Finding the courage to be a good father

JOE SOUTHERN EDITOR

JOE SOUTHERN
EDITOR
FAITH, FAMILY, & FUN

The other day I watched the movie “Courageous” again.

It’s a Christian film about a group of cops and a construction worker who struggle with various aspects of fatherhood. It had been years since I last watched it and I was riveted though as if I was watching a major Hollywood blockbuster for the first time. I kept asking myself why I don’t watch it more often.

Then it hit me.

The movie is very convicting. It challenges men to be the fathers God meant them to be. It clearly moves you out of your comfort zone. It zings you for every minute spent in overtime at the office, watching TV, browsing the Internet or any other activity that you do that comes at the expense of time spent with your children and your spouse.

Guilty!

A short time after I became a father in the 1990s, I discovered Promise Keepers and became thoroughly immersed in the message and the ministry. I was determined and committed to being the best husband and father I could possibly be. I had my family actively engaged at church and in the Boy Scouts.

Then came the dark times. Between 2002 and 2004 I became distracted and overcommitted. I was a newspaper reporter, a Cubmaster and co-founder of a Cub Scout Pack, I started my own promotional products company, I started the Lone Ranger Fan Club and published a quarterly newsletter and I was active with the men’s ministry at church. That wasn’t the half of it. I discovered this amazing thing called the World Wide Web. It consumed what was left of me.

It wasn’t long before everything unraveled. The business failed and I struggled mightily at my newspaper job. I became obsessed with the fan club because it felt like the only success I was having. Between the fan club and the Internet I began to neglect and tune out things in my life. I slid into a very deep depression. I became that guy who came home, parked in front of the computer and let the rest of the world go about its merry way.

It wasn’t long before I was there physically but completely disconnected mentally, emotionally and spiritually. For years I went through the motions of living, but not really living. I blamed the depression and the mental fog that still plagues me today. My weight shot up to 260 pounds. I was always tired – way too tired to do anything with my kids.

A terrible thing happened while I wasn’t looking. My kids grew up. My two oldest no longer live at home. One of my four is drifting aimlessly and struggling in school. I’ve been able to stay reasonably engaged with one of my children, but even then not to the degree I would like.

The one who has really suffered through all of this is my wife. She has become the de facto leader of the home and the glue holding the family together. She does all of this while working full time and going to grad school. She is a strong and beautiful woman and I’m fortunate to have her.

Coming out of depression is a slow and painful process. I feel like a lab rat for antidepressant drug makers. Years of lethargy make any physical activity painful. I have lost some of the weight but still have a long way to go. Each day is filled with hope and a promise to myself to do better. There are good days, bad days and average days – the worst of all.

Days come and days go and kids get older and more independent. They become less interested in their parents. The more they explore and learn about themselves and the world around them the smaller your window of influence becomes. My window hasn’t shut yet but a lot of opportunity has been wasted.

We recently lost our Internet service at home for a couple of weeks. An amazing thing happened. Suddenly we had time to interact with each other. It was awkward at times but it was good. Really good. Chores got done and we did things together. I had a long overdue talk with my drifting son. I think we turned a page on this chapter of life. It’s that Internet outage that led me to dig into the DVD collection one night and rediscover “Courageous.”

Here we are with Father’s Day coming up and I find myself on a mission of rediscovery. I’m fervently trying to rediscover my role as a husband and father. I’m rediscovering the passion and drive I felt during my Promise Keepers days. I’m planning to renew the covenant vows I made back then to my family. I am driven to make the most of what little time I have left with my children and to be engaged in their lives. More importantly, I am going to reshape myself into the man Sandy married and lost. I will reclaim my position as the servant leader of my home.

For the last 15 years this column has been called Faith, Family & Fun. I’m not going to change the name but I am going back to my roots of writing more about faith and family. That’s not to say I won’t be ignoring the fun. This weekend is Comicpalooza, which always lends itself to a lot of fun things to write about.

In the meantime, however, I will muster the courage to beat down the demons that have trampled me for the last dozen or so years and rise up to be worthy of the name Daddy.

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