In America, many children have and are growing up fatherless, a fact that is significantly affecting both the individual and society. Studies show that each year a child spends without a father will increase that child’s likelihood of serving time in prison by 5 percent. And, without a father, a child’s chances of living in poverty increase five times.
Notable author and speaker, Donald Miller, speaks out about the need to provide mentors to children growing up without fathers in his book,To Own a Dragon. Don knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up without the influence of a father. To Own a Dragon is a personal memoir that unravels the challenges of growing up fatherless. Miller shares his sometimes gawky—but always poignant experiences—of entering manhood without the benefit of growing up in a traditional family. Laced with spiritual insights, Miller merges gutsy prose with biblical truth to form a prolific appeal for mentoring relationships.
"I think that it’s a book that offers a lot of hope,” Miller says. “It’s a tough book, because a lot of guys that grew up without dads really aren’t excited about admitting shortcomings, right, but if we do that then healing can take place."
For Miller, part of the healing began when he realized that God wanted to father him. Miller says it struck him while reading through the Lord’s Prayer and seeing the powerful paradigm shift from a religious system to a relational father-child system.
"It changes things for me,” he said. “If I’m going through those hard times … then God is following me through that. It just changes the nature of my relationship with God. This Father-God picture, the biblical idea, really made sense of reality, it just clicked one season."
When it comes to the Church, Miller believes it’s done a poor job of mentoring the fatherless and caring for broken families—something he wants to see revolutionized.
"We’ve got a bit more of a Darwinian mindset, if a child is a child of divorce or (has been born) out of wedlock we sort of ignore those people,” Miller adds. “There are no programs for them, there are programs for families who are strong, but there are no programs for families who are weak. That’s something we have to collectively repent of.”
Considering the biblical weight for aiding the oppressed and taking care of the fatherless—mentoring ministry makes sense, especially in our fractured society. In To Own a Dragon Miller writes, "Some statistics state as many as 85 percent of the guys in prison grew up without a dad."
Having a father in the home makes a world of difference, but when there is no father, the next best thing can be a mentoring relationship. And, even though Miller himself grew up without a dad and the idea of having a father was as foreign as owning a fairy-tale dragon, the truth is, it’s possible to beat the odds with a little help.
For Miller, John MacMurray, coauthor of Dragon, was the mentor that Miller needed. MacMurray wasn’t a replacement father, but a spiritual guide into manhood. Miller states, "The main thing that he taught me is that authority is to be respected, that authority is for me." Miller also learned what it looked like to care for a family through his relationship with MacMurray.
Miller recently started The Belmont Foundation to serve as a catalyst for mentoring relationships. "We’re going to mentor 10 young men growing up without a father, and we’re going to duplicate that program in thousands of churches across the country." The Belmont Foundation will give churches the resources and training they need to be effective. And, right now, churches seem to be excited about the opportunity, Miller says.
The truth is—mentoring relationships can change the odds. "It’s always a challenge to believe that … that I can meet with this guy and pray with him and dramatically effect the course of his life," Miller says. "But I just have to believe that."