Where’s Dad?

Words by Kellie McGann

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No birthday cards, no phone calls, no relationship at all. To grow up without a father places a unique weight on children, especially young boys. Lecrae, our featured guest, shared his experience with us of what it was like for him to grow up without a father, introducing us to a few of his friends with similar backgrounds. LB, Tedashii, and Lecrae each grew up without a father but are now close friends as adults, supporting each other in pursuing a healthy family.

We interviewed each of them to ask about their experience and how they’ve learned to deal with their past, while choosing to create lives that pursue health and wholeness for them and their families.

Lecrae felt the fatherless void early. He told us it starts with questions like, “Where’s dad?” and “Why isn’t he coming home?” and quickly morphs into internalized messages that maybe it was your fault. Because if he valued you enough, wouldn’t he be around? The questions get bigger as you get older. “How do I shave?” turns into “How do I treat a woman?” and “How do I become a man?”

Tedashii recalls his senior year of high school, placing in the shot put and discus events. “I looked to the sidelines where the other kids lined up with their parents and siblings. I saw a cousin and teacher from my school and couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t have a father there.” Conscious of the disadvantage in the lack of his father, he told himself he couldn’t let that stop him. He recalls, “I had to fight constantly not to go to this place of pity and being a victim and being defeated. I wouldn’t move forward that way. I couldn’t let this slow me down.” That mindset was common among these friends. Lecrae told us, “I was very ambitious. I looked at my father’s failure to be around as a driver to be different.”

LB told us that after his father passed away, “I tried to fill the void with anything I could, until I found a way out through sports scholarships.” These early experiences formed who he became. But instead of using them as an excuse, he used them as fuel to create a new normal. He realized what Lecrae and Tedashii realized: the only way out was to keep pushing forward.

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In adulthood, the men continued to pour themselves into the things that would move them forward while wrestling with insecurities and doubts along the way. After Lecrae learned to create a budget, he taught Tedashii. They found strength in one another and in their faith in God, who filled the fatherless void. Now, these successful men have careers they love as well as families they love even more.

All three had to navigate the tension of growing into a role that was brand-new to them. Lecrae’s advice on this was, “It’s important to give yourself grace. We’d never done this before. We had to remember we were creating new patterns and relationships within our families. Be honest when you drop the ball and be transparent constantly. My son was recently dealing with a couple of rough kids at school and started to cry. He told me he was embarrassed that I saw him cry, but I told him, ‘It’s OK to cry. You were scared. I get scared sometimes too.’ His eyes got as big as quarters and he said, ‘Daddy, you get scared?’ It was helpful for him to know that daddy gets scared too.”

Tedashii recalled a similar experience. “My son recently asked me, ‘Why is rain water? Why doesn’t it rain Gatorade?’ and I told him, ‘Well, Gatorade doesn’t make plants grow.’ I thought that was it. But then he came back with a list of 50 more questions about plants growing. And while I didn’t really want to answer all his questions, I knew that by being willing to engage in these moments and questions, I was creating bonds and ties that would lend themselves to more important conversations in the future.”

While growing up without a father was a common narrative for these men, their stories of rising above these circumstances overshadow this narrative. None of them told us it was ever easy, but all said they made the decision to move forward. They encourage you to make the same decision—no matter what fight you’re up against.

Lecrae left us with the encouragement that it’s worth fighting to create this new normal. “I was at my oldest son’s track meet sitting and talking to my kids about what they wanted to be when they grow up. My youngest son was struggling with an answer and said, ‘I don’t know, daddy. I just want to be like you.’ That was a huge moment I never imagined having. I spent so much time trying not to be like my dad—it was a joyful moment to have my child want to be like me. But I wouldn’t be the me that I am had I not gone through the trials of trying to be a man, husband, and father.”