Let me start this by taking you back in time, it’s 1999, almost 2000, and I am in a blue Ford Escort 1.2L with four of my mates. We are on a mission, the summer night air is feeding into an electric atmosphere in the car as we motor towards our promised land. The designated driver is doing his job, looking cool and cruising us to our venue for an amazing night out.
The soundman in front is keeping a heady mix of pumping tunes going from the tape player and occasionally dropping the volume so one of us can share our unrealistic expectations for the night; oh, it was so good.
We cruised into Chelmsford in Essex, and boy, did we look the business, like five absolute bosses. The smell of Cool Water mixed with Joop must have been noxious to anyone who walked past us, but we didn’t care, this night was made for us. I had gone for my usually combination, smart jeans, Ellesse Boots (with the tag) and a check Ben Sherman shirt (tea towel design.) A few guys were sporting the Timberland®s and others went with slip-on shoes; either way, we were dressed to impress.
The walk from the car was still supercharged with expectations, with a few of us finishing off our pre-club drinks. As we turned the corner to take our final approach to the front doors of Dukes, the club where our dreams would be realised, we saw him.
This wasn’t a man like any you have seen; this was a man mountain and this brute, hewn from granite had, over a few occasions, proved to be our group’s single, impassable nemesis.
The nightclub had a mixture of doormen, but this guy was huge. He refused to look away; once his locked his eyes onto yours there was just one thing you could do, glance away and quickly, normally to the ground.
Some nights he would step aside, having done the stare down of course, and the warm lights, the pumping tunes welcomed us in. But that wasn’t the case tonight.
“Evening, lads,” he bellowed with an almost sinister pause for effect. “Got any ID?”
Now, I need to be honest here. We looked it, dressed like it and acted like it, but the truth was, we were not all 18. ID therefore was a major issue, and one we were willing to gamble on; remember, this evening was planned and talked about for weeks, and each moment was imagined to the minutest of details.
“No ID, lads, you’re not coming in, not on my watch.”
We had nothing. This colossus, this beast of a man had in a heartbeat blocked our plans. His words clung to us as we turned on our heels and retreated into the shadows with all the other wanderers with no ID – “not on my watch”.
Now, having indulged myself with one of the memories that even now, as a group of mates who have been together for more than 30 years, we still remember – what’s the point? What has “not on my watch” got to do with anything? And what has this got to do with Christian Vision for Men and Father’s Day?
Well, in 2017 we sat at a table with Home for Good, a charity that we admire immensely and cheer on whenever we can, and we started to dream about a message in 2018 for Father’s Day. That message was born from a desire to see children and young people in the UK have the opportunity to know good and decent father role models, both biological and non-biological ones.
I remember reading a statistic a few years ago that talked about the loss of fathers in society in the UK, with 2,000,000 fatherless homes and whole communities where fatherhood has been silently eroded. Children who have never known their dad and a good and caring father figure. As I write this I am choked to think it; this stuff really matters.
This stuff matters and calls to our morality, and for me, it calls at a spiritual level too.
As biological fathers, we can have and be an incredible force for good in the lives of our children. This is certainly not an easy thing to do, however. As a father to three children I am continually feeling exhausted, frustrated or wondering if I am even doing this whole parenting bit right. Will my children one day look back at dear old dad and think, “Let’s not do it the way he did it?” I don’t think it will be that bad, to be honest, but that doesn’t stop that fear from running around in my head.
What is interesting here is when we scale this up even more and suggest that as men we can be father figures to any and all children in life. They don’t need to be your children for you to find yourself in a father figure role.
I spent a year working in an orphanage in Brazil and the experience was one of the most humbling times in my life. Three, four and five children sometimes, all from the same family, permanently living in the orphanage. Children aged from one day to 18 years looking for a father figure to shape them, explain things and model stuff.
On one occasion, my wife and I took a load of the 16-year-old kids to a competition; they won everything because they had been fighting their whole lives, unlike the other kids who lived in the gloss and veneer of a polished world. What stood out for me was that as these young boys and girls got up to get their trophy, their eyes buzzed the room for my wife and me. That moment of: “How did I do?” “Did I do good?”
I said that this impacts not just my morality but spirituality too. As a Christian man I follow Jesus, and I believe that part of that journey to follow Him means I look to act and be more like him. That doesn’t mean I am now the male version of Mother Teresa, but I do want to take seriously the idea that while it is my watch, I can’t eradicate world hunger, but I can be a father.
If that’s to my biological children, then on my watch I will do everything I can. If that’s to the fatherless around me, I will do all I can. I am willing to count the cost, in time, in money and in energy and even pain. We can make a choice, like that beast of a man at the nightclub; we can choose to say “not on my watch”.
We can make the choice to see where father figures are needed, and get involved. We can be advocates of charities like Home for Good and all that they believe in. We can support this stuff by showing up, by choosing to foster, by choosing to adopt, by supporting families who foster/adopt, by getting involved in youth church/Sunday school etc. Maybe even by giving our dosh. We can support this stuff by being part of a culture change on our own doorsteps.
Is it time you said “not on my watch”?