Robert Hitt Neill column 6-12-12

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dads, kids need your time more than anything

We just re-watched, for the half-dozenth time or more, the Sherwood Church film “Courageous,” which is about fathers who realize, through adverse circumstances, that their commitment to their sons is lacking.  

They form an accountability group, pledge to be better fathers, and hold each other to that pledge. It’s a very moving film with an explosive ending, if you haven’t seen it, and would make a wonderful Father’s Day present.

In it, the Sheriff who employs four of these five dads, at his regular deputy meeting, reads them statistics regarding absentee or neglectful fathers, and proclaims that their own first priorities should be to their own families, although their jobs are to enforce law and order.

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I learned most of those stats he quoted almost two decades ago. In prison.

Regular readers (both of them) will remember that Betsy and I have worked for two decades in the Kairos International Prison Ministry, and I have written the Mississippi Kairos Newsletter for most of those years.

I published in that newsletter, MS KaroTales (which is also the name of my last book, a fund-raiser for the ministry available from P.O. Box 6, Stoneville, MS 38776, for $25), as well as this syndicated column, the fact that only 5% of the men in prison in America had a positive father figure in the home growing up.

A companion stat is that over 67% of the women in prison admit to a background of sexual abuse in the home, which amounts to exactly the same thing!  No positive father figure.

There are a lot of reasons, and I ain’t throwing rocks nor pointing fingers; I’m just relating the facts.

Divorce kills over half the marriages; living together often relieves a biological father of any sense of responsibility for children; and we have essentially paid for fathers to produce children without benefit of marriage or responsibility for their offspring, speaking for our government, for decades.

There is no longer a stigma on illegitimacy, indeed, our tax laws actually punish couples who wed, I understand. In the modern economy, both mother and father often must work for a family to survive.

You can probably name many other reasons, and get “het up” while you’re doing so. If so, I apologize for bringing it up. I don’t write to make folks mad.

I have written this weekly column for Southern papers for 25 years now, and in 25 Father’s Days, I realize that I’ve broached this subject before. But it ain’t getting any better, so let’s say it again.

Dads, the best gift that you can give to your family and kids is the gift of your Time. Just like the Sheriff in Courageous said, once you get a family, you belong to take care of that family before anything else, under God. Let’s get that in there, too. It’s something that isn’t always taken for granted nowadays.
I wish I’d been able to stick back enough dough over the years to give each of my kids a million bucks when they got married, but that was not to be.

I wish I could have bought each one a baby-blue Jag, or at least a loaded new pick-up, when they got their Driver’s License. I wish I’d been able to send them to the best colleges, then a year-long trip around the world for a graduation present. Most of us Dads wish we could have done things like that, but very few are able to.

But the one thing that is vital to your kids is your Time, Dads!  

And for those Dads who are able to make that commitment, be aware that maybe half the kids whom you are coaching are lacking fatherly presences, and that YOUR Fatherly Influence may very well be the key to the salvation and well-being of one of those kids, perhaps without your even knowing it.

While taking the Time to build relationships with your own kids, never forget the ones who are NOT yours, by name. Maybe 25 years later, a young man will say to you, “Coach? You don’t recognize me, but I played ball for you, and it changed my life.”

Then he may say, “Yessir, you were THERE for me, when I needed a man!”