomaly. They rarely came around. In my life, men were elusive creatures, like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.
Tom came to our door with a crooked smile and a bushy mustache, back when they were cool the first time. I wasn’t sure what to think of him. Tom took me to Baskin Robins and bought me a double scoop of chocolate. I remember it dripping down my fingers onto the table. But it didn’t matter – I had a new friend.
Later during our outing, I finally got the courage to ask Tom why he was so hairy. (I was never around men, so I didn’t ever see hairy arms.) Tom got dead serious, quiet and still – I thought I had offended him. Maybe he had some freakish hair disease, like lycanthropy. Tom pulled his truck over to the side of the road and took a deep breath. Then, with a grave tone he offered,
“My mother is a monkey.”
I didn’t really believe him. Not really. But when a guy opens his heart to you about his mom, you can’t make fun of him. My six-year old mind wondered, “what if she really was a monkey?” It would hurt Tom’s feelings if I laughed, and he might not be my friend anymore. So, I took the news as if were a sacred secret and I slowly nodded my head.
After about twenty minutes, he fessed up. My instincts had been right, his mother wasn’t actually a monkey.
From that day on, when I had a birthday or a holiday rolled around, Tom sent a card with a monkey on the front and on the inside he signed, “from Tom and Mom.”
Now, looking back, I realize the people who mean the most to me are the people who showed up in my life: my mom, my grandmother, Tom and my other mentors. I think this correlation is true for all of us. We receive the greatest sense of value, and the greatest sense of defeat, in the context of our relationships.
That’s why at The Mentoring Project we continually tell our mentors that “mentors win by showing up.” When you show up faithfully in someone’s life, you say without words, “I am with you. You matter.”
We all need people to show up in our lives. People who value us. People who believe in us. People who laugh with us and listen to us. People like Tom.
Tom and I didn’t have a lot of deep talks. But he made himself available and offered his time. Being with him helped me appreciate humor and fueled my imagination. Laughing together brought me a sense of belonging. We had shared experiences, like catching my first bass on Lake Conway. Because of Tom, I learned being a man was not as scary or weird as I made it out to be. I no longer needed to be afraid of men, or afraid of becoming one myself.
Having a mentor allowed me to beat the forecast that shadows the fatherless generation. I was blessed with an incredible mentor through most of my childhood and teen years. Because of their powerful impact in my early life, I have devoted my adult life to finding mentors for fatherless kids who are staring down the path I walked.
At The Mentoring Project, we hope to provide a mentor for each fatherless child seeking another caring adult in their life. We exist to recruit, train, equip and inspire mentors to rewrite the story of the fatherless generation. The need is massive. Please join us as we strive to combat the fatherless crisis in America.
This Father’s Day, The Mentoring Project is hosting a campaign called “Don’t Buy the Tie”. They are asking you to do something a little different and instead of buying the stereotypical tie, give a monthly donation in your dad’s honor that will help recruit, train and encourage mentors to invest in the life of a fatherless child.
Give & learn more by clicking the widget below.