I learned to tie a tie when I was twelve. The guy at the big-and-tall store taught me. We stood between racks of oversized shirts and sport coats so big you could use them to cover a Jet Ski in winter. We stood there as my mother watched and I learned the little end goes back through the opening. I could tell you a thousand stories just like that, about guys teaching me things my father should have taught me.
Recently, I read through the grand jury testimony regarding a young man who was shot to death by police here in Portland. The young man was at his girlfriends house, and was told to come out with his hands behind his head, walking backwards toward the police who had their guns drawn. The man talked back to the police, telling them to shoot him. He then took off running, hid behind a car and when he reached inside his sweatshirt he was shot to death.
As I read the testimony, I kept wondering what would happen if an older man who shared his blood and his name had been in his life how different things would have been. Mistakes were made on both sides of the event in Portland, but I kept thinking about how different things would be if there might have been a father involved. It's amazing how different we become when there is somebody in our lives who might be ashamed of us, somebody who also provides food and a roof and love.
Father Fiction is a book about growing up without a father. It's a book about all the things I've had to learn second hand, a laundry list of character traits kids who grew up without dads need to develop, and a lot of affirmation and validation in with the advice.
In the book, I tell the story of a wildlife refuge in Africa where a group of orphaned elephants entered into adolescence on their own, the males becoming violent because their mustch cycles were oddly sustained beyond the natural norm for elephants. It was only when older, male elephants were introduce to the refuge that the mustch cycled ended and the elephants continued their healthy lives. It was just the simple presence of an older male that settled the elephants down, both in behavior and biochemically. I believe something similar is true for humans, too.
After writing Father Fiction, I realized the issue needed more than a book and so I started an organization called The Mentoring Project which partners young men growing up without dads with positive male role models. Our goal is to see thousands of kids enter into relationships with somebody who would be let down if they screwed up, and ecstatic when they succeed.
I'm grateful to, both with Father Fiction and The Mentoring Project, be working with people who are telling a better story, who are entering into the story of fatherlessness and changing the plot. I should have put a chapter in there about tying a tie, but maybe we can all do that one in person.