The summer after my freshman year of high school, my ex-girlfriend gave birth to my son. At fifteen, I was still a kid myself and not ready to raise one.
Instead of coming clean and owning that I was a new father, I chose to run away.
As you can imagine, this caused extreme tension in every relationship in my life. To make things worse, I went to high school in a tiny conservative town. If you’ve ever lived in a town like this, then you know that news (especially the drama of having a baby out of wedlock) spreads like wildfire.
I couldn’t go anywhere without being asked about the son I wasn’t taking care of. My family couldn’t go places without other families and churches being angry with them. It got so bad that my Dad, consumed with disappointment and anger, told me he disowned me as his son.
God had not been a big part of my life, but I still thought he existed. But at that moment, the thought subconsciously sunk into me that if my dad didn’t want me, then God wouldn’t either.
The more I lied about being a dad, the more distance I put between myself, my son, my dad, and God. My goal was to leave my small town, graduate college, move to a big city and fix all my problems with success. One by one, I started checking things off my list. I graduated high school, then college, then moved to Chicago, and began working in the film industry. Even though I had accomplished everything on my list, the pain, anger, hurt, and loneliness that I felt from not facing my problems still haunted me.
It took me achieving everything I thought I wanted to realize success couldn’t heal me from my past wounds. No matter how fast I ran, my past continued to catch up with me.
I finally hit my breaking point one dark night in Chicago. I chose to face the problem I was running away from. I decided to make the difficult decision to reach out to my son’s mom after seven years of not saying anything.
I had no idea how she would respond to me reaching out to her after so much time had passed, but I had to try. I could no longer sit by, pretending to live a lie in my life. I reached out to her and apologized. To my great surprise, she didn’t hold a grudge against me. She accepted my apology and told me that we were both kids when my son was born, and we both made mistakes.
I had spent seven years lying and running.
The moment I chose to stop, I was met with far more grace than I deserved. My son’s mom went on to say if I wanted to meet my son in person, I could have an introduction with him that Christmas and take things slowly.
Unfortunately, Christmas that year came, but my son didn’t live long enough to see it. A few weeks before, I received a phone call from my son’s mother.
“Your son is in the hospital, and he’s not going to make it through the night. If you want to meet your son, you’ll have to come to Indianapolis and meet him tonight.”
I was still living in Chicago, but as soon as I got off the phone, I got into my car and drove as fast as I could to Indianapolis. When I arrived at the hospital four hours later, the doctor pulled me aside and told me that my son was on life support. My son couldn’t talk to me, but he could hear everything I wanted to say to him.
It felt as if time were standing still. I spent four hours speeding to get to my son, but each step I took toward his room felt like a lifetime. One side of me was terrified to see my son in a hospital room, and the other half was excited to finally meet him in person.
I was finally doing what I should have done seven years ago, but now it felt like I was too late to have the life a father and son should have together. Somehow, I found the courage to walk into his hospital room. His mom greeted me, and then she left us alone together.
I met my son for the first and last time that night. I stood next to him, unable to speak for several minutes. It was in that moment, at a loss for words, that I believe I felt the spirit of God for the very first time.
Suddenly this peace beyond understanding came over me. I was able to tell my son the words I imagine we both needed to hear. I said how sorry I was that I wasn’t there for him sooner in life. I told him I loved him. I let him know that not being in his life was all my fault—not his.
I had spent my adolescent life going to church every Sunday until my parents stopped making me go. So I knew the religion of Christianity. But it wasn’t until that night in the hospital that I truly met God and understood what it meant to experience a real relationship with Him.
When I left my son’s room, the doctors told me that he was born with a rare birth condition that gave him a life expectancy of only three months. I didn’t know this at the time, but my son had been in and out of the hospital his entire life right up until the moment I reached out to his mother. It’s tough for me to look back on that period in my son’s life. I wish I would have reached out sooner. Even though I wasn’t there to be his father, I believe God was there to give my son the strength he needed to keep going. I don’t know how to explain my son living seven more years than his predicted life expectancy. But I’m so grateful that when he no longer had the strength to keep going, God made sure I was there.
It took me grieving, going through years of counseling, opening up to friends, and seeking God to come to terms with my son passing away. I may have only known my son for a few hours, but I see those hours as God’s gift to me. I’m forever grateful I don’t have to live with the feeling of knowing I never met my son before he died.
That night in the hospital was the jumpstart I needed for my faith. It was the moment in my life where I was finally able to connect the God of the Bible that my parents had told me about, to a heavenly father who wanted a relationship with me.
And He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.
I thought because I wasn’t accepting my son that I wasn’t a father. I thought because my father didn’t accept me that I wasn’t his son. I believed I had done too much bad to be accepted by God.
All of those were lies that kept me from experiencing God’s truth. God’s truth was that, through all my mistakes, he was behind the scenes writing a story of redemption for me.
After my son passed away, I realized how valuable life is. I went and apologized to my own father. My dad apologized to me too, and now we have a very healthy relationship.
What might my story mean for you? I have no idea.
If you’re a dad reading this who feels distant from his kids, maybe this could be the push you need to try to reconnect with them. It took me seven years to reach out to my son’s mom. It’s never too late to try to do the right thing. It may take patience and time, but the sooner you ask, the sooner you can start down the road of reconciliation.
If you’re a son or daughter who feels disconnected from their father, maybe this could be the push you need to take a step toward reconciliation with your dad again.
Whatever hole you’re feeling from a father-child relationship dynamic, understand that you don’t have to fix it with your own power. We can’t, actually. The deepest healing comes from meeting God as our Dad—our good, perfect Dad who will always receive us, always welcome us home.
God wants you to know him as a father. He desires to fix the heart of any broken father relationship. It may not happen the way we think it will, but as we grow closer in our relationship with God, he starts to fix the relationships around us too. I’ve experienced this through my relationship with God, my son, and my father. I believe you can too.Written by Cameron Marshall on
What strikes you most about Cam’s story?
Where do you want to experience healing in a relationship or identity if you could find the courage to stop running? What is holding you back?
Whether you’ve ever prayed before or not, ask God to show up for you in a new way. Ask Him what he has to say about it. If you’re bracing yourself for discipline, relax. Listen for His grace, and trust what you hear if it sounds like love. Write or share whatever comes to mind.
Pick one tangible way to move towards God or another relationship in your life that’s broken this week. Tell a friend so they can hold you to it and pray for you as you go.
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