Friday, February 22, 2013

Helping Others Get Back Up Again

I recently had the privilege of being on a conference call with Dr. John Sowers. As an author, president of a national mentoring organization, committee member for the White House Task Force for Fatherhood and Healthy Families, and someone who has been named a White House Champion of Change, Dr. Sowers words carry immediate credibility. The call was a preparatory talk in advance of our conference on the fatherless epidemic in April. We talked of the national epidemic of fatherlessness and its impact on society. Dr. Sowers noted that the city of Chicago has instituted stringent gun control and other policies to curb violence. Yet, Chicago continues to be a national leader in youth violence. Only recently have city leaders started to unpack the idea that those involved in the violence are often fatherless youth joining fatherless gangs shooting other fatherless youth. Sowers says, "The root cause of this rage is often relational brokenness." Countless men and women in our society carry the oppressive weight of guilt, shame, regret, confusion, and isolation that is mainly rooted in relational brokenness. Often this brokenness is birthed from a dysfunctional or complete absent relationship with a parent. It's only when another steps into this mentor role and reestablishes identities lost that the resiliency to find a deeper, more meaningful life emerges.
The Y links arms with other community partners to administer the Mentoring Project. It's in this work that I've found a common thread among fractured hearts - fatherlessness. Just this week I sat with a wise older man who shared this: "I grew up with a Dad, but I didn't have a strong relationship with him. I don't think that I ever heard him say, 'I love you,' to me or my mom. That's just the way he was. He worked hard and provided for us, but we never connected. To this day, when I see a commercial about a deep father-son relationship, I'm in tears. Here I am a man in my 70s still longing for that connection with my Dad." This story is written in countless ways throughout our culture. It's tragic. And, it's crushing our communities.
Resilience is a powerful word. It's the ability to recover readily after a negative experience. It's buoyancy. Whether we innately possess it, find it along our journey or are taught it by another, resiliency is a critical component to our health and well-being. Resiliency as the antidote to many of the maladies of life has strong support in contemporary academia. Daniel Goleman talks significantly about emotional resiliency in his work on emotional and social intelligence. Brene Brown speaks openly about shame resiliency in her latest work, Daring Greatly. And, of course, Rocky Balboa talked about resiliency throughout his quest to find himself.
In Rocky I, the underdog fighter Balboa took on a great challenge and fought valiantly without ultimate success. Throughout Rocky II, his mentor continues to convince him that he has the capacity for more. As Rocky III begins, Balboa surfs the crests of success and embraces the confidence that his mentor has instilled in him. He's a unstoppable champion. However, once his mentor suddenly passes away his confidence is lost and he is a badly beaten former champion. Fear and self doubt wash away courage and hope and Balboa's identity is lost. The turning point of the film is when Balboa, with the help of his wife, stops running from his lost identity and the fear that now defines him and instead turns to face the demons. Roosevelt said, "The credit belongs to the man... who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; ...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly." Balboa found the triumph of high achievement as well as the resiliency to get back in the arena after failure. His mentor taught him this.

Some say that kids have a great ability to be resilient so that when dad checks out, they can simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be ok. This rarely happens without someone sacrificially investing themselves into the child's life. Consider this recent interview with former Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson:
Katie Couric: Why were you violent toward everybody?
Mike Tyson: I don’t know. I hated myself and I just wanted someone else to feel that pain…. I was just trying to bridge the gap between who I was and who I wanted to be… Cus [Tyson's mentor] was the only father figure I ever had [Cus passed away when Tyson was a teenager]...
When fathers are absent, the soul suffers. When relationships are broken and people are isolated the heart withers. As others step into our lives and affirm our God-given identities, souls are resurrected, hearts come alive, and lives are transformed. Mentoring matters. The challenges of life can quickly submerse us and we're left longing to breathe. Our buoyancy is found when another offers an outstretched hand and pulls us to the surface. Bob Goff says, "God never looked in your mirror and wished He saw someone else." As we discover that truth, our capacity for resiliency grows, born in relationships with others.
I hope that you'll join us as we welcome Dr. Sowers on April 6 for a keynote address entitled "Curing the Epidemic: Rewriting the Story of the Fatherless Generation." For more information or to register, go to



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