TODAY’S Episode

43: Growing Up in a Blender: Who’s my Daddy?

with Ray and Robyn McKelvy | November 23, 2020

Imagine you have a relationship with your father for many years, then find out there are family secrets that will dramatically change your relationship and life. Stepfamily instability can bring confusion and shame to both children and adults. But God works in and through imperfect people and families. Listen to Ron Deal's conversation with Ray and Robin McKelvy and how God's love and grace brought resilience and redemption to their stepfamily story.

Show Notes and Resources

Imagine you have a relationship with your father for many years, then find out there are family secrets that will dramatically change your relationship and life. Stepfamily instability can bring confusion and shame to both children and adults. But God works in and through imperfect people and families. Listen to Ron Deal's conversation with Ray and Robin McKelvy and how God's love and grace brought resilience and redemption to their stepfamily story.

Show Notes and Resources

43: Growing Up in a Blender: Who’s my Daddy?

With Ray and Robyn McKelvy
|
November 23, 2020
| Download Transcript PDF

Ray: I walked into our apartment living room and he was physically fighting my mother. I remember as I—I was either eight or nine, somewhere in there, and I jumped in to protect her. In an instant, without him even thinking about it, he turned and started to fight me as if I were another man. I mean, and there’s blood and tears and screaming. Then my dad started running toward the front door. I yelled out to him, “I don’t ever want you to be my daddy.” It was the last time that our family in that way was ever together.

Ron: From the FamilyLife® Podcast Network this is FamilyLife Blended. I’m Ron Deal.

This donor-supported podcast brings together timeless wisdom and practical help and hope to blended families and those who love them.

Welcome to episode number 43, entitled “Growing Up in a Blender: Who’s my Daddy?” I should mention this podcast is actually part of a little series on the experiences of children growing up in a stepfamily. We’ve received some really good feedback about them. One person gave us a five-star review and said, “I love this podcast. It is so helpful for my blended family. I love podcast 28, hearing from children of divorce about their stories and perspectives because they often get overlooked.

That’s exactly the point of this series of discussions that we call “Growing Up in a Blender.” The other podcasts in addition to number 28, include number 2, “Life in a Blender” with Dave and Ann Wilson and podcast number 14, “In Their Shoes” with Lauren Reitsema. They’re all designed to help parents and stepparents understand their children and what they need from you.

With this week being Thanksgiving, you’re likely experiencing some of the realities of being in a complex family. The holidays tend to do that to people. I hope these podcasts will help you see life through your child’s eyes so you can gain wisdom to love them well.

Now imagine you’ve got a relationship with your father whom you’ve known for many years, but then find out there are some family secrets that will dramatically change your relationship with him in your life.

Ray and Robyn McKelvy are my guests on this podcast. Ray is the lead pastor for Christ for the Nations Church, a multi-ethnic church in Nashville, Tennessee. Robyn is a mentor and has written two books. Ray and Robyn speak for the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage conference. They’ve been doing that for over 25 years. They like to facilitate men’s and women’s retreats together and do seminars on marriage and parenting in churches.

Here’s my conversation with Ray and Robyn McKelvy:

Ray, Robyn, periodically on this podcast we listen to somebody’s story of growing up in a blended family. We call it, “Growing Up in a Blender,” alright. My goal for the listener today is to just listen in as we process up and down your story.

Now what I mean by up and down is up has to do with your family of origin, the family you grew up in and what you experienced there; what you learned; what’s good, bad, the ugly; whatever the story is. Down has to do with how you’ve carried that story with you into your adult years into your marriage, into your family.

The invitation to the listener is to just listen in and see what they can relate to. “Growing Up Blended” is really about helping adults, whether they be a parent, a stepparent, to understand the experience and the journey of kids a little better. Thank you for being with me today.

One last thought for the listener. Not everything you’re going to hear in this conversation with Ray and Robyn is going to have a direct application to your family situation. But it may help you get a little closer to what is similar in your family.

Okay, Ray and Robyn, in the introduction I shared a little about you and what you do in terms of your ministry and speaking and the different ministries that you’re involved in. Why don’t you just start by telling us a little bit about your family together, your marriage, your family, and your kids? Then we’ll hear more about Ray’s experience growing up.

Ray: Robyn and I have been married for over 30 years. We have had the privilege of raising 10 children, two of which—

Ron: How many?

Ray: Ten.

Robyn: Ten.

Ron: That’s what I thought you said. [Laughter] The listener went “What!? Replay that.” I thought I’d just go ahead and ask. Ten children you’ve had the privilege of raising. You’ve got to tell us. How did that start? What’s that story?

Robyn: First let me—let’s just start with saying we have been married 32 years—

Ron: Thirty-two.

Robyn: —because those two years matter.

Ron: Yes ma’am they do. [Laughter]

Robyn: Yes, they do.

Ron: Yes, they do.

Robyn: I became a Christian later in life, grew up in a pastor’s house. We were in a denomination where it wasn’t quite biblical exegetical preaching, so hell fire, brimstone. You kind of get tired and you’re through with salvation or you’re through with Christianity.

When the Lord—boy, the Lord runs after you. For every parent out there with children that are running from the Lord, don’t worry, keep praying, trust God. He runs after you. He ran after me. I became a Christian at 21, and at 21, because I was still my stubborn self, I was like, “I don’t want anybody to tell me anything. If I see it in God’s Word, I’ll do it.”

I was reading one time and saw, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord….Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” I didn’t understand why people didn’t want to be blessed by God, so I was like, “No birth control for me.” Then I meet Ray and shared that with him. [Laughter] His eyes got bigger than saucers.

Ray: Yes, that was a discussion we had the first two years of our marriage as we were having children.

Ron: It started already. [Laughter]

Ray: It started.

Robyn: Honeymoon baby.

Ron: Ooh, alright!

Ray: Exactly. Then at five months old with our first one, then she was pregnant, and then we had our second child. Then when he was five months old, we had our—yes, it’s just kind of like that.

Robyn: And difficult deliveries in that eight children are by C-section. There’s stories with all of that. But I’m telling you, God is faithful.

Ron: Oof! Wow!

Ray: Yes! Then we have one that we brought into our family through adoption.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: Then we have one where we were privileged to help raise our niece.

Ron: Wow.

Ray: Yes, there we go.

Ron: That’s fantastic. You’ve got a full quiver for sure.

Ray: Yes, we do.

Robyn: Yes, we do.

Ron: Okay, now I’ve got it. You’ve got ten kids. You’ve been married 32 years. Now let’s just kind of back up a little bit. Ray, what I want you to do is I just want you to talk through your family growing up. But here’s the thing, I’d like for you to do it from your childhood viewpoint. It’s easy for us as adults to look back and kind of put the adult understanding on what was going on in our childhoods but I’d rather you just talk it through from your experience as a kid. 

That could be the way you thought it was, or the way you understood it to be. Or sometimes kids have poor interpretations of what’s really going on in their families, so feel free to go, “Yes, but as a kid I thought it was this and then I later came to understand it as being something different.” Let’s just start with that.

Ron: Wow! First off, that’s going to be a huge task, Ron. I grew up in a home—my mom was 15 years old when she got pregnant. At the age of 16, she had me prematurely, so I ended up, from what I’ve heard, staying in the hospital for almost two months in an incubator. That was back in 1962, so didn’t have a lot of the technology that we have today.

Right off the bat, being born into a single-parent home. My mother and father got married a year or two after I was born. I distinctly remember even when I would go to the hospital or emergency room or pediatrician, whenever we visited a doctor, they would always have issue over my last name. I couldn’t ever figure that out. I’m like, “I’m Ray McKelvy. That’s—what do you mean?” But I didn’t realize as a kid, for the first couple of years or so, I was Ray Harrison because that was my mom’s maiden name.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: Anyway, grew up in a home with teenagers basically as parents. I mean I have happy memories. I’m the oldest, so always been in charge, always been the one who was responsible, had to—grew up really quickly. I remember sitting in the back of a classroom as my mom was getting her business degree, learning shorthand, and I remember helping quiz her on her shorthand.

Ron: Is that right?

Ray: Yes. She had gone back, gotten her GED, and then she was getting her business certificate or degree or whatever it was at the time. I remember that. She and my dad were very young obviously, and their relationship was very volatile. There was always fighting, yelling, drinking.

Ron: Wow, so you were caregiver to younger siblings or at least responsible to some degree.

Ray: Yes, by the time my mom was 21, she had four children.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: One of my sisters was stillborn, so there were three of us and I was a caregiver. I look back on that and go, “Wow! My mom was 24,” you know, or she was 25 and she’s still wanting to be young and she’s still figuring this thing out. Or my dad was almost as young as she was. So yes, I in many ways was a caregiver.

Ron: The volatility of their relationship—did they need you to be a caregiver? I’m wondering if there was this sense of instability about what was going on at home because mom and dad had some struggles.

Ray: Yes, they did, and we moved around a lot. They would separate and get back together. They’d separate. We’d be with our grandparents or we’d live with one of my mom’s sisters for a while. Then they’d get back together. So it was a lot of moving around. I think I had moved around 16 times by the time I was 18, all in the same city.

It was a lot of instability in that way. Oddly enough, with that instability, my mom was very stable. We had a routine. We still got up the same time every morning, didn’t miss days of school, had lunch, had dinner. I don’t know how to explain that. There was a lot of instability. I learned responsibility from her. I learned how to take care of younger siblings. I would pick up my three-year-old sister from preschool, walk home,—

Ron: Wow!

Ray: —go to the apartment, lock the door back; make sure everyone got their chores done.

Ron: And how old were you at this time?

Ray: Seven—

Ron: Yes.

Ray: —and eight—

Ron: Yes.

Ray: —and nine.

.

Ron: Super responsible, helping out. There was some instability in terms of the emotional climate in the home, but at the same time, there was routine stability. Mom made sure of that, made sure certain things stayed consistent, so there was some stability within the emotional instability it sounds like.

Ray: Right, right.

Ron: I’m curious—even from a child’s vantage point, how did you experience all that emotional instability, the volatility that you talked about—“Hey, Ray, you’re responsible to pick up your sister”? How did that sit with you?

Ray: I mean, trying to put on my kid’s eyes or heart, it was normal.

Ron: You didn’t know any different.

Ray: It’s all I knew. It wasn’t like I would go around thinking, “Oh, wait a minute. This isn’t the way normal families work.” This is all I knew. But I can tell you, fear was a huge part. Fear drove everything, because I didn’t know what the emotional climate would be when they would come home. I didn’t know, so I lived my life avoiding anger. What can I do to bring stability?

Ron: Right, right.

Ray: I am going to keep peace. If I have to control my brother and sister in order to do that, I would. I was pretty much a straight-A student, did what I was supposed to do at school, and I just didn’t want to rock the boat at all.

Ron: Yes. What you’re telling me is, even as a young boy, you very well understood the instability, the emotional instability of your home, and you knew that you carried the mantle of being able to help provide peace for other people. You had the power—at least you thought you did on some level—to help mom and dad out, to help the younger siblings out. Because there were things that were uncertain but you could bring some measure of control and create certainty, sounds like.

Ray: Right. Yes, exactly.

Ron: Did that ever have a sense that it was a burden for you?

Ray: Looking back on it, my frustration in having to be a caretaker of my siblings felt like a burden. I don’t know. I just look back at times how I felt cruel—that I was cruel to my siblings. I remember after I came to Christ as a teenager, I apologized. I went and I said, “I apologize for being such a cruel older brother.”

They were both like, “Oh, we knew you loved us.” I was treated really like a parent even though we were not that far apart in age. I was respected as a parent. Even to this day, still have kind of that voice, especially with my younger sister.

Ron: You just said, “to this day,” and I was about to leap forward into the now. One of the things we know about kids who grow up in homes, whether they be with intact families and parents or whether they be from a divorced family, for example, where there’s some natural gaps that kind of materialize over time, that there is this high level of reliability. They tend to grow up and be doers as adults, like they know how to get stuff done. They learned responsibility and they’ve learned how to fill gaps.

My guess is that’s carried over into your adulthood in some form or fashion.

Ray: I was telling someone, I can’t ever remember being without a job. I’ve never been fired, never been let go—

Ron: Of course not, you’re a good peace keeper. You know how to keep the job. [Laughter]

Ray: Yes.

Ron: We’ve been talking this whole time, and I’ve been thinking about Robyn. I know she’s got something to say. Here’s the thing. For the listener, what I want is—Robyn is the woman who came into his life as an adult—she’s learned all this stuff after it all happened—she’s been his life partner for 32 years and so part of this is, yes, Robyn, so as he’s talking, what are you thinking?

Robyn: Okay. One of the things that I hear Ray talking about is how he kept the peace. But there was a reason why he needed to keep the peace. He didn’t say that his dad was an alcoholic.

There was so much turmoil because he would come home drunk and be ready to start a fight, so all of those things were “How can I keep it where nobody is injured.” Some of the things we’re finding out even to this day are because of some of those past injuries that happened—

Ray: Yes.

Robyn: — in a time when the family was in the middle of a fight. I want him to share his feelings about that because you have some. When you’re eight years old and you’re trying to box your daddy so you can protect your mom—those things.

Ron: Yes.

Ray: There’s so many layers. It just depends on where you want to go with this, because my story—that’s just like from age one to nine. But then there’s nine to fourteen and then fourteen up. Those are three distinct eras.

Ron: Got you. I think we’ll move into those next ages here in just a minute. Before we do though, what about that observation that Robyn made about your dad being an alcoholic. Where did that put you? It sounds like you were not only a peacemaker but a protector.

Ray: Specifically, there was really a turning point when my parents divorced. It really centered around physical violence began to escalate between my mother and father. From a kid’s standpoint, it appeared to me that it was around whenever he would drink. It wasn’t like this all the time, but it became more frequent.

I remember one particular incident. In this one, it just wells up so much emotion every time I recall it. But I remember him coming home, and there was just chaos. I walked into our apartment living room, and he was physically fighting my mother. I remember as I—I was either eight or nine, somewhere in there, and I jumped in to protect her. In an instant without him even thinking about it, he turned and started to fight me as if I were another man. I mean, and there’s blood and tears and screaming.

Then we hear sirens. Our neighbors heard what was going on. Someone had called the police. As the sirens got closer toward our home, my dad started running toward the front door. I yelled out to him, “I don’t ever want you to be my daddy.” Then I remember saying it again, “I don’t ever want you to be my daddy.” That was monumental, and it was the last time that our family, in that way, was ever together.

I think I decided at that moment, “I will never be like that.” I don’t know whose quote this is: “When a father leaves a home, he takes a piece of his son with him,” so there’s just like this hole that’s there that you kind of spend your life trying to patch up or to fill. Even though I didn’t want him there, I for the first time began to feel this void and this hole.

I never will forget, I obviously was injured in this fight. I don’t remember, it was two weeks or so later and my mom had to go to work. I was still responsible. I was at home, and she says, “I don’t care who comes to the door, do not open the door.”

I remember this incident, my dad came back to the apartment. This was a couple of weeks later. I had a scar somewhere on my nose. I don’t remember exactly where it was. But he knocked and he said, “This is your daddy.” What did I do? I opened the door because I still felt that way even though I had yelled out, “I don’t ever want you to be my daddy.” But at the same time, there was an instability that was brought with him being absent.

It was monumental in that way. I ended up having to go to court to testify against him.

Ron: —and that’s so difficult, so traumatic.

Ray: It is!

Ron: It’s such a lose-lose for a kid.

Ray: It really is. I don’t again, remember all the details, but they were divorced. There was a measure of stability and quietness. My mom’s very structured. She was a small woman in stature but very strong, so we still had our routine. Again, I have no idea how. We had to move; lived with my grandmother for a while. Then we moved back into our apartment. Then shortly after that my mom started dating. That brings into another—

Ron: Let’s pause right there because that’s definitely something I want to pursue. I just feel like maybe, making an observation for our listener. Because I think if we take that snapshot moment in time where you say to your dad, “I don’t ever want you in my life,” and yet, I open the door when you knock—I think if we took that as a metaphor, what I would want people to consider is that kids very often, because of actions of their parents, behaviors of their parents or things that have happened between their mother and father, they’ll say things like, “I don’t love you, don’t want you, don’t—You’re not my daddy,” in the form. Really what that statement is, is “You’re not my daddy the way you are.”  

But the statement of “There’s a piece of me that’s missing. There’s a hole in my heart when you’re gone. Yes, when you knock, I’m more than happy to open the door” is the child saying, “But I want the good part of you. What I want—the part of you that I wish were who I need you to be, that part I’m open to.”

There’s always this, “It’s just a part of you that I don’t want, but the whole idea of you I do want.” I don’t know if that fits exactly for you, but I think that’s a pretty common narrative that some children feel.

Ray: Ron, I can tell you as you’re talking, I remember an incident when I was 19. I was living at home and my mom moved into another apartment. I had to help her pay bills because she said, “Now you’re out of high school. If you’re going to live at home, you going to have to help.”

When I was there, my dad, Raymond, started visiting. I remember writing in my journal, “Maybe they’ll get back together. Maybe we will be a family again.” Because I start seeing that I was still holding on to that.

Ron: Sure, sure.

Ray: That’s ten years later, and there was a lot of life lived between nineteen and nine.

Ron: Yes. What you want, your heart’s desire—a child’s heart’s desire now as a 19, 21-year-old—whatever it was—your desire is for unity of the family; for the best of who he was to be in your life; for that to be restored. But of course, you never want the bad to come back, but you do hang on deeply to the idea that things can be restored. 

Okay, so bit of a spoiler here for our listener, because one of the things I know is that this first eight or nine years of your life—you were nine when your parents divorced?

Ray: Yes.

Ron: Sometime after that you’re going to discover that the man you call Dad is not who you thought he was.

Ray: Right.

Ron: You want to tell us that story?

Ray: Before I do that, I have to—actually there was a parenthesis.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: Because when I was ten, my mom met another man that I totally adored. They ended up getting married. My stepdad—he came into my life. I remember the first time I flew a kite, it was with him. They lived together for a while. Then got married. But I remembered his sense of humor, just light heartedness. 

I remember him teaching me. I just remember coming home with a bunch of books, and the way I was carrying my books, he said, “That’s not the way a man carries his books.” [Laughter] He made me carry them a certain way.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: But it was his job as he saw “This is the way a man is. This is what a man does. This is….”  He entered my life right around puberty, around that time, sat down and talked with me, and I loved him.

For the first time I was like, “We have—“ I’ll show my age now, “—we have the Leave it to Beaver family now.” My mom was able to not work outside the home. Dinner was ready when we got home. My stepdad worked. He had colleagues and coworkers and friends that would come over. My mom would have these dinner parties. It just felt like, “Wow! We have a family. This is the way it should be.”

Ron: I’m imagining that you were relieved of some of those parental duties.

Ray: Very much so. I didn’t come home with a key because my mom was there. I didn’t take anyone to school. I didn’t pick anyone up from school. I didn’t discipline anyone. I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t cook any dinner. I didn’t—we prepared breakfast. That was our job on Saturdays. But I would wake up, watch cartoons, and do whatever. So that was there. I see my wife’s hand. [Laughter]

Ron: Go ahead, Robyn. Hop in.

Robyn: I just love—I did meet his stepdad—we’ll talk about how I met him, but I love this man’s sense of humor. He brought joy to this home. He also brought a dog for them to have a pet. Guess what he named the dog?

Ron: What?

Robyn: Why me? [Laughter]

Ray: He didn’t want a dog. He said, “I get to name the dog.”

I said “What?” He named him “Why me?” So we had to call our dog, “Why me?” all the time. [Laughter]

Ron: That’s funny.

Ray: I had a sense, just because of my hyper-sensitivity to my atmosphere, I began to sense that my mom and stepdad—it didn’t feel right to me, so I wrote them a letter. I think I was 13. I wrote them a three-page letter and I entitled it, “How to Keep Your Marriage Together.” I’m not kidding you. 

Ron: [Laughter] Okay, wait. Let me get behind this. The sensitivities in you that were developed very early on in your life to look around, to be noticing what’s going on in the world, to help be a peacekeeper, to help provide stability in the midst of instability, that continued forward. Of course it was in you at that point—

Ray: Yes.

Ron: —so you were picking up on signals. “Something’s going on; not sure exactly what it is.” You felt again, the need to intervene to do something about it, to help try to bring stability to their relationship, yes?

Ray: Right. Because I was very adept at picking up tones.

Ron: Yes, yes.

Ray: I would be the one, if their voices raised at all, I would be the one who would sit up in the bed and go, “What’s going on? What’s—what’s happening?” 

I began to hear more of that even though they were together, so I wrote them this letter, slipped it under their bedroom door. The next day I remember them sitting down, talking to me, going, “Things are fine. This isn’t your responsibility. We’re okay.”

Sure enough—I don’t know—a couple of months, two or three months later, my stepdad—if I have the story correct—I was about to leave the house and he says, “Hey, I need you to go with me.” 

I said, “Where?”

He said, “Just get in the car.” We got in the car, our little Volkswagen. We drove and we ended up—we’re at the grocery store. We got out of the car and he just started putting groceries in the cart without saying a word. We filled the cart. He paid for it.

We went back, unloaded everything into our Volkswagen, sat down. He shut the door, and I’m waiting for us to take off. I look over and he’s got tears running down his face. He said, “I’m sorry.” He said, “We’re not going to make it.” [With Emotion] He said, “I’m so sorry. Your mom and I are not going to make it.”

I guess I haven’t recalled it in that way in a long time. But I remember as he was crying—because he felt it deeply—I felt it deeply as well. I remember going back to the house. My mom obviously knew what was going on. She never came out of the bedroom. He started unloading the grocery, and I could hear her crying in the bedroom. He immediately started taking his clothes, took out all of his stuff, drove off, and that was that.

Ron: Okay, we’ve got to go inside that moment for a minute. Because you’d felt something. You’d acted on it. They said, “No, we’re fine.” Then, all of a sudden, the bottom drops out. What did you feel as a kid?

Ray: It’s really interesting. I compare the two feelings that I had. I remember when my dad left, all I felt was anger. When my stepdad left, all I felt was sadness. I felt like someone had died, that there was this incredible separation, and this was quote unquote my stepdad. But he had built such a strong bond of love, humor, in a matter of three years that I had never felt before, so yes, it was devastating.

Honestly, I look back now as an adult; it was very devastating to my mother. She didn’t really recover well. In fact, our family ended up dividing. My brother went to live with our dad. My mom left. I look back, emotionally she couldn’t handle it. She ended up moving out of state, and my sister went with her. I ended up living with my aunt and uncle for a year. That was just—there was a lot of turmoil going during that time. It was a huge impact on our family.

Ron: Literally, it was the death of a marriage but the death of a family. It fractured everything.

Ray: Right.

Ron: Did it fracture something in you?

Ray: I almost felt like, “Okay, strike two on dad,” but I had a strike three.

I was at school in eighth grade during this time—and this is all kind of blurred between my stepdad and mom divorcing—right around that same time I was with a friend. We were running track at school, and that friend said to me, “Is your dad’s name Charles Bush?”

I said, “No, I’ve never even heard of a Charles Bush.”

He said, “My mom said your dad’s name is Charles Bush.” Now his mom and my mom were high school friends, so I thought that was really weird. She should know better.

The next day my friend came back, and he said, “I went home and told my mom what you said, and she says, ‘No, your dad’s name is Charles Bush.’”

I was like, “I don’t care what your mother said.” Then I was curious enough that I went home. My mom was cooking. I’d looked over at her and I said, “I was at school today and Mom, do you know a Charles Bush?”

She said “Yes.”

I said, “Derrick keeps saying that’s my daddy.”

Without hesitation; without looking at me, she said, “He is.”

Ron: Wow! How old were you at this point?

Ray: Thirteen or fourteen.

Ron: Had your parents split up—your mom and stepdad?

Ray: It was in the middle of all that. They were still together when I found that out.

Ron: Okay, so let’s go back to that moment your mom says, “He is.”

Ray: Right.

Ron: And you feel, think what?

Ray: Honestly, I didn’t feel anything about it because I had my stepdad. I was like, “Oh, that’s weird.” I had never heard that before. It just—I just didn’t process it as a 13-year-old. I was just like, “Oh, okay,” and kind of moved on. We didn’t talk about it anymore. No one brought it up. I didn’t have any pictures of him.

Ron: In your mind you weren’t going, “Who was Raymond? Who was the guy that was here the first nine years of my life?”

Ray: I had those questions. But because I’m the peacekeeper, you don’t ask those questions because it might upset the apple cart. There’s a reason why they don’t talk about that, so I didn’t talk about it.

Ron: I’ll just hold that. I’ll just hang on to my questions and not have any answers and keep the peace for you.

Ray: Right.

Ron: Quick little comment here—a little commentary on kids in complex families: There’s often at least one child in the family who is more than happy to carry the load for whoever they feel like this is going to protect. If I don’t bring this up, if I don’t say this, if I just do that, if I cover all these bases, then it’s going to keep peace and keep stability where there’s been instability.

Yes, there’s somebody who’s willing to do that. Just because your child seems to be okay with some bit of news doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re okay. It could just be that they’re holding and carrying the burden for everybody else. That’s you, Ray?

Ray: You know what, Ron? I didn’t think so at the time, but now that I talked to my aunts who are older and now we have the freedom to talk about those things, this one aunt in particular who’s very close to our family, she said this: “Ray, we were so worried about you.”

Ron: That’s an eye opener isn’t it?

Ray: It is! Because I had no idea. She said, “Out of all the kids, we were so worried about you.” I think it’s because they saw me bearing that burden or those burdens. Again, when I found out, it didn’t mean a lot to me until their marriage started falling apart; then “Who am I?” all of a sudden begins to surface.

Ron: That’s a question that I know is a fairly regular part of the experience of kids. When there’s a fracturing of a family, it doesn’t necessarily fracture their identity. But when new people come into their hearts and lives and they’ve got to figure out how to bond with and connect to, it does beg the question, “Alright, so who am I? My last name is this. Their last name is that.”

For you, Ray, it was “It’s cool they called me ‘Harrison’ but I knew it was—” Was it “Harrison” that somebody thought?

Ray: Originally.

Ron: Yes, originally, right. When you were really young and then, “But, no, I’m McKelvy.”

Ray: —McKelvy

Ron: Then, all of a sudden, you’ve got a stepdad and you really relate and connect to him. Then that’s gone. Now there’s this mystery person out there. What is my last name?

Ray: You know what, Ron? Even—again, I’m remembering so many things I hadn’t thought about in years—when my stepdad and my mom got married, I was like, “I want to change my name too. Can we all have the same name?” Thankfully, we didn’t go through that switch too. But I do remember thinking, “Can we all have the same last name?”

Ron: And that represents your heart, your desire, to belong, to be family, to be connected and everybody to be in the same boat with one other, right?

Ray: Right. Then I’m finding out about—and I will use my biological father’s name and that’s fine—Charles Bush. I’m like, “I don’t know who this is,” so after my mom and stepdad were divorced, I did ask a question about him.

I remember my mom fishing out one of her high school yearbooks. I had seen her yearbook before, but this is the first time she actually turned open and pointed to his picture. I was shocked because I was like, “I look like him!” But that’s as far as we went with that. I didn’t explore anymore. She did tell me she was a cheerleader and that he was in the band. That’s all I knew.

Ron: I imagine there’s more to the story about Charles Bush. We can come back to that in a minute. But, Robyn, I just want to turn to you at this point and hear you as his wife reflecting on what he’s been saying and I’m wondering in particular, how this question of identity, how it may or may not show up time and time again in his life. What would you say about that?

Robyn: I’ll give you an example of how—we’ve been—we talked about this our entire lives and if you even want to know more about Charles Bush. I was insistent with his mom, “Who is this man? Do you have an address? I’d like to invite him to our wedding,” kind of thing.

Ron: Yes, let’s come back to that in a minute. I’d be happy to.

Robyn: But I do remember the first time I met his stepdad. We were at Target. We used to do walks around the stores just to wear the kids out. We had so many young ones. This man comes up. He is loud and boisterous and he’s like, “Let me see my grandchildren.”

I’m looking all around like, “I have no idea who this man is.” But he was coming up, grabbing my kids. Ray was with us. That was my first introduction to his stepdad.

Since then, after the years go by, it’s really wonderful because we were over his house in the last five or six years. To go over to his house, that’s where we were able to piece together so much of the story because, guess who had the majority of his pictures growing up—books and books and albums of the pictures. He let us take them and make copies. That’s where I was able to see Ray’s—at least those three years of his life.

Ron: Yes. It was helping you to understand Ray’s story and his childhood and who these people are.

Robyn: He was so fond of him and proud of him.

Ron: Yes.

Ray: I think that had been the first time I actually saw him since my parents had divorced.

Ron: Wow! From the time you were 13—I think if I have the story right—and your mom and stepdad divorced, you lived partial with your aunt and uncle. Some of your siblings were with mom. Somebody was with—

Ray: —my dad, Raymond.

Ron: —dad, Raymond, that you later found out was not your biological dad but yet nevertheless played the role of dad and was significant in your life.

Ray: Right.

Ron: There were a number of years there where your mom was still single. Is that right?

Ray: Right. After she and my stepdad were divorced, she never married again.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: From 14 on, she was a single mom.

Ron: What about Charles? Did the relationship with him materialize because of you guys getting married and Robyn insisting that you learn more about him?

Ray: Yes. This lady sitting to my left was very insistent and persistent. We were engaged, making this list of who’s invited to the wedding and she asked me if I wanted to invite him. I remember saying, “Not really.” I mean I don’t think I said, “No.” I just said, “No, not really. I don’t know where he is. I’ve never met him before, and I don’t know anything about him. No. Let’s just—”

Robyn: If you don’t say no straight up, it means maybe yes.

Ron: There’s a little room in there, isn’t there? [Laughter]

Robyn: Maybe yes.

Ray: That’s right.

Ron: Yes, you ought to exploit that anytime you can.

Robyn: And I have. [Laughter]

Ray: Thankfully, she tried to find some Charles Bushes which I didn’t know, and she had no success with it.

To fast forward, we were married two years and my mom came to live with us. I’m preparing to go to seminary by this time. I didn’t get to tell my whole salvation story. But anyway, I’m preparing to go to seminary. Robyn’s pregnant with our third and my mom is living with us.

I remember Robyn just asking me. She says, “Don’t you want to meet your biological father?”

I said, “No, I don’t.” I said, “I’m 28 years old right now. I don’t feel a need to know him. We’ve got our own family now.”

She said, “I just feel like you need to know him.”

I said, “I’m not going to go looking for him. He’s going to have to come to my door step.”

Robyn said, “Well, I’m going to pray that he does.” That’s what she said, “I’m going to pray that he does.”

I walked in on a conversation with Robyn and my mom. Do you remember that?

,

Robyn: —in the kitchen.

Ray: Yes, in the kitchen and what did you—you tell what you did.

Robyn: I remember her—I remember asking about Charles Bush. I remember her saying she had no idea. She was really kind of mean about it. “I have no idea where he is. When I find out where he is, then I’ll let you know,” or something like that.

I’m like, “Okay, cool. I just want to know if you know anything.” A couple of weeks later—it was going to be our last week in Kansas City—

Ray: Oh no. I’ve got to tell this story.

Robyn: Okay, I’m sorry.

Ray: But I remember overhearing her conversation. I said, “Robyn, why? Just leave it alone. Why are you asking?”

She said, “I just feel like you need to know your dad,” so she began to pray. This was around October or November of that year. She prayed, I’m going to say, November, December, January, February, March, April, May.

Now May was the month we were going to move to Texas so that I could go to seminary. In fact, it was the last weekend in May. It was Memorial Day weekend. My mother came to us, and she said, “Hey, I’m going to meet with some friends this Saturday. We’re going to do a picnic; have a party. Don’t wait up for me. But I will go to church with you guys tomorrow.” Because it was our last Sunday at our church.

Robyn: —and Ray was preaching.

Ron: Okay.

Ray: Yes, I was a youth pastor getting ready to preach a farewell message to go to seminary. My mom said, “I will be at church for sure.” I remember that Sunday morning. I got up early. I left; went to church. I was in my office and the phone rings. It’s Robyn. She said, “You’ll never guess what happened.”

I said, “What happened?”

She said, “Your mom came in our bedroom this morning and threw a—"

Robyn: “—a matchbook.”

Ray: Was that what it was?

Robyn: Yes. It was a matchbook. Back in the day where you could tear the match off and strike it on the book. It was a matchbook.

Ron: Right, right.

Ray: Oh, I always thought it was a business card.

Robyn: No, no. Matchbook.

Ray: Anyway she said, “Your mom threw this card or whatever—"

Robyn: —matchbook

Ray: “—matchbook on the bed and it has “Charles Bush” on it and his phone number and address.”

Robyn: And guess what, Ron.

Ron: What?

Robyn: The man lived like four blocks away from us—four blocks.

Ron: Oh, my goodness.

Ray: She says, “Your mom wants you to call him and invite him to church.”

I said, “Okay, I will.”

Robyn said, “Here’s the number,” and I pretended to write the number down. [Laughter]

Robyn: Sinner, sinner, sinner! I didn’t know all of this, okay.

Ray: She’s just now hearing this.

Ron: Yes, right. I want to go inside that. Why did you pretend? Like you knew she needed—you knew she needed to see you write it down, but you didn’t want to contact him because…?

Ray: No. I’m thinking I’m preaching my last sermon at a church where I loved.

Ron: Yes, not the right climate to reconcile or try to figure out a relationship with your dad.

Ray: I had already said, “I don’t want to know him. I’ve got my own family. We’re going to have our third child. I’m going to seminary. I’m going to be a pastor or whatever.” I didn’t know what I was going to do.

Robyn: And we were moving the end of that week. This was Sunday. We were leaving on Friday.

Ron: Got it. Time is of the essence.

Ray: Yes. I didn’t call him. But sure enough my mom came to church and she said, “Did you hear what happened?”

I was like, “Yes.”

She said, “Ray, it was the strangest thing.” She said, “I showed up at this party and I’m seeing all of these old friends.” She said, “Right in the middle of it, he walks through the door.”

Ron: Wow.

Ray: She said, “The first thing he said to me is ‘I want to meet him.’” She said, “He wants to meet you too.”

I was like, “That’s a lie. Well, it’s just not true.” [Laughter]

She said, “Did you call him?”

I said, “No.”

She said, “Ray, just give him a call this afternoon. Invite him over or invite him tonight,” because we were going to have a special Sunday night. They were sending us off on Sunday night, as well. She said, “Invite him Sunday night.”

I said, “Okay, I will.” Sure enough Sunday night, I didn’t call him. My mom obviously knew that I didn’t.

Now it’s Monday morning. It’s Memorial Day. We’re packing. We have the U-Haul ordered. We’re packing things. My mom did a strange thing. She came through and she said, “Hey, let me take—"

Robyn: “—Rachel and Reggie.”

Ray: “—Rachel and Reggie.” They were our two small kids. “Let me take them with me and let you guys pack.”

I said, “Absolutely,” so she leaves.

I’m in the living room packing. I think Robyn’s back in the kitchen packing. I’m crying over stuff, “Oh, I’m going to miss my friends.” I think it was about 45 minutes later, the front door opens. It’s my two little toddlers. They walk in by themselves, and I ask my oldest, “Where’s Grandma?” They said, “In the car.”

Robyn: Listen, they’re two and one.

Ray: They were little.

Ron: Wow, wow!

Robyn: Little bitty things.

Ray: I didn’t know why they were walking in by themselves, so I look out the window and I see this man getting out of my mom’s car. I go, “Oh, she went and got Charles Bush.”

Robyn: So I run from the kitchen—

Ray: Oh no. [Laughter] I yell back to Robyn and say, “Your mother-in-law went and got Charles Bush.” Robyn stays in the kitchen. First time, you didn’t come out there.

Robyn: I just—okay, okay.

Ray: My mom stayed in the car, so there’s this buffer.

Ron: Right.

Ray: I see him walking out, and I remember saying, “He’s going to have to come to my doorstep.”

Ron: And here it was.

Ray: Here it was. This is going to make me cry again. I had no idea what to say. I had so many things running through my mind. I’m 29 years old by this time. He comes to the door. I open it, and the first thing that comes to my mind is—I said, “I know who you are.”

He said, “Who am I?”

I said, “You’re my dad.” I just remember in that moment tears flowed, and he started crying as well. We grabbed each other’s hands and just kind of stood there. [With Emotion] I remember going to the couch. Rob, I don’t know where you were. I think you were still in the kitchen.

Robyn: Hiding probably.

Ray: I remember us sitting on the couch and I—in those few short moments—I don’t even remember how long it was—in a matter of, I want to say 20 minutes, I knew more about my life than I knew in 29 years because he filled in some gaps. 

Ron: Wow.

Ray: He had shared with me how my mom wanted them to get married. She was 16. He was 18. But he said, “Ray, I couldn’t bring you into my life.” He said, “I was an alcoholic.” He said, “My mom died of a drug overdose.” He said, “I used to party with my own mother.” He said, “She would put beer in my bottle to put me to bed at night.” He said, “I have never known a day without drinking.”

He said, “I didn’t want to bring you into that situation, so I told your mom, “No,” and she said in so many uncertain terms, ‘I don’t ever want to see you again.’”

My mom and my dad, Raymond, who were neighbors, the McKelvys and the Harrisons, were neighbors and friends. My dad, Raymond, loved my mom. He said, “I’ll marry you,” and they kept the secret.

Ron: So much of your life was a secret even from you—why people got together, why they didn’t get together, why people broke up. As you moved forward, Robyn wanted to help you find Charles. Your mom wanted to help you find Charles. Somewhere in the midst of all of that secrecy, there’s got to be a sense of shame or struggle or like, “I’m not sure I want to know why all this secret exists because it might just end up in a bad place like other things have.”

Ray: Yes. I wrote a poem called “The Secret.” My wife has a book that she wrote, and it’s in her book. I remember—I can’t quote it for you because it’s been years since I wrote it. But I talk about how the secret was a shell that kept my life contained and I was afraid even though I didn’t know what was outside of that shell. I mean shame was definitely the shell.

Ron: Yes, yes.

Ray: I didn’t want to venture outside that. I wanted to create a new life for myself. Yes, I loved my dad, Raymond, loved my mom, got to know my biological father Charles Bush, loved my stepdad, all of these relationships, but at some level—and I say this very respectfully—at some level they were all a disappointment, so I think shame grows in the soil of secrecy.

Ron: Yes, the shell gets thicker, so to speak.

Ray: It does.

Ron: If I’m hearing you right, it sounds like it was just easier, it was safer—I’ll put it that way—it was emotionally safer to just not break the shell. “Just stay within what I know. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Why jeopardize everything? I just need to stay within the shell.”

Ray: That’s so true.

Ron: Yes, I think it is true. I think the intervention that your mom played and that Robyn played just in terms of insisting. You might even call them antagonists. [Laughter]

Robyn: Well.

Ron: From your experience, it’s like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. No, the shell is just fine. Thank you very much.”

Ray: Right.

Ron: Sometimes that is what we need in our lives is somebody who loves us enough and has vision beyond the shame of our experience to help us move to a different place. I can tell you, I’m so glad that moment finally came for you to meet Charles.

Ray: It’s interesting. I think—back on that using the shell analogy—that God had a little nail and hammer starting to chisel at that. He probably long before that was doing that, but I think my life began to open up at that point.

Because there was abuse that had taken place that I hadn’t dealt with, sexual abuse that had taken place. There were things that were just all contained in there that happened as a result of having fractured family; my mom not always knowing where I was because of being with my dad or being at another family, being—there’s just so much complexity wrapped up in there and it was all contained there, and God’s just breaking that shell apart.

Ron: You just mentioned God. In just a minute we’re going to come back to that part of your life because I want to know now, as an adult, the Ray McKelvy I’m talking to today, I want him to comment looking back on the role God has played in your journey and in your life.

But before we do that, I just want to say to the listener, the common experience—yes, big hug—you guys can’t see what I—Ray—they’re hugging each other—that’s good—I just want to say to the listener, the common experience of shame, we can all relate to that. We’re all ashamed of something in our life. Shame has this insidious ability to make us keep secrets.

That what we’ve learned about the brain and the neurobiology of interpersonal relationships in the last 10 or 15 years is stunning to show that the way you overcome shame in the brain—it’s a physiological experience—and the way you overcome it is to begin to break the secrets, break the shell of shame, tell the story of what you’re most ashamed of to somebody who loves you and will receive you and accept you and not judge you for it and will listen to you tell the story, and you will find yourself in how that person loves you.

That’s actually rewiring the brain. Now the Bible calls it confession. This is not a new thing. Neuroscience has simply uncovered once again the truth of God’s Word and truth entering into secrecy. When we confess and talk through our experiences—even the worst stuff that we are so ashamed of, that is when we begin to discover that the shell doesn’t define us. The shell is not really who we are. It’s just who we thought we were, and that we’re not limited by any of those things and we really do find release.

Confession really, really, really is good for the soul. 

Now having said that, as the adult man that you are today looking back, where was God the Father in all of this journey for you when you’re having experiences with earthly fathers?

Ray: I knew you were leading up to this question. When you said we were hugging each other, Robyn could see the tears were about to just burst again because that part of my story is so incredibly glorious.

Ron: You’ve been listening to my conversation with Ray and Robyn McKelvy. I'm Ron Deal and this is FamilyLife Blended. I want to hear Ray’s response and I bet you do too. We’ll get back to that in just a minute.

Do you know what I’m feeling as a result of this story? Gratitude. I’m thankful. I’m thankful that I’m loved by a God that is not limited by my imperfections. I’m thankful that my children are not limited by my imperfections.

Maybe, like Ray, your children have been through a lot of tough things. Sometimes we as parents beat ourselves up over stuff like that. But notice how God was pursuing Ray in the midst of it. Notice how his future was not limited by his family instability. Notice that there was good going on that brought resilience and redemption to his story.

Now remember this: Ray’s story is not new. God has always worked in and through imperfect people and families. Just read your Bible. The good news is He still is. I’m thankful I can lean into that grace for my home and for yours. This Thanksgiving I intend to celebrate it. I hope you will too.

If you’d like more information about my guests, you can find it in our show notes. Or you can check it out on the FamilyLife Blended podcast page at FamilyLife.com/podcasts.

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Now, let’s hear Ray’s response to my question. I was asking him about where was God the Father while he was struggling with all of his earthly fathers?

Ray: I did not grow up going to church necessarily. We visited—attended Christmas, Easter, special occasions, Mother’s Day, but really did not go to church very often. I remember memorizing “The Lord’s Prayer” when my parents were around that time of getting divorced. I didn’t know where it was. I had to look in the index and ask my grandmother if I could borrow her Bible. I just had this wanting to know God.

Ron: Yes, sure.

Ray: I remember that afternoon memorizing “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I also remember initiating a time to start going to church when I was 13. This was when my mom and stepdad were together. I joined the youth choir, but it was very—I remember our choir director asking if one of us teenagers wanted to introduce a particular song. She says, “Which of you has a testimony?”

I didn’t even know what that was. I was like, “A testimony? I have no clue what that is.”

I was—in a sense God was drawing me right at the time where I found out about my biological father; right around that same time when my parents were getting a divorce or my mom and stepdad were having their rocky relationship; I entered ninth grade. I was 14.

It’s all about the same time—14 years old. I end up at one of the worst high schools in Kansas City, but God was at that high school. He was waiting in the form of my drama teacher. [With Emotion] It just makes me weep when I think about it. My drama teacher was a crazy Jesus loving person. [Laughter] She was bold about it. She talked about Him. She would pray before a class started. We were like, “You can’t do that. You can’t pray. This is public school.”

She’d go, “Honey, Jesus is my boss.” [Laughter]

She started a Bible club at our school. I remember she invited me to this Bible club. It was on a Wednesday night. I was like, “Mrs. Hunter, I can’t go. I have band practice on Wednesday.”

She said, “You know what honey? I’m going to pray that they change band practice.” I don’t know, it was two or three weeks later band practice got changed to Monday after school and now my Wednesdays were open. [Laughter]

Ron: Wow!

Ray: She invited me—I’m giving you the short version—I attended that Bible club, gave my life to Christ—incredible eye-opening fatherhood of God—began to go to another church, the church that she attended, was mentored by the pastor of the church who ended up doing our wedding years later. He was just a great example. Was he flawed? Yes, but he was a great example of a man who was faithful to his wife. 

He saw something in me; convinced our church to pay for me to go to Christian school. I went for one year and then begged not to go the next year just because of the hypocrisy that I saw in the students. [Laughter] I was a new believer and was on fire. They’re like, “What’s wrong with you?” But I did. I had a Christian-school experience. 

He saw something in me. I was a musician just like my biological father that I found out, so he had the church pay for me to have piano lessons. He saw something in me. I began to, along with my teacher that led me to Christ, I started leading worship at our church, went to Bible college, graduated from Bible college, came back, became the youth pastor and the worship pastor, met my wife through those circumstances, and the rest is history.

Ron: Wow!

Ray: But it started with a lady who was unashamed for Jesus Christ; was a bold witness. She didn’t know that years later—I still keep in contact with her.

Ron: It’s—I got chills thinking about God pursuing you in what would end up being some of the biggest crisis moments of your life, some of the—the age when you were the most vulnerable in so many ways. I know we can’t always see what God is doing. We just can’t. Sometimes it takes years and years. Then we look back and go, “Man, I can connect the dots but it’s pretty clear that He was there.”

Ray: Ron, I will tell you this. Had God not intervened right at that moment, I would be a black statistic. Because I remember at 14, I was in a musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. [Laughter] My parents, my mom and stepdad, were separated. I knew about my biological father.

I remember at one of my performances my mom sitting in one place and my stepdad sitting in another place. But you know what was different about that? I prayed for them because I now—even though I had only been a Christian maybe four months—I had a new relationship. I knew that those trials—I knew even by that time how trials would create strength.

My drama teacher sent me on this path of scripture memory. I had over 50 verses memorized in one weekend of camp so I could win some type of prize. I don’t even remember what it was. I remember she encouraged me to become a part of a Bible quizzing team. We won trophies, but I was just immersed in the Word of God.

I was able—even through those break ups, even when my mom left and we were separated, I remember sending her tracks with the gospel being a part of it. I remember praying for her to come to know Christ, which she did later. I remember praying for family members coming to know Christ. 

Right at that pivotal moment, Christ stepped in. I look back and I go, “God, You fathered me. You parented me in such a loving way.” [With Emotion] I would not be the man I am today if that had not happened.

Ron: Next time, we’re going to hear from Neil and Sharol Josephson about overcoming differences in marriage and avoiding the drift.

Sharol: We had just drifted so far apart that we were like literally roommates living in the same house—very nice but we had really lost each other in the middle of that and not intentionally and not purposefully. Boy, when we found ourselves in that spot, we kind of looked at each other like, “How did this happen? How did we get here?”

Ron: That’s Neil and Sharol Josephson, next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I’m Ron Deal. Thanks for listening. Thanks to our FamilyLife Legacy Partners for making this podcast possible.

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FamilyLife Blended® provides timeless wisdom and practical help and hope for blended families and those who love them. Join Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC as he and his guests discuss a wide variety of marriage, family, and relationship topics related to blended families.

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