Unexpected Fatherhood And Me

divorce

I am not a dad but in God’s stellar sight, I am. My wife Shirley and I had four miscarriages in the early 1980s. We have therefore four children in heaven. That is not all, however. Over the years, in various unexpected ways, God has given me six godsons which makes me the father of ten children. I’m the unexpected recipient of fatherhood, and very grateful.

Miscarriage: Invisible children

Many years before I returned to the Catholic Church, I spent twelve years as an Assemblies of God minister. Four of those years were in Richmond, VA, ministering to men who had drug and alcohol addictions, and other life-controlling problems. We worked and lived with the men, primarily on a 118-acre ranch. I counseled, taught Bible classes geared towards their issues, and eventually directed one of the houses. Unlike a 12-step program, the guys remained in-house for twelve months, and we pointed them in a direct way to the Lord Jesus Christ. The work was intense, hours were long, and situations faced by many of them were incredibly complex. Yet I treasure those memories as I often learned more about me than them it seems, shaping my life until this day forty years later. More on those lessons another time.

One shadow loomed over that period, and that was the miscarriage situations we faced while there. Ironically, though not Catholic at the time, we used NFP and found that it was not only exact and safe but used in reverse, gave us the ability to plan pregnancies. That was something artificial contraception could not do. We became intentional about each of our conceptions in this manner. Fertility as such was not the issue. Carrying to term, however, sadly was. We, by the way, later looked into adoption, but that too was not to be. Still, I held the first of our children—who I had fathered—in my hand, as the amniotic sac had not broken during the miscarriage. It was clear to me then, as now, that it was a real child, and not some odd collection of cells, even at first trimester. I had experienced unexpected fatherhood for the first time.

Family on both sides cared and prayed for us, and loved ones from the congregation where I was associate pastor during this time showed us nothing but love and great support. The men in the program rooted for us as well. No one, however, thought in terms of actual funerals to say goodbye and commit them to God. Mostly they told us to keep trying. Imagine that advice if our children had been born and held in the arms of those same well-meaning folks. But, as today, miscarriages and abortions too are unseen, other than by a very few, and thus seem less real to people. Easier to think of them as a clump of cells when they are not smiling at you or grabbing hold of one’s finger. Then they become irreplaceable.

A Dad for Real

It was many years before I would even attend a Father’s Day church service. In most Christian communities, as on Mother’s Day, the respective parents are asked to stand, are conspicuously prayed for or applauded or both, and to this day it is difficult to explain that I am indeed a dad but have no evidence to prove it. I have no pictures to post on Facebook of my alleged kids, and no grandchildren on the way to fuss over. It is just me.

Something changed in 2008, two years after I was confirmed as a Catholic believer. I spoke to my priest, and he offered to conduct a Mass of Christian Burial, using the rite for the unbaptized. Until Catholic again, I had no idea there was such a rite, and, having been divorced by that time for many years, Father Joseph and I, the biological dad, would be the only attendees. Unexpected fatherhood times two. A good reminder that priests are fathers as well.

Over twenty years had passed, and my children would have been adults by that time. Few in my circles would have understood, but within my heart, I needed this closure and believed that heaven called for it as well. I gave them names, two male and two female, basing these primarily on ones we had discussed years earlier. My first, the one I was immensely privileged to hold for just a few minutes, was Bethany Rachelle. Then came Nathan Joshua, Jeremiah Joseph, and Mary Delores. I named the last one after my mother, Mary, and cousin Delores, who had recently passed away.

Interesting side note about Delores—she was the lone Catholic besides my dad on his side of the family, and 2 weeks before her death we spoke by phone. I told her about the miscarriages, which she had not known about, and she immediately promised to hold them in her arms when she passed from this life. I was both astounded and deeply moved. The names used together mean Mother of Sorrows, so besides honoring these two godly women, it also was a shout-out to the Blessed Mother. Delores incidentally left this world on August 1, the beginning of the month of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Mother of Sorrows was there to comfort me. I finally could acknowledge my own fatherhood unexpected.

The healing was begun.

All My Children

Obviously, the pain did not just leave me but I believe it opened doors I had not realized or thought about. Over the years, I have been able to look up one young man, a fine evangelical Christian, who I had acted as godfather for while still Protestant during his infant dedication. Twice, later, I sponsored men going through RCIA, one who had never been baptized so I was his official sacramental godfather as well as confirmation sponsor. The other, an immigrant at a young age from Romania, is a convert from the Orthodox. He still, over a decade later, considers me a dear friend and is a heroic Catholic Christian. In addition, I have online contact with a young man from Kenya who was in middle school during the time I sponsored his schooling through the Dominicans in New York City.  He too is a fine Catholic man of God today in his 20s and is studying medicine. He found me years later via Facebook and calls me dad to this day.

Another beautiful young man from our neighboring Mexico calls me papa as well, and he became my dear friend through the Courage apostolate. I write of him elsewhere on this site. Finally, the founder and brains behind the EWTN-owned website ChurchPOP gave me the amazing gift of being sacramental godfather for his third child. My heart overflows and I feel like a dad to every one of these young men. Unexpected fatherhood has gone international for this dad. God gifted me ten times, and I am so very undeserved. Besides all of these, I have been an unofficial father-figure to a few others here and there over the years. It does not remove the pain but definitely helps. I ask often for my heavenly children to pray for the ones yet on earth. Obedient kids that they are, I know they do.

No Greater Joy

I write this today, Father’s Day, for two reasons—to give hope to those who have lost children, whether by miscarriage or possibly abortion, and to remind us that many times men are the forgotten suffering units in this equation. Today is, in any case, a good day to remember each of the men in your life. Unexpected fatherhood recipients or not. Official or unofficial. And, by all means, our priests too. Father’s Day is for us all.

No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth. (3 John: 4)

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Unexpected Fatherhood And Me”

  1. What an incredibly beautiful, thought provoking and honest to the core reflection. May God’s blessings continue to enrich your life, Richard!

    1. Mike, thanks for your kind comment. I certainly ask for your prayers and can only say that God is real and merciful, even during tough times. For these and so many other reasons, I could never be anything but pro-life, from conception to natural death. Blessings.

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