When I was little, my dad nicknamed me Cowboy. Although I was raised an asphalt cowboy in the city of Houston, Texas, somewhere inside I latched onto that nickname, and it became a part of me. I was a cowboy without a horse or a ranch, but those were just minor details. Dad ruffled my hair and called me Cowboy.
Many evenings at the farm, my wife and I will sit and watch a movie. Some evenings it can be hard to find one I am interested in that she hasn’t already watched. Tonight, she picked one and about 20 minutes into it she said, “Oh gosh, I’ve seen this one, I’m going to pack.” Okay, nothing new, but I was going to sit and watch it.
The story was of a boy whose father was killed by police while robbing banks. He was a newborn when it happened, and another man raised him. A committed stepdad in a safe home, a mom who loved him, and a sister. But you could see in his demeaner there was something amiss. At 17, he asked the question, “Tell me about my dad.” Imagine the stepdad having to tell that story to his son. In the quest to find out who he is, who his father was, the young man found one of his dad’s friends. He told him stories about his dad. He learned that his dad was an excellent motorcycle rider and robbed banks.
In the end what happened, what often happens with boys, he gravitated to the things he knew about his dad. He had a core value system in place by his stepdad that turned his heart to good, but he longed for the things of his dad. He had questions he wanted to have answered. I remember when my dear friend, Joe Don, told me his father, who died when he was 3, was a West Texas oilfield worker. Joe Don has been a pastor for 40 years. In many ways he was a timid pastoral kind of guy, in his early 60’s at the time. In that moment, I had a revelation and told him, “You have that in you, you are a hard-working, tough, outdoorsman, son of a West Texas oilfield worker.” Something inside him lit up. He got something back in that moment. It doesn’t matter the age–man or boy–we are created for a relationship with our father. We inherit that longing whether we know it or not.
Many of our boys today are being raised with the longing for a father who is not there. Some are not there in body; some are but still absent. It is an epidemic. They long to be validated, acknowledged, included, taught what to do when things happen. When their body changes, what does it mean? When they like a girl, what does it mean? When they need to be encouraged, driven, challenged, and disciplined for good, what does it mean? If they do not have a father or a male mentor who truly cares for them, statistics show they more often than not go off the rails.
Even if a boy has good mentors or a stepdad, but no father, they deeply long for what they never received from dad, and that never goes away. In his late 60’s, Joe Don was moved by the ideas and thoughts of his dad.
Jesus had an exceptional stepdad. Joseph knew he was not the bio-dad, he struggled with it up front, but then his heart was changed, and he became exceptional. He trained Jesus to be a carpenter, got him through all the school and training in traditional biblical Jewish culture. Yes, of course God was there, and after all, he was Jesus, but God used a committed man on earth to fill a role Jesus needed, and He placed him in his life.
Matthew 3:13-17 “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
I have seen good men do well from fatherless homes, from bad homes, from hard life backgrounds. Some don’t know Jesus, at least I don’t see them navigating a life that exalts Him. I am not sure how that is done. But I do know many who have given their lives to Jesus and are walking the uneven ground toward a life all in with Jesus. They explore their past and have Jesus there to talk with them, answer the questions they long to have answered. These men are also the gift to a boy who does not have a father. They share common hearts; they know each other’s pains and difficulties. They can be the first male role model who shows them what a good man looks and acts like. How a father in heaven can possibly be real and could love us all. Powerful.
The boy in the movie longed to do right–he was raised that way–but he still had questions. In the end he left home to find himself, and the movies closes with him buying a used motorcycle and riding away down a long asphalt road. He went looking for something inside and I am not sure it is a bad thing. I was 27 before I began to understand a few things, and now in my 60’s I continue to have things revealed. Boys can be slower. One of my favorite book titles is The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses. I believe that. Men and boys are always looking for who they are, their heritage and legacy, their father’s story. Even if he is a 70-year-old son of a West Texas oilfield worker, an asphalt cowboy, or the son of an outlaw. Our Father in heaven is waiting for us, prepared for the moment we turn our hearts to Him. This Father’s Day make sure you hug a boy who does not have a dad at home. It may be the beginning of something big.