et me invite you on a journey. I know this sounds strange coming from someone you’ve never met. But you and I, we are really the same. Like you, I was lost. And like you, I almost gave up. But I was fortunate enough to cross paths with someone who went on to save my life.
When I meet someone who’s in the same shoes I was in, I’m indebted to offer help. Because I hate to see men lost. I hate to see fathers give up on themselves and their families. Because your families need you. But more importantly, you need you.
The journey I want to invite you on won’t be an easy one. There is no map. And there is no destination. The words on the following pages are your only guide. What you do with these words and where they take you will be entirely up to you.
But you must prepare. Because on this journey you’re going to visit those uncomfortable places where you’ll struggle most. But if you stick with it, the journey will take you from the depths of your darkest forests to the peaks of your highest mountains. You’ll fail more than you’ll succeed. But in the end, if you give one-hundred percent of yourself to the journey, the weight of your successes will surely outweigh your failures.
I’m inviting you on this journey and it will be you alone who takes the first step. But if you’re not up for it, I’d rather you close out this website right now and carry on with your life just as it is.
If you decide to commit to the journey, then there is nothing else you’ll need aside from discipline and will power. Otherwise, you’ll find everyone and everything you need on the journey if you look pay close enough attention.
The journey I want to invite you on is The Father’s Journey.
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The Long On My Journey Through Fatherhood
I became a father three years ago with the birth of my first daughter. But my journey through fatherhood started long before then. Twenty-three years prior. At eleven years old, one of the worst things that could happen to a boy did: My father died.
Although I loved my father and the short time we spent together, I never realized that our traumatic relationship would effect the quality of the rest of my life. And I was too young to understand how his absence would also effect me. I never knew these things until I became a father of my own.
But would my life be any better had my father been around? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Most of what I remember of my father is negative: his sudden bursts of anger; his inability to bond with his children; and his mental weakness, which is paradoxical. Because my father was a fighter. He punished people with punches both on the streets of Jersey City, NJ and in the ring. And he was pretty good.
Jersey Joe Walcott (no relation, he spells his last name with an “a”) refereed my father’s last amateur boxing match in Rahway. Jersey Joe stopped the fight after my father’s opponent hit my father in the back of the head with a rabbit punch—an illegal blow in boxing. But leading up to the stoppage my father impressed Jersey Joe. And Jersey Joe wanted to take him under his wings and make a run for the Olympics.
After the fight Jersey Joe gave my grandmother his card and told her to get in touch so he could train my father. My grandmother, who didn’t like the idea of my father fighting, ripped up the card. She didn’t tell my father until years later.
Although my grandmother meant well this was the worst thing for my father at the time. As he was working his way through the ranks of the amateurs, he was also working his way through the ranks of the streets. And this is where his weakness shone. Because in the end, the respect my father got on the streets was more important to him than the respect he got in the ring.
They were the B.O.N.E.S., because bones are white. And the letters made the perfect acronym for their cause: Beat On Niggers Every Second. My father ran with them during a time when racial tensions were at an all-time high in the American inner cities. And Jersey City was no exception. The whites from West Side Avenue felt threatened by the blacks moving into Duncan Avenue Projects. So they fought constantly.
But the B.O.N.E.S., made up of guys like Patty Boy and Jimmy the Greek and J-Dubs—my father—weren’t just the neighborhood misfits. They sold drugs and got involved in crime. Then they turned from selling to using. My father gave in along with them. He stopped boxing and started getting into trouble.
For most of my early years my father was in and out of jails and rehabs. He tried to clean himself up but kept relapsing. Eventually, his body gave way to the years of abuse. The cancer got him first. And then in 1987 doctors diagnosed my father with HIV, the aftereffects of sharing needles with other users. Between the two diseases and a near-death car accident we had on the Garden State Parkway in 1990, my father’s body couldn’t handle the stress. On a winter night in ’91 he passed at Christ Hospital on Palisades Avenue.
Losing my father at a young age has made fatherhood difficult for me. I grew up without a male mentor, so for most of my young life I was lost and misguided. I couldn’t figure out how to navigate my teenage years. I clung to the wrong people. I struggled with addiction and suicidal thoughts. I dropped out of school and ran away from home. I sold drugs to survive. I stole from people who helped me. And just when it couldn’t get any worse, when I was seventeen years old police put me in handcuffs in front of my mother. It wasn’t the first time I was arrested, and it wasn’t the last time. But it was the worst time. Even though my father was long gone, I was becoming everything he was.
Writing this isn’t easy. Because people close to me don’t know these things about me. I also don’t want it to appear that my father was a horrible person. He still had a good heart. He loved his family the only way he knew how to. He fought for us constantly. He just couldn’t get a grip on his convictions. But despite all that my father wasn’t, he was still my hero.
I’ve used my father’s story not because I want your sympathy, because I had friends growing up who were a lot worse off than me. I use his story to illustrate what’s possible. Because if someone as messed up as him could still be a hero in the eyes of his children, then there is still hope for the rest of us.
More importantly, what if my grandmother let Jersey Joe Walcott mentor my father? Would my father’s journey have changed? I’ll never know for sure. But my father’s story is a reminder that you should follow your journey, even if the people closest to you don’t understand it.
Why Trust Me?
Why should you take advice about fatherhood from a man who grew up without a father, and a man who struggles with his own fatherhood? The answer is, you shouldn’t. My mother will tell you I’m a great father. My wife will tell you I’m a great father. I hope my daughters will say the same when they’re older. But the truth is I’m not a great father. I’m a father struggling to achieve greatness.
But I do believe my experiences have given me insight that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I watched my father struggle with his life. I watched my grandfathers struggle with theirs. I experienced the trauma that fatherlessness brings to a child’s life. I know how lost children are without their fathers. It’s in knowing so intimately what it means to be a bad father, that I understand what it takes to be a great father.
But my goal here isn’t to offer you advice on how to become a great father. Because I’m the last person you’d want to take advice from. What I want to do is make you aware that life is a journey. And I want you to accept the invitation to that journey.
- Do you know that everyday you cross paths with people who can help or hinder you?
- Do you know that everyday you face important thresholds, and if you cross them successfully you can improve the quality of your life?
- Do you know who you allies and enemies are on your journey?
- Do you know you can be the hero of your life? You can bring something back from your journey that will benefit the people around you, and quite possibly, the world.
The journey begins. But only if you’re ready…
John Wolcott writes and podcasts about Fatherhood at TheFathersJourney.com. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife and two daughters.