i am loving sharing these stories from my friends! every time i re-read them, i am blown away by their beauty and depth. janice’s view of “God’s ghetto” and kate’s perspective on mental illness have gotten us off to a great start. i thought we’d enter into another dimension from the margins, ones that tends to get ignored sometimes-single daddies struggling to take good care of their kids and put food on the table. i talk about single moms all the time. their situations are so tricky, and i am deeply passionate about the Body of Christ caring deeply for them and doing whatever we can to support them on the journey. what’s interesting, though, is that i sometimes notice how i overlook other friends who are single parents, too; they just happen to be men. the extra shame & pressure put on men to “provide” can really be damaging, especially in the world of evangelical christianity. i am blessed to have an amazing brother on the journey, “bob”, one of my dearest companions and faithful friends. God is telling a beautiful story through him and this interview will never do it justice, but I did want you to peek into what his life and experience is like as a dad with no money, no house, a fairly unreliable car, and an amazing faith. enjoy.
share a little of your background, what kind of family you came from, how you ended up as a single dad trying to pull off life for you and your kids.
I grew up in a family that was middle class, denominationally Christian, and emotionally dysfunctional. I was married for 10 years, in counseling for most of these years, and finally gave it up. As hard as divorce has been for my two children, It is better than growing up with a really bad relationship as a role model. I didn’t finish college, having indulged in my distrust of authority (not a good choice) and following my creative dreams (a good choice). Now I work full-time in a blue-collar service job, (30K) and pay 50% of my income to child support.
when you lay in bed in the middle of the night, what are some of the thoughts & questions that rattle around in your head about yourself?
Fortunately, God has blessed me with sleeping like a rock wherever I lay down, so I don’t have that trouble.
okay, then, what do you say to him when you are wide awake, alone in your thoughts, when you think about your life?
I have officially been one of “the poor” for about 8 years. That used to bring me down all of the time. That corrosive identity is not so bad now, because the emotional feeling of being poor is being lifted from me (by God’s grace) more every day. Even so, in the tougher times I still wonder out loud “what were you thinking, God?” and “what kind of Image are we created in anyway?” On rare occasion I lose it all and wonder if I am living inside of an empty delusion. Fortunately, I have come to understand that Faith is not a noun–a “thing” that I have to have, get, keep, or hold onto in every damnation-threatened second (by my own bootstraps). Faith is a verb. Faith lives in the love which is in, among, and between us. When I lose mine, someone else is there outside of me with love and care, and I remember what it is all about. Faith is our living account of the relationship we have with God; In a way, it is like our story book, and we are not the only character in it.
what is the hardest part about never really having any margin financially?
Birthdays and Christmas for the kids, and car repairs.
how does the system work against you ever getting ahead?
Since I don’t like to think of myself as a victim, I don’t want to answer the question. If I had to think of this rationally and dispassionately, I could write three pages on it. For now though, I need to remember the serenity prayer.
do you think it’s different for men than women, a single dad vs. a single mom, why?
Yes. The baseline assumption is that men are either deadbeat, or a cash machine. I’m not looking for sympathy, but that is a good thing because there isn’t much of it out there for fathers.
what does it feel like to go to a food bank? describe that experience for people who have never been there and probably never will.
Humiliating going in and somewhat relieved coming out. It is embarrassing to be a middle-aged white male in that situation, My race, gender, social expectations, shoulds and oughts get loud in my head when I have to go in for food, which was twice a month recently. I’m almost getting used to it, but not really. I also wish that I didn’t have to go in so that I could leave more for other deserving folks, but the pantry seems to have enough to go around. It is a relief to know that my kids can eat, and that I probably have enough money left for fuel.
how has and does God sustained and strengthened you?
All day, every day. I feel God’s strength in the building calm in the center of my life, even though I haven’t tried to create it. I feel His Love around and through me, in the love of people and in the fabric of life itself.
can you think of a tangible moment where you felt God providing for you in a completely unexpected way? what did that look like, feel like?
Yes, many many times, and also before the Refuge existed. When I have been really out of money, food, or housing after the divorce, those things showed up through the kindness of others. Sometimes through several small actual miracles of being given more food in the bag of the drive-thru when I was down to my last two bucks, and I had just spent one of them on the dollar menu. I started realizing that God was providing for me. While I didn’t stop working at doing the best I can, I learned that I didn’t need to have the anxiety of being thrown to the wolves all on my own. I began to understand Jesus’ seemingly pithy teaching on sparrows and lillies. Not only did my anxiety start lifting, but God removed depression from my life at the same time. I have lived for about 4 years without it now.
are there any really stupid things christians have said to you along the way that made you really angry or hurt your feelings?
As far as “really angry or hurt feelings” goes, until I came back into community with the Refuge, I had left “the faith” for about 20 years. Jesus never left me, which made it sweet to praise him and risk community when I came back. But honestly, I pretty much stayed away from christians. The occasional AM radio bit or TBN on television did not encourage me to draw any closer to christianity, that much is sure. It didn’t make me angry, just sad and made me want to stay away. I clearly wasn’t their type.
- ps: i first asked the question with “that made you want to punch them” and here’s what he said: While I have heard a lot of stupid things from a lot of people (including myself), I have not wanted to punch anyone for it. Christ taught us about refraining from violence. I know that your question is metaphorical and humorous, but I think that anger management is a serious issue for both men and women. (yeah, i think i’ll be changing the wording on that question from now on!)
what are some of the ways people have helped you the most?
Food, housing when we’ve needed it, clothing for my children, gift cards and cash to help me through Christmas, cars to borrow when mine is broken (several cars in rotation for months), an engine to fix my car, encouragement, the joy of community, prayers that I never see.
have you felt marginalized by “the church” or christians sometimes? how?
I don’t feel like sharing my life’s experiences with people who have committed themselves to looking all shiny, and perfect, and together on the outside because my story would be a threat to them. There is a fear that surrounds poverty, people don’t want to get anywhere near you for fear of “catching it”. Most folks only want to help at a distance, the greater the distance the better. Hence, the popularity of missions to help people of radically different cultures and situations who are at a great geographic distance. There is nothing wrong with that kind of giving, but when it is used as a way of safely assuaging guilt so that we don’t have to love our actual neighbor, I think that is a problem.
what are some of the things you cry out to God in the middle of the night?
Wow, you’re really pretty!
what have you learned about yourself, about God on your journey?
That I am loved. That God is real and lives among us. That the Lord’s Prayer and the greatest commandment are about us right here and right now. That God’s Kingdom, and the redemption and holy transformation he has promised us shows up in this place when we love one another and care for one another. And that it is easy to love God when you step into the life that Jesus gave us.
what has a tangible, safe, loving communty meant to you? what are you learning about yourself and people and God through it?
More than I can express here. But this work is worth doing, and has rewards that are best described by Jesus and Paul in scripture. It is one thing to read about it, and quite another to live it. It is beautiful.
what words do you have for someone who is barely making it, in debt up to their eyeballs, can’t put food on the table or see a way out?
They can’t kick you off the planet for being poor.
Hang in there, and be honest about your situation.
Find some safe people to share what’s going on.
Trust in God, even when hearing the phrase “Trust in God” makes you want to say “#@%* that”.
Learn to receive, and you will see how much giving you can do at the same time.
what words do you have for “the church” when it comes to journeying alongside single dads and folks who are really living on the edge financially?
Figure out how to do it and take the first step. Oops, no, that’s wrong. Take the first step–listening, asking, risking real relationship. Giving, helping, caring. Do that before you figure out how to do it. The Bible is not an operator’s manual. It is God’s love letters to us. It reveals what needs to happen (love and care) without giving systematic instruction. So begin where you are. Keep trying. Be willing to risk and expect to make mistakes. Pray together. All of the committee meetings in the world will not relieve you from risk and mistakes- In fact, try to nurture a living fellowship that makes committee meetings completely unnecessary. So, get used to taking risks and making mistakes.
any other thoughts you’d like to add?
I often work on having compassion for wealthy people (who are all around me in this particular affluent city). I especially pray for those children of wealth who drive Audis and Range Rovers, whose comments I hear sometimes. Their situation is not their fault. They have their own struggles to overcome in their lives, spiritual challenges far more difficult than I face in my situation.
thanks, bob, for sharing a slice of your journey with us. my favorite line–to God: “wow, you’re pretty!” oh that is so beautiful! i have deep respect for your dedication to your kids, to God, to this community. i am wondering how many others of us out here have unintentionally neglected to see what life might be like for single dads like you. and how we, as brothers and sisters, might be able to encourage and support and love the men we know who are battling to survive, provide, live, and love, no matter their circumstance.