Monday, August 29, 2005

The Sons of Noah

A Personal Revelation About Father-Son Relationships
Dr. Noah H. Kersey, Ph.D.

My father was a restless, illiterate, hard drinking man who was the third youngest of fourteen children.

As the story goes, his parents were running out of names when he was born so one of his oldest sisters decided to name him Noah. Probably because of this shortage he did not have a middle name.

I never had the chance to know my father very well. He was never around, but I heard stories of him wandering from job to job and from one town to another finding work on farms, driving trucks, or whatever menial job he could find. With a third grade education, the jobs were usually manual labor and he never stayed long.

As a result of this wanderlust, my father was not present for my birth and therefore my maternal grandmother named me after my absent father along with her maiden name. However, to avoid confusion during the rare moments that my father’s name was ever mentioned, I was called by my middle name. It was only when I became a Christian at the age of twenty-one that all my friends decided to call me by my first name and I have now been called Noah for the past thirty-three years. Since I never liked my middle name anyway, I was quite happy to be called by my first name. It means comfort and rest. Something my father never gave to me.

As I was entering into my ninth year of life, my mother decided that I was too much of a burden for her and sent me to live with my wandering father, who at the time was living with one of his oldest sisters in Swainsboro, Georgia. I never held it against my mother. With her poor education, she couldn’t even take care of herself. How could she take care of a small son?

After a few months of living with my father, he also decided that I was too much of a burden as well. However, the real reason for this decision was that he was having an affair with a one-arm married woman and did not have time for the responsibility of raising a son, so he took me out to a highway one night and left me there on the side of the road with a one-way bus ticket to Tampa, Florida. I guess he was hoping that my mother would accept the responsibility of caring for me.

By the time I made it back to Florida, my mother was living with a man who did not want a little boy hanging around so, she turned me away saying she had no means of taking care of me.

I had no place to go so I spent the next six months living in a dumpster, eating out of garbage cans, stealing bread and milk from porches of nearby homes, and begging for handouts on the streets of a Cuban neighborhood known as Ybor City.

Thankfully, God was watching over me. I was eventually found by a social worker who placed me in an orphanage and I was provided an opportunity that I would never have received had my father kept me. I would have been a restless, illiterate, and hard drinking man just like him, instead of having four college degrees and a profession of helping others deal with suffering in their lives.

It was by the grace of God that I not only survived, but thrived in spite of my parent’s neglect.

Now I have three children who are almost grown. One of them is a son who just finished his first year at his university.

When he was born, his mother gave me the privilege of naming him, so I named him Noah Scott. As he was growing up, we always referred to him as Scott or “Scotty” to avoid confusion.

Since high school he has been going by his first name and now everyone calls him “Noah”. Thus the three generations of men named Noah in our family.

As my kids were growing up, I had no clue what a father was suppose to do or be. The only guidelines I had was what I wanted in a father as a little boy and young man. I so badly craved having a father I would gladly given anything just to have an older man take an interest in me.

Being a movie buff, I was also strongly influenced by the “father-figures” in such classic movies as “Les Miserables”, like the Bishop who saved Jean Valjean from a life of harshness and cruelty by his incredible act of kindness.

I was an attentive father. When I was not in classes working on my graduate degrees or, later, helping people in my practice, I was home playing with my kids, or making things for them.

We had joyous times, especially Scott and I. It wasn’t that I loved him more, it’s just that he and I shared more things in common. He was very bright and liked doing some of the same things I enjoyed. But, more importantly, he favored me over anyone else. He was definitely a “daddy’s boy” and wanted to be with me all the time. However, since I loved all three of my kids equally, I tried very hard to not show any favoritism. I played with my oldest son as well as my daughter and provided all three with my time, attention and affection. In my heart, I knew I was born to be their father.

However, Scott spoiled me. He always chose to be with me. He made me feel like a “hero” because he shared my hobbies as he was growing up and we made special trips together even though I tried to make the same efforts with my other kids. I knew they enjoyed me being their father but they did not have an exhuberance for me the way Scott did.

Scott and I had many wonderful adventures together and, he always seemed grateful to have a devoted father who was typically at his disposal, a buddy, an affectionate, playful father who taught him many things as he was growing up. We even traveled to Spain for an international karate tournament where he earned a silver medal and assisted the U.S. team to an overall championship. There are too many adventures and fun things that Noah Scott and I did to mention here but, they were the greatest years of my life.

However, there is an interesting ending to this story.

A couple of years ago I heard that my father was dying of emphysema and lung cancer which was spreading throughout his chest. He was within weeks or days of dying in a hospital somewhere in South Georgia.

Even though I did not feel any obligation to my father after a lifetime of neglect, I still felt something. I wasn’t sure what it was until I realized that he might not accept Christ as his Savior and I would never see him in heaven.

I quickly started doing research on the internet to find a minister nearby to go to my father’s bedside to witness to him and to urge him to accept Christ before he died. However, before I could find someone, I heard silent words in my head “Do not send a stranger to do what a son can do”. Needless to say, this rattled me to “hear” these words.

I immediately discussed it with my wife, but no conclusion came from this conversation because she knew it would be hard for me to call him and try to witness to a man who never cared enough to be my father.

Again, as I walked down the hall to my office I heard the words “Do not send a stranger to do what a son can do”.

Suddenly I realized that God was trying to tell me that my father may not respond to a stranger, even though a minister, to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ which would save him from eternal separation from God.

Nervously, I picked up the phone and dialed the number I had already found from my internet search. I called the cancer unit and asked for my father explaining that I was his son. They connected me and he answered, sounding weak but fairly alert.

We spoke for a while and when I mentioned that I wanted to thank him for leaving me on the side of that highway so many years before, he did not believe me. I told him that I really meant it from the bottom of my heart and went on to explain that, had he or my mother kept me, I would never have finished elementary school. Because of their selfish act of abandoning their son, they allowed God to provide for me so that I could go on to become a Christian, earn four college degrees, and to become a professional psychologist to help others who were struggling in their lives, relationships and spirituality.

He finally accepted this and I think it even made him realize that maybe he really did do something right even though by societal standards, he was a neglectful, absent father.

Next, I mentioned to him that I had never asked anything of him in my entire life. He agreed. I told him I had a request of him now that he was facing his death in a matter of days.

I could sense from his voice that he was a bit hesitant, not sure of what I would be asking of him. Nevertheless, he said “okay”.

What I said next was that I wanted to be able to see him again someday. I conveyed that the only way I would be able to do this is for him to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I doubted that he had never heard the gospel before, but I still asked him if he knew what this meant. I went on to review the steps it took for him to be able to have eternal life.

When I stopped, he was silent. Those few moments seemed like hours, but he finally said “yes”. I felt relieved and asked if I could pray for him at that very moment. Again, he said “yes”.

I prayed with him for several minutes asking that he would truly, from the heart, accept Christ as his Lord and Savior. At the end of the prayer, I asked if he would, and he said “yes”. Still a bit skeptical about a man who never could be trusted to be a father to me, I asked him again just to make sure. He responded, “I do”.

I told him “thank you” and we talked a bit longer and then I said my final goodbye.

A few days later, I received word that he passed away in his sleep. I felt sad and grieved for a short while but also felt better knowing that I had given up my quest to ask a stranger to do what God had intended only for me to do. He knew that my father might never listen to someone he did not know, but a son he had abandoned so long ago might be able to reach him.

It was a relief to know I had done the right thing and, it felt good to have forgiven my father.

I am glad I listened to that silent voice.

For more information please visit our practice website: