ROAD RULES by The Rev. Anthony Payton
So, a funny thing happened to me on my way to my airplane seat. It had been a restful 10 days in Santo Domingo and I was looking forward to going home. I upgraded my seat, for more leg room, and as I approached my seat there was a gentleman already sitting there. Now, I have been saved for a long time, so I won’t even begin to share with you the thoughts that were going through my mind. I said to him, “4C,” and before I could finish my sentence he said, “Is this your seat?” “Yes,” I responded and he said, “I have a first class ticket and will switch my seat for yours.” Now, I am speechless, “Ah, okay,” I struggled to say not wanting to appear too excited.
As we switched tickets I glanced at the man sitting next to him; he looked like he could have been the man’s father. As I turned to go to first class, I said to myself, “I bet he wanted to sit next to his father.” As I got myself situated, in my first class seat, I begin to struggle emotionally and I didn’t know why. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t.
Then it hit me! I started to think about all the places I’ve been—the cities and countries I’ve seen. I’ve traveled with my mother, wife, children, grandmother and many others, but never with my father. With that single thought it was as if someone took an eraser to the places I’ve been and erased all the things I’ve done. As I mentally and emotionally attempted to rewrite the lines of those memories, I fought back tears. Jacob wrestled with the angel and was left limping, so too was I without my father’s blessing.
“I thought I was over this,” was the sermon I kept preaching to myself as I sat in my seat. I’m 55 years old and I should not be dealing with this. Here I am, a successful man by human standards and very successful by God’s standards and I am fighting back tears over a man who, at worst, didn’t love me or at best didn’t know how. Either way, I can’t afford this right now. I wrestled for peace, but it wasn’t forthcoming. “What am I to do?” I asked myself. I am a black man sitting in first class and I can’t even enjoy it. I cannot be crying over this!
At that moment, the flight attendant broke into my thoughts. “Would you like some lunch, sir?” “Sir?” I repeated to myself. They don’t call you that in coach. “What are the lunch options?” I asked. “Turkey sandwich or salad,” she replied. I responded, “I’ll have the turkey,” No sooner had she turned and walked away, I picked up my last train of thought and continued to preach: “I wish getting over this was as simple as ordering a turkey sandwich,” I said to myself.
The fact is there is nothing simple about getting over father issues, whether you’re male or female. My own personal struggles reminded me of that. It is known that most of the issues young African American males face stem from father issues. The data, in reality, is much more painful. According to the website, Children: Our Ultimate Investment, homes without fathers ultimately affect children in numerous tragic ways:
• 63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
• 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
• 85 percent of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes.
• 80 percent of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes.
• 71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
• 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes.
• 85 percent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.
This is the reality of fatherlessness in America. However, if you are an African American male and you make it through the minefields of being fatherless, you still have a greater chance of being murdered by another African American male. I and many others are the exceptions to the rule. We’re alive, but we still bear the pain, the scars and the wishful thinking of the things that might have been; if only our fathers were there.
At this time, my journey of tears ended, after my three hour flight back into the states. After we landed in Atlanta and I was making my way to customs I had the opportunity to ask the man, who had given me his first class seat; if that was his father seated next to him. He responded, “Yes,” and I responded back by saying, “Then you had the better seat.”
The Rev. Anthony Payton is pastor of Come As You Are Community Church in Fort Wayne.