Two simple words struck at the very core of “A Heart for the Fatherless,” a recent church gathering in Oklahoma City.
About 275 youths at the conference were asked to share what came to mind when they thought of the word “father.”
Hero, provider, leader — the young people didn't hesitate to speak.
But when keynote speaker Steve Perry, Ph.D., asked the boys what words cropped up when they thought about their own fathers, the positive descriptions stopped.
Liar. Selfish. Punk. Ghost. Mad. Missing.
Several of about 100 adults at the event seemed to flinch as the youths ranging in age from 4 to late teens opened up to them.
Heart taker. That's how a 12-year-old boy summed up what came to his mind when he thought about his father: someone who has taken a heart.
Perry paused to let the boy's words sink in with the audience Aug. 10 at Fairview Baptist Church, 1700 NE 7.
The moment highlighted what the conference was all about, organizers said.
The day included workshops on a variety of topics, a panel discussion and lunch, but Perry's afternoon keynote address and the youths' response honed in on the tough situation faced by boys whose fathers are not helping to raise them.
Leander Williams, founder of the mentoring organization Project Boys2Men, said he organized the event with the help of New Union Baptist. Williams said he grew up in a fatherless home and wanted to help youths avoid many of the troubles he experienced.
Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., told conference attendees he, too, was raised without his father. Perry, author of several books, including “Man Up! Nobody Is Coming to Save Us,” was featured in the documentary “From Fatherless to Fatherhood” and the cable TV show “Save My Son” and recently appeared on a series of “Oprah's Lifeclass” episodes on the OWN cable network about the issue of fatherlessness.
Perry told adults in the crowd that there are immediate solutions that can help the youths — starting with their own roles in the community. Perry said probably every adult in the room knew a man who was not being an active participant in his child's life. He urged the adult attendees to confront these men and urge them to support their children and become engaged in their lives.
“Every grown person can physically reach out and touch somebody's father,” Perry said.
“It's not that we don't know who these fathers are. It's almost like you are keeping their daddies from them, because they know that you know where their dads are. They know he was at somebody's barbecue somewhere. They know he's sleeping somewhere.”
‘This ain't OK'
In his forthright style, Perry recommended that the adults call the missing fathers and encourage them to reach out to their children with a phone call, a visit or even a phone text.
“Tell them, ‘Look partner, this ain't OK. That little boy didn't do nothing to you,'” Perry said.
He said men need to know that others in the community will not accept their lackadaisical attitude toward their children and that they could not be too busy to be the dads their children want and need.
“Could a man be that busy? Is it possible?” Perry asked.
Near the end of the conference, the Rev. Kelly Booker, Williams' mentor and senior pastor of New Union Baptist Church, urged the youths attending the conference to forgive their fathers for their inaction and lack of support. Booker told the young men that unforgiveness in their hearts would lead to negative emotions such as anger and bitterness.
“Forgiveness does not mean you won't hurt anymore,” Booker said. “God will take away the hurt, but first you have to them let them off the hook.”
Editor's note: This is the start of an ongoing series about efforts made by metro-area faith-based organizations and individuals to address the issue of children without fathers present in their homes.