By Ronald E. Johnson, C.Ph.D.
My clinched fist turned knuckles white; a tear trickled down my cheek. The contrast was stark: deep anger at the loss of my father and mother, yet tender emotions for thousands of other fatherless teens like me. The casket disappeared into the grave. I turned away in agony over the emptiness that filled my troubled soul. The big question throbbed around my brain: “Why? Years would pass before I concluded a reasonable answer that took away the pain and anger.
Such is the life of a fatherless youth. But history has recorded that the grave of a father does not determine the destiny of the surviving son or daughter. George Washington lost his father. So did Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who was instrumental in procuring American independence from England. Those two men went through their teenage years yearning for their fathers’ firm grasp and encouraging affirmations of manhood. They didn’t get what they needed from their fathers. Fortunately, both men received solace from other men who were mentors.
Washington and Lafayette could have slouched along in anger, discouragement, and self-destruction…like most fatherless youth. But they looked for a better path to travel. Ironically, both men (Washington in Virginia and La Fayette in France) compensated for fatherlessness by pursuing the noble cause of living to establish national freedom and liberty from tyranny. Their days of youth were a contrast. Washington determined to become a man of integrity, honesty, and self-discipline against the practice of immoral vices. His mother guided the youthful Washington to establish a code of conduct based on Judeo-Christian principles and virtues: to tell the truth always, be polite, refrain from cursing, be a gentlemen, seek wisdom, keep a clean conscience, be noble in character. And he did! At the age of 17, he became a surveyor of wilderness lands where he learned endurance through adversity and life-threatening dangers. By age 19, he was an acclaimed military hero.
Ironically, La Fayette’s guardians did not guide him to embrace virtues. Instead, the youth was pampered and allowed to indulge in an aristocratic life style of luxury. He was forced into an arranged marriage at age 16 to a 14 year old girl, but the two teenagers were not allowed life together! Anger, bitterness, frustration, and lack of noble purpose clawed at La Fayette’s soul. He entered military service to find adventure. He learned about George Washington’s noble cause to obtain liberty for American colonists. The young military officer determined to go to America to serve under the mentorship of General George Washington. La Fayette gathered his courage, packed his bags with money and elegant military uniforms, and sailed for America.
In a miraculous turn of fate, the son-less, elder Washington and the fatherless and wife-less young Frenchman became close friends; their souls bonded almost immediately after their first meeting in Washington’s camp. Washington became a mentor; La Fayette became like a son to the childless Washington. Both benefited by the relationship. Through Washington’s patient, paternal-like mentoring, La Fayette became a competent and highly dependable general in the American army. They maintained a father-son relationship throughout the War for Independence, and were together at Yorktown, where La Fayette’s men were significantly instrumental in confining British General Cornwallis until the main colonial army under leadership of Washington arrived with 17,000 troops. The combined American and French troops and French navy defeated Cornwallis, thereby essentially drawing to a close the American War for Independence.
Mentoring is a critical component for fatherless youth. Psalm 27:10 states an interesting provision about fatherless children: “When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” That seems to have been the case for La Fayette; Washington became mentor who took up responsibility to fill the “father gaps” in La Fayette’s life. That relationship met needs of both men. La Fayette became a mature man while accepting and embracing Washington’s noble virtues and commitment to serve his country.
Fortunately, I also was “taken up” at a time when life was directionless, numbing, and confusing. Being homeless at age 18, I joined the US Air Force in order to have a bed, food and purpose. Several military officers became “hinge men” who turned my focus from self to preservation of freedom and a deep desire to meet the needs of fatherless youth. Chaplain Paul Wragg pricked my conscience to consider letting Christ impact my life. Major Jack Barth and Lt. Colonial Bernard Bushue demonstrated before me courage to oppose evil, even when career and life are threatened. They ignited an unquenchable fire to defend my country!
Later, Professor Arland Foster “took me up” and taught me how to hunt, work, and set my sights on a career in education. Those men filled a void created by fatherlessness. Even though most of the men touched my life for only brief periods of time, their influence has lasted a life time. At the right moments, with the right guidance, they repositioned my thinking and focus. They turned me as with a door hinge to enter a world of ideas, virtues, and noble causes. Their encouragement, affirmation, and counsel (to stop destructive habits and to embrace noble values) compelled me to live above mediocrity. As La Fayette did not want to disappoint his mentor, I purposed not to disappoint the men who invested their lives in mine.
I still reflect on the scene of my father’s casket and the thoughts of hopelessness, but I rejoice that other men “took me up” and mentored me through military service, three university degrees, and a prosperous career as a teacher, superintendent, and president of a textbook publishing company.
For more articles and books about youth, education, and families by Dr. Johnson, visit www.pacworks.com (Doc’s Blog). Comments and correspondence are welcome at Learn@pacworks.com, phone 325-649-0976, P.O. Box 810, Zephyr, Texas 76890. On Facebook, find Paradigm at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003000021331&sk=wall. Stay up on the latest news and articles from Dr. Johnson, we would be honored to be added to your list of friends. Already a friend? Share us with your friends. To reach those who advocate school of choice whether home school, private school or charter school, and to reach out to the fatherless and father-challenged according to James 1:27.