BY DAVID W. TRIPLETT
The Price Of Abandonment
“Hello Dad, where have you been?” These were the words uttered as I spoke with my dad for the first time in 15 years. The last time I had seen him was my freshman year in high school in Clinton, SC. My younger brother and I had been in the Presbyterian Children’s Home, Thornwell, a little more than three years by the time he decided to move to town to do odd job contractor work. He spent about six months there then took some of my brother’s birthday money and skipped town.
I had found out through my older brother that my dad was now living in Houston, TX, had remarried and had been there for some time. I also found out that he was traveling through Jackson, MS—where I live—to go see his mother in Chattanooga, TN. My brother gave me his telephone number and I held onto it for a while trying to get the nerve up to call him.
There was so much pain and hurt stored up in me because he and my mom, to some extent, abandoned us as children. From my earliest memories, I recall alcohol-fueled fights with physical altercations that took place right in front of us at the dinner table. The violence, cursing, and unstable environment had devastating effects on all of us—I just didn’t realize to what extent.
After many years of fighting, they finally decided to get a divorce, and in the summer of 1976 when I was 10, it was finalized. Afterward, he skipped town the first time deciding that he was not going to pay alimony or child support to my mom. This left her, with a sophomore level college education and no means to support us in suburban Atlanta. She tried and successfully earned her real estate license. However, it was 1976 and mortgage rates were so high that houses weren’t selling. Real estate also took her away from us many evenings and weekends as she was showing houses.
This left my 13-year-old brother with a responsibility that he could not and should not have had. His anger over the divorce, as well as the position my mom put him in, caused him to act out toward her and he was eventually placed in a school in North Georgia called Rabun Gap Nacoochee. The way he explained it years later was a reform type school. This left my younger brother and me with Mom during my fifth and his fourth-grade years. I cannot write to you about all the hardships we endured but will tell you we were in great need. We relied on soup kitchens, the Salvation Army, and every potluck church supper that was offered. It was rough, but we did have clothes and a roof over our heads.
While divorce proceedings were happening, we spent the summer with my mom’s first cousin’s family in Maryland. We had a great summer there and it was decided that in the summer of 1977 we would go back. In August, my mother came to pick us up and I was ready to start my sixth-grade year and see my friends back home. On the way back to Georgia, she pulled into Thornwell Children’s Home in Clinton, SC, where she dropped us off without any mention of this beforehand. A caseworker had us follow him to Wilson Cottage and after meeting the housemother, Ms. Esther King, and putting our one suitcase in our room my mom casually said, “I’ll come get you when I get my life back together.”
I saw her maybe five times from then until June 1984 when I graduated from high school. There are too many things to share about life at Thornwell and that may be for another article, but suffice it say it is never easy to just be dropped off somewhere with strangers, really strict rules, and a bunch of kids with anger and abandonment issues of their own. It was a Christian environment that provided structure, a solid education, and the expectation that if you wanted to eat, you worked your tail off doing a campus-assigned chore.
So why am I writing this article now? I haven’t wanted to write it—but feel that after much prayer and confirmation, God wants me to.
Our pastor preached on Father’s Day 2016 on the known statistic that there are 25 million households in America without a father in the picture at all. Think about all of the children in prior years and decades that faced abandonment by one or both parents—that is a lot of children. As abandonment rates increased due to divorce during the 1950s, and in the decades since due to divorce or never having been married in the first place, our culture has significantly changed.
We used to believe in the God of the Bible, but now we believe in many gods like the gods of government and of self. It is easy, then, to see why we are in a post-Christian secular America—because who can put their faith in a Heavenly Father when our own earthly fathers have abandoned us?
Shortly after I recommitted my life to Christ in late 1994, God gave me the scripture verse Psalm 27:10, which states, “Though my mother and father forsake me, you will never forsake me, oh Lord.” There is great truth in these words!
I cannot speak for everyone that has been abandoned, but I know for me that it led to a hyper need for approval and acceptance from others. I had to be the best and I tried to do my best to do just that—then I’d tell you about it to try to get validation.
On an even darker note, it led to severe trust issues where I worked very hard to win a girl’s heart and as soon as I would earn it I would abandon them or make life miserable for them because how could I trust someone that loved me when the people who “loved” me had abandoned me. I had many failed relationships because of this.
I reached out to my dad because I received some great Christian counseling after I had been brought to my knees by God and recommitted my life to Christ. The counselor encouraged me to write letters to my dad that I would never send to let him know how what he had done affected my life. After this process, I was encouraged to try to find him and speak with him directly or via the telephone to tell him of the hurt and pain he caused and then to forgive him for it.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” I was firm and unwavering when I spoke with my dad, and I was also firm and unwavering in telling him that I forgave him. I know how much, through Christ, I have been forgiven so how could I not forgive him? I got his side of the story and caught up on where he had been and his new life in Texas. I then invited him to coffee or dinner the next time he came through town. Sadly, he never took me up on that offer before his death.
God is a loving God who created you for relationship with Him first and foremost. If abandonment issues are keeping you from accepting His offer of relationship with Him through Jesus, go to an authoritative Bible-preaching church and discuss with the pastor or pastoral counselor. God loved us enough to send His son Jesus to death as an atoning sacrifice for our sins so that we can have a right relationship with Him and with others to His praise and glory ever more.