Sunday, June 03, 2007

In custody

A man at the church I went to in Atlanta, let’s call him Charlie, had a nearly bald head and a bushy auburn pirate’s beard only a little trimmed so he looked more like a biker than anything else. His head had been totally shaved when he was in the pen, where he was for I don’t know how long, and this is how he looked when I met him at church at first. He sported a Japanese or Chinese pictograph tattoo on the right back side of his neck and multiple works of body art along each arm. He smoked clove cigarettes, and his breath reeked. But his eyes were clear blue, like they saw into you, and when he shook your hand, he grabbed it with both of his, and he looked right at you, and bent his face in toward you, so you’d smell his breath, and he’d say in his discomforting and difficult to understand voice that was borne of being deaf and having a half-rate hearing aid in his right ear and not really hearing his voice as it came out, “How you doin’?” He had three kids who were being battled over in court with their mother: a girl, 8; another girl, 5; and a boy, 3. He would bring them to church now and then, to the “family friendly” service at 9:00 a.m., and the kids were just out of control. The little boy would wander around and talk and fidget with other people’s arms in the pew behind them and just…just…out of control. Undisciplined. Unparented.

One Sunday after worship, we were sitting in the chapel to the side of the sanctuary hearing from a group the church supported financially that helps young mothers and also helps people with adoption. Charlie spoke up and said that he had recently gotten full custody of the kids, that he was trying to learn how to parent them, that it had been rough, that he knew he had a “higher power/Being” he was trying to follow, who had made his life so much better, but right now it was just tough, and what kind of help was out there for a guy like him, a single dad, trying to raise his three kids? His voice broke a couple times while he was talking.

I watched him and marveled. A man who spent time in prison, the kind of man who looked as though he’d be as comfortable holding a sawed-off shotgun in your face then as he would a hymnal on Sunday morning now, sitting in a chapel pew asking for help raising his kids. Trying to make a go of it. Trying to be a part of something larger than himself. Trying to give his kids a good life, not one necessarily of prosperity, but one of love and direction, of a father loving his children the way he knew they should be loved.

He didn’t know this way, but he was committed to learning it and doing it.

For his kids’ sake.

photo: johnpring

1 comment:

marja said...

What a beautiful story...developing. That man needs our respect and prayer.

Thank you for dropping by my blog. It looks like we have the same taste in movies, music and books. I will read more of your blog later today.