Jim, were you a good dad? (Fatherhood through the eyes of the homeless)

That night it was torrentially downpouring in NYC. Not off and on, but continually. Every inch of me was soaked, and I’d only walked the 11 blocks from Penn Station to the Port Authority. It was so windy that there was a graveyard of umbrellas on and around every public trash can.
It was a crummy night to be out, but there we were, taking part in what is one of my favorite versions of the outreaches we do, Don’t Walk By.

During this outreach, we break into small teams of 2-5 and walk the streets of midtown Manhattan with purpose of not walking by the individuals that are so easily missed.

It was on this rain soaked night that we found Jim. He was seeking refuge inside of The Port Authority - NYC’s central bus terminal. People that have nowhere to go find safety and normality inside of such transit hubs because the act of waiting around with a suitcase easily blends in with everyone else doing the same - and because there are public restrooms.

We saw a man in the distance, sitting alone against a wall, in a less traveled section of the building. As we approached, I made eye contact as to get his permission and not just assume he would want me or need me (Check out my co-worker Josiah’s post about “How to knock on a homeless person’s door”). When we received his approving “hello”, we made our way over to him and asked how he was doing, he admitted that he wasn’t having the best night and that he was homeless. I said I’m sorry that he was in that situation and that we were just going around and checking on people to see how they were doing. He continued to be inviting to our conversation, so we stayed and chatted for a few minutes. We came to find out that his name is Jim, and he hadn’t eaten yet this evening because of the weather and not wanting to go out in it.

A cool thing that we do sometimes during this outreach is invite our new friends out to dinner - not in a way that is flaunting the fact that we can afford what they cannot, but in the same way as you would treat your friends to dinner to bless them. My wife and I use food as a mediary to better relationships with our friends all the time. Why should it be any different with someone that is homeless? They are my new friend and I am trying to get to know them better, so we use food to help it along. It’s great!

We told Jim that we were hungry too and that we were going to get dinner if he wanted to join. He said yes and we let him choose what sounded good to him. He chose Dunkin Doughnuts because there would be seating for everyone (there were 4 of us total with Jim). I noticed and loved that his first thought was thinking ahead to a place where we all could sit and talk - not just grab and go. :)

We made it to DD and grabbed some food and then sat down. I came to find out that Jim was from South Carolina originally, but has been in NYC for a long while. He worked in construction up until recently when work ran out. After that, he found himself in a place where he could no longer pay his rent. He had been homeless for 3 months. Then I learned one of the most heartbreaking things of all about him. Jim has 7 grown kids - all of whom still live in and around NYC.

He has 7 kids. Grown, married, with their own families, jobs, ect. and their dad is living on the streets mere blocks away for 3 months.

How does that happen? What has to happen in a man’s life where he cannot bear to tell his children or his family that he messed up, didn’t prepare well, and needs help. There has to be year after year of hurt or let down. It’s really sad.

In doing this for a little bit, I have found a simple question that helps me answer some some of these questions without outright asking them and by empowering those answering them with some dignity.

“As a new father to a little girl, I am trying to be the best dad I can be. What is the best advice you can give to me for raising my daughter well?”

I love asking this question on the streets. The answers I have received have been great and heartbreaking all at the same time. This simple question lets me understand a little bit of what a father’s relationship was to his kids without asking a more heavy question, like, “Were you a good dad?”.

If a man lights up to this question with excitement and adoration of his years of raising his kids there is a pretty good chance that he has a great relationship with his kids and he took the time to be there for them. I love those answers and encounters. But then there are those time like when I asked Jim this question that it hurts my heart - especially as a new dad.

Jim’s response was more reserved and came with about 10 seconds of thought.

“Try to be there for her...(more pause)... and buy her whatever she wants!”

I didn’t ask, because it was rather apparent, but I don’t think that Jim was always there for his kids, nor was he able to provide for them in the ways that he wanted to.

I looked Jim in the eye and said, “I will do those things to the best of my ability”.

It was a moment. A moment within a busy restaurant in a busy city, that one man, one dad, felt empowered to be the teacher and to take back some of the dignity he feels has left him while on the streets and even throughout life.

We ended our conversation by praying together for work, a place to stay, and a better relationship with his family moving forward.

He finished with these words,
“In 3 months of being in this situation, I’ve never met people like you all. Thank you.”

With a little time, dignity, respect, and $10, a man with little worth to himself and others found something new and some sunshine on a rainy night. Please pray for my new friend Jim and all the other fathers out there that are living with regrets of what should have been.

* * * * * * * * * *

How can you better empower those around you to be better forms of who they were made to be? How can you use the leadership and responsibility that you have been given to make those around you better people? Is it taking those extra 10 minutes to ask them how they are doing? Can you take them to coffee to better fortify your relationship with them and get to know them better? How can you make shine a light on their weaknesses by not exploiting those weakness, but strengthening them?

This life is hard. We have to look for ways to love each other better and more intentionally every day. It doesn’t happen on it’s own. Look for ways to love.

Thank you friends.
Please feel free to share this with whomever you feel it might help or encourage.

Much love to you all!