“Don’t believe the press release”

The Press Release Connection

Back in the mid 1990s, Marcus Allen had already been an NFL star for more than ten years; he played on a Super Bowl winning team. Now he was playing for the KC Chiefs. One young player just out of college was touted as being the real deal, a star before he even put on his uniform. One time he scored a touchdown, and was parading around in the end zone and showing off to the crowd. Marcus Allen finally spoke and told him, “Don’t believe your press reports. Act like you have been there.”

In 1960 our family went to our local town (~5,000 at the time). My father was very strict, and he kept us in line. We saw a few teenagers messing around, causing some havoc, but nothing serious. I remember my father commenting, “If you ever see this kind of actions by teenagers, all you have to do is look at the parents and you’ll see the cause.” Little did I know that this would be my “press release” as a parent 20 years later.

The Press Release about Me

I served in the Navy when we adopted our sons (1978). Early on it became obvious that the older son (8 when they came to us) was going to be a problem. Little did we know how big of a problem. He began stealing from us within a year, and it escalated from there.

In 1982 I left the Navy to attend seminary in St. Louis. He soon began stealing from others (we didn’t know it for quite some time). The lies and stealing escalated to the point that when I went on vicarage the first week he purposefully stole from a store—his intention was that the police would take him away from us, then he could do his own thing apart from our parenting role, i.e. supervision. That didn’t happen. But the drugs soon entered the picture. And my father’s press release was coming to mind almost every day.

When we returned to St. Louis he quit school in the first two months of his freshman year. Frequently after study and work, I began searching for him in the surrounding suburbs after 10 PM, sometimes finding him under cardboard, or in a make shift lean-to. He spent his 16th birthday and several weeks later in the county jail. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was severe bipolar and schizophrenia. We just knew something was severely wrong with him. And my father’s press release was pressing on my mind.

When he was released to us he became so violent that we had to call the police to have him arrested. They first had to take him to hospital because he put his fist through one of our windows, cutting a major blood line in his wrist. He had sprayed blood all over the ceiling, floor, walls. And my father’s press release was pressing on my mind.

We then had him committed to a psychiatric hospital, eventually for 18 months in another state. The next year he had reached the age (17) he could legally check himself out (without our approval). I drove 900 miles one way and straight back without sleeping to pick him up. He stayed with us for a few months, but eventually drugs and alcohol were back in his life, and I kicked him out in late 1988. And my father’s press release was pressing on my mind.

The Press Release Begins to Change

My parents would visit us once a year for a few days. In 1989, when they came, our son was not around—we had not seen in several months. But my parents decided to spend one day shopping at the larger city in that area. When they came back later in the afternoon, I will never forget that encounter. We had told them a few things that we faced with our son, but not the really bad stuff.

Prior to that day there were two things I had never observed about my father—he never apologized to anyone, and he never cried. Apparently the only time he cried in his life was in 1944 when serving in the Pacific as ground crew for B-29s. One day all his best friends were on a plane that crashed at the end of the runway, all dying—he had to clean them up and the debris from the plane. 

As we talked this day, they mentioned that they had seen our son. My father took me aside with tears in his eyes and said, “I am so sorry. I didn’t know how bad it was for you with your son.” He never said what happened, but it shook him up so much that he couldn’t even offer any advice or hope. But having him apologize to me was overwhelming… and a little relief.

My father died two years later. He missed the worst of the torment: our son was in seven different prisons in several states over the next 27 years, homeless the rest of the time, violent… And my father’s press release was pressing on my mind—even after his death.

The Press New Release

Needless to say that my own press release as a father was not high praise. It was barely above zero, and sometimes felt far below zero. Over the last few years I have begun to move away from my father’s press release that had become my own prophetic failure.

Interestingly over the past couple years (both in their mid to late 40s) I have spoken to both sons about my struggle as a parent. It shocked me when both sons independently told me how much they appreciated me as a father, how much they learned, especially how much they learned about love, with a never-failing love, and never giving up on them.

I think God was using them to give me a new press release:

broken sinner (for what had happened and what I did),
forgiven sinner (for my sins and failures),
redeemed sinner who could love again with God’s love.

I have not written about, talked about, nor published this change in press release until today. I love my sons, but it is because of God’s unfailing love for me that I can even do a little in this regard. 

Contra Marcus Allen, I like this new press release—and I believe God’s press release!

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Who Am I? Pt 3

See Part 2 here.

This new reality and routine continued on in my life until the fall of that year when I was again summoned to another office, but this time it was the Chaplain’s office. I vividly recall sitting in that chair and listening to the chaplain explain that my mother had finally lost her battle with cancer. He offered to pray with me as he explained that our God who is rich in compassion and cared for me dearly, who would not forsake or leave me during this time.

With this news and through my floodgate of tears I lashed out verbally at him telling him of what I thought of his God. No longer could I contain my anger, fears, and outrage at life and what it had given me. I was sure going to let him, and everybody I ran across, know what I thought of this fictitious deity.  Soon after I stopped going to classes, began masking my pain with alcohol and marijuana use, and was given a hardship discharge from the military. Being an only child and having the rest of my family succumb to death I decided to stay in the area. Instead of looking at the new reality that I found myself in, I focused on the past and the entirety of what my life had become. I was angry, hateful, full of resentment—overall mad at the world. Words alone cannot express the depth of the emotions that seeped from every pore of my body.

I continued to deal with all of these emotions and pains by abusing substances that would allow me not to feel anything beside the sadness that dwelt within me. It was not long before I had yet again fallen into the “wrong crowd” and surrounded myself with people who were of the same ilk. I became good friends with the pot dealer who lived across the hall from me and we would spend every night, for the better part of a year, partying and selling marijuana to others. One night that all changed though— through a tip to the police we were raided and arrested in my apartment for possession, burglary and theft.

I spent the next nine months of my life in the county jail where my anger and frustration with life only seemed to grow more deeply and manifest in more ways. Eventually I was sentenced to fourteen years in the state prison. Now these feelings of anger, hatred, and embroiled passion manifested themselves toward any of those hypocritical, Bible-thumping Christians. I spent the next ten years of my life confined in numerous prisons throughout the state. I made sure that everyone I encountered knew how angry I was with their make-believe God.

Through my penal tour I became known and feared as a “bible basher” who would do some pretty deplorable things to anyone who professed a faith in Christ. Child molesters, woman abusers and rapists were often the target of my anger as they so desperately sought to go to these church services where God gave them such a false comfort and security.  Not one time in this ten year span did I ever enter a chapel, attend a service, or accept any amount of help from a religious community or group.

While I was released from the confines that I had so desperately wanted flee, I was still filled with anger and hatred. The new reality that I now faced was one of fear as I stood before the world a free man, but a free man who had no place within society. Ironically, the only places, people, and organizations that would help someone in my situation were those Christian groups that I despised so much. Not wanting to join the ranks of the hypocrites, I began my journey of new found freedom not by accepting any help from them, but by continuing on in my obstinate anger, and hence my own self-made prison.

Living in a shelter and endlessly searching for work proved to be quite challenging for an ex-convict with little work history and obvious anger issues. This routine continued for a month or so until I ran into some friends of mine from prison who offered me a place to stay as they too could relate to the difficulties in transitioning back into society.

Eager to escape the shelter I jumped at the opportunity for this new found freedom, but it did not take long before, yet again, reality kicked in. My friends, plain and simple, were up to no good as they were already back into the lifestyle that had led them to prison in the first place. While in one breath they would praise the freedom they had on the “outside,” in the next breath they would talk about how they could get their next fix or how they could rob and rip off people to support themselves.

Now my prison had no visible walls, but my prison was just as real.