I’ve never met a pimp who liked his dad. Or a prostitute. Or a thief. And I’ve met a few.
I over-prepared for my first turn teaching at the children’s home. I was twenty-one and terrified. I read over my stack of index cards, pacing around the grounds as 250 kids trickled into the small white chapel in their Sunday best.
250 kids: Refugees from Ethiopia sent to America by their endangered diplomat parents. Orphans whose next of kin were unable or unwilling to take them in. And trouble makers on their last second chance before entering the state’s system.
250 kids: Boys on the right. Girls on the left. Fresh faced five year-olds on the front row in suits and ruffled dresses. Stoic eighteen year-olds in jeans and t-shirts sitting arms-crossed in the back.
I stood before them clinching my notes, eyes nailed to the words by nerves. And I read: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
And then I said something like “Abba means Daddy. You’re God’s kid. Even if you don’t have a father down here you’ve got one in Heaven who cares about you very much. He’ll never abuse you, or leave you. He’ll never tell you you’re worthless or make you feel that way. He wants you. He likes you. He loves you. He’s your Daddy.”
I never told my jokes- never made it past the first card.
When I finally dared to look up my eyes caught Michael’s on the back row. He was a gang member and pimp when arriving at there at fifteen and after three years he wasn’t yet “reformed.” He was tattooed and stiff necked, imposingly muscular and unyieldingly silent. And there he sat with one tear burning its way down his cheek and disappearing into his black t-shirt.
And there were others. Dozens. Crying.
Later that week I wrote a song called Abba Father, a simple chorus to remind the kids at the home they had a Daddy.
Years later I recorded it but I never performed it in concert, fearing its cheesiness would repel my then mostly college crowd. Until one night in Colorado. A big guy on the front row shouted out “Abba Father!” Reluctantly, I sang it and the audience of upper middle class white adults reacted like a room full of fatherless downtown kids in Texas.
What I began to realize in Colorado is that there are a lot of orphans with a dad at home. He hasn’t walked out to deal drugs but he walks out to sell pharmaceuticals or promote a CD. Dad’s too busy climbing the corporate ladder to climb a jungle gym. Dad’s too busy kicking the competition’s tail to kick the soccer ball in the back yard. Dad’s too busy kissing his bosses butt to kiss foreheads goodnight. He’s too busy watching his church grow to watch his girl’s first ballet.
Michael told me he’d never call God “Father.” Never. I’ve met a lot of people who feel the same way. A father, Michael said, is an @$$hole who doesn’t stick around. Michael went to jail not long after confessing this to me. I left Waco soon after that, doubting Michael would ever change his mind and determined not to be an @$$hole to the kids I’d have someday.
Last night I stayed up late building a volcano. This morning I’m blowing it up with my favorite five year-old.