When a Father Figure Dad is not Enough

Less than an hour ago I received notice that a former student of mine just past away from a heroin overdose. I don’t know if now is the right time to be writing this. However, I want to be transparent in order that I may help others. This young man, I will call him Nick, was a troubled teen with a hard life and an abusive home life. During the time that he was a student and living in the same state, he reached out to me and another coworker as his father figures.

I had nothing special to offer this young man other than an ear and a place to sleep when he found himself on the street. He was in a sense a victim but never lived as such. I grant him the understanding that he had poor parents that had several vices and mental health issues. However, Nick found trouble. He knew where to find it. He was tough due to his physical and emotional scars and feared no personal danger. He did, however, fear disappointing me and several people at our school.

After his graduation and moving out of state, we learned that Nick had been married. Not too long after that, he was a father to a beautiful little girl. His marriage did not last. Some custody issues were fought. Eventually, his daughter’s mother took her own life, leaving Nick with sole custody. 

Through social media, he appeared to be doing well, investing his all into his daughter’s life. Those that knew him back in the school days were unaware of the level of his drug abuse. Obviously, the story ends tragically for everyone that knew him. The lesson, however, slapped me across the face as a dad. There are times that no matter your efforts, words, and or guidance will not fix those that we father, regardless of relation. 

I feel a sense of loss. I question all the lessons that I attempted to teach Nick. Was I not good enough? Did I not give him enough time? Were others not committed enough to stand in the gap for him?. There are those young people that we care about that will make horrible decisions. This has nothing to do with your availability or lack of love. When these times do happen, you will question yourself. Obviously even closer if a young person is your flesh and blood.

There is no making sense of awful times such as these. Although we default to the question “why”, it will not ease the pain or doubt. Dads can’t fix everything. All those that turn to us as father figure will not listen to us. They may even accept your words as true, but fail to apply them to their life. Pain and addiction is a wicked animal that sometimes wins. Tragedy is not partial to its victims. Good kids make bad decisions and at times pay for those mistakes. You can’t change this.

So what do we do? How do we handle these issues? For fathers that have endured tragedy in their families, I don’t want to assume to know your pain, nor to say that all loss is the same. I pray God’s grace and healing upon your life and hope that you are able to get to a point that you understand that choices can be more powerful than our love for our kids. If you have been adopted by a young person as a father figure, I say the same. However, we must not stop doing our best or making ourselves available for those that come across our path.

To make a difference in the lives of other people, whether they are blood-related or not carries a risk. We all affect the lives of others as well as they affect us. Being there for someone is being vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. If you have not experienced this valley in life, it will come. People, our children, and our spouses will hurt us if we love them enough. They will choose paths that we pray they would avoid. Actions and words cannot be taken back. That is why I urge you strongly to stress to your children how their actions affect others.

We live in a society that tells us to look out for #1. However, I have never seen a human being live this way and experience joy in perpetuity. We are meant to love and bare each other’s burdens. This has always been God’s plan. Don’t stop caring for others. Show your children what it means to be there for other people. Don’t hide your joy or your hurt. You need to teach them the whole lesson. Life can hurt. Don’t stop loving. Be the best dad possible.


“God bless Nick’s family…especially his little girl”