This is part two of a three-part series. You can read part one here.
The thing you need to understand, which most people find hard to believe, is that I loved drugs more than my own kids. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s the reality of where I was at. I started taking drugs at 15 years old. When my son came along, I wasn’t ready to face being a father. In all honesty, his mum wasn’t able to be a mum either.
So, right from the start, my mum stepped up and took on the responsibility to raise him, and also my daughter when she arrived a few years later. Because I was still living with my mum at the time, I was physically present, but looking back, I was absent in all the most important ways. Still, I desperately wanted to be a good dad. I’d take my kids to school every morning, but the minute the bell went, that was me off to score valies, heroine, or whatever I needed to get me through the day.
I loved my kids. Below the surface of the chaos of my life, I had a deep desire to do what was right. But good intentions weren’t enough. One time when I came out of the Young Offenders, I tried to make it happen—to be a family with my kids and their mum. But, with drugs always at the centre, I couldn’t make it work. I wasn’t prepared or able to look after them, and we ended up back at my mum’s.
This cycle went on for years. Then, in January 2014, I became a Christian. Things had to change. I was offered a place at Teen Challenge in England. I’d never been out of Dundee. I remember sitting in my living room sobbing because I had to leave the kids (they were 12 and 11 at the time). I really wanted to be a good dad, but I knew that as long as I struggled with drugs, my addiction would always come first.
My mum saw that leaving my kids was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but we both knew I had to do it. It broke my heart. I missed them so much. Even though I spoke to them regularly, it was over eight months before I saw them again. In the end, it took nearly four years before I could return to Dundee and be able to stand firm.
When I did return, I had this dream in my head that we’d be like a proper family, but the truth was, a lot of water had gone under the bridge. I struggled with the desire to be their dad— something I never really had been—but what did that look like now that I was a Christian? I was an intern with 20schemes and living with a family at the time. It was hard to be part of a Christian family—seeing it every day, knowing my family didn’t look like that. I learnt a lot whilst living there. But the questions raced round my head: How could I be a good dad when I hadn’t been one for so long? Never mind be a Christian dad to two teenagers who didn’t know the Lord.
Things changed, but it wasn’t over-night. The kids and I eventually moved into a flat together, but we soon realised my daughter really needed a “mum” figure, so she moved back in with her gran. It’s not the conventional, ‘hallmark idealist’ view of a family set up, but it was best for her (and that’s the most important thing).
I also had the privilege of baptising my son after he professed faith. I’d love to tell you an amazing story with a fairy-tale ending, but it’s not that simple. God’s done amazing things, and I’m so grateful, but we still have things to work through together. My kids are nearly adults now (18 and 17). Like most dads, I’m just trying to navigate that as best as I can, love them well, and honour Jesus.
Here are four lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. Pray, pray, pray for your kids.
If anyone asks me what I want prayer for, it’s always my kids. The only one who can change their hearts is God. It was hard to navigate being a real dad when I’d been absent for such a long time. I used to pray for our relationship, asking God to help me. I’d pray that he’d soften their hearts towards Him, but also towards me. I was desperate to be their dad, but more desperate for their salvation. Those things drove me to my knees.
2. Be patient and persevere.
Just because I was ready to be a dad didn’t mean my kids where ready for me to be their dad. I had to be patient, and I still do. I’d stuffed it up for a long time (over a decade), and I had to remember that it takes time to effect real change. My kids are worth the wait, so I needed to patiently persevere. I needed to learn to be patient, wise, and realistic about our relationship. I hadn’t been the dad they needed, and that doesn’t just change overnight (even though, by God’s grace, I had).
3. You can’t get back lost time.
I was away for a long time. Even though I know it had to be done, that’s still time I am not going to get back. I’ve had to come to terms with this harsh reality. I had to make my kids a priority and spend time with them. I’m not going to catch up with what we lost, but I also don’t have to lose a moment longer.
4. Don’t demand trust.
It’s hard for me to say this because I’m their dad, but for my kids, their role model is my mum. She brought them up and did what I should have. I’m so grateful to her. Their trust is something I have to work hard to gain because, I’ve let them down so many times in the past. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t simply trust me in an instant. I have to be a good, biblical example of honesty and integrity. I need to show them that I’m reliable and trustworthy.
My kids know I’ve changed—that I’m not the same man I was—but some things just take time. I think about 1 Peter 3:1. I know it’s about wives and husbands, but I think it’s true for my family also. I pray that as I live my life wholeheartedly for Jesus, that they will be won over, not just by my words, but by the way I live out my faith daily. I need to be a man—and a dad—of integrity, love, and patience. I can’t do that without Christ in me.