By Dr. Romney Ruder, Lifeline Global President
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the live streamed event of the Global Leadership Summit with about 150 men serving sentences at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility in Hutchinson, KS. After not being allowed into prisons or jails around much of the country, it was great to finally get an opportunity to have some fellowship; even if only for a few days.
During his humorous live-streamed talk, one of the speakers, Albert Tate, began to discuss his relationship with his kids and the vast difference between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It was really comical as Reverend Tate expounded on how his wife’s day was filled with celebration, affection, thanksgiving, and gifts. Alternatively, his day as a dad tended to be glossed over without much fanfare.
But while it was funny in the moment, you could see the faces change on some of the men in our immediate audience, as they realized the implications of strained or even no relationship with their children. One gentleman told me that he was arrested while taking his wife and son home from the hospital after birth. Since that day, he has not seen his son except in pictures.
During the break and following the event, man after man came up to me with their own stories of engagement with their children; or their lack of engagement. How do you begin a relationship with someone you have never met or have had limited interaction with?
One man described how his son’s mother put his 5-year old on the phone to talk. The inmate had never spoken to his son before and was dumbfounded as to what to say. Letters can be infrequent, and written words are limited in tone.
We certainly all struggle with this. Being incarcerated adds to the problem because of the limited communication opportunities with the person you are trying to engage.
My advice to all of the men I spoke with that day was to try, try, try, and then try again. Too often, parents have the courage to reach out, but quit when there is no reciprocation. This is true for all parents, not just those incarcerated.
At Lifeline Global, we view parenting as a Call from God. The result is (or should be) that we strive to live into this calling regardless of our situation.
Being married to a wonderful woman and mother, I would be the first to argue that my wife deserves most of the glory of parenting. However, as the father of two grown boys I certainly appreciated the humor of Tate’s talk but his message is very relevant.
Many times, our children do not reciprocate our efforts. But we strive on. There may not be any fanfare, presents or even appreciation, but we continue to make the effort. It does not end because our children outgrow us. Sickness, trauma or tragedy do not absolve us from pouring into our kids. Financial hardships or other setbacks are not an excuse to be unengaged. Whether we are incarcerated legally or find ourselves incarcerated by life, as parents we are called to strive on.