Feeling the Father Void
Connecting the present with the past is good. Ray McKelvy tells his story about not knowing his real father and being the man of the house. Another father figure stepped into his life, only to then separate from his mom, and the devastation he felt left him searching for his identity.
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Ray McKelvy tells his story about not knowing his real father and being the man of the house. Another father figure stepped into his life, only to then separate from his mom, and the devastation that left him searching for his identity.
Feeling the Father Void
Ann: So we did something a little bit different this year; you went to a counselor.
Dave: Yes, I did.
Ann: Why did you go?
Dave: Why are you bringing this up on air? [Laughter]
Ann: I think this is good, because we both ended up going; but I think the reason is good.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
You went to a counselor.
Dave: Yes; as I sat down with Greg, my counselor, I told him, “I should have done this in my 30s.” He said: “Doesn’t matter; you’re doing it now,” and “It’s a really, really good thing.”
One of the things he did that I so valued was he connected my present to my past. He walked me through my upbringing—and having no dad, and a single mom, and the death of my brother—and all of these kinds of things—blended family with my stepmom. It really connected a lot of dots for me. I felt like, again, “I wish I had done it years ago”; but you know what? I did it now, and it was awesome. In fact, we both did it.
Ann: Yes, we did. Because things happened in my past that are affecting my present. There is something about going to the past, and really talking about your story, that bring things up that you realize, “Wow! That’s still affecting me.”
Dave: The good thing is: “Today, we’ve got the expert! Mr. Ron Deal is in the house.”
Ann: Ron is always one of my favorites, because he puts you on the couch.
Dave: —puts me on the couch?!
Ann: Yes!—like, “Oh, Ron,”—and me too, honestly—he’s just so good at drawing things out and helping us realize: “This is where God is working in the midst.”
Dave: The good thing is I’m not on the couch today. [Laughter] I’m just passing the baton over to Ron, because Ron is the head of blended family ministry of FamilyLife. What a privilege to have you as part of FamilyLife, really.
Ron: Thank you.
Dave: Your ministry is one of the best in the world. You have a podcast, and you sat down with somebody that really goes back into their life.
Ann: Well, wait, Ron. Tell us about your podcast, because I have been telling everyone about this that is in a blended situation; and they are raving about it and are talking about how helpful it has been.
Ron: FamilyLife Blended® is the name of the podcast; it comes out every other week. We take deep dives on a number of different subjects. Every once in a while, we like to share one of those podcasts with the FamilyLife Today audience, which is what we are doing today.
Dave: Yes; so tell us: “What are we going to listen to today?”
Ron: The narrative we are going to hear is from Ray and Robyn McKelvy. Now, they are friends of FamilyLife.
Ann: We love Ray and Robyn.
Dave: They’ve been on our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® speaker team.
Ron: They’ve spoken on our cruise—that’s right—they do lots of great things. Ray is a pastor at a church in Nashville. He is the lead pastor of Christ for the Nations Church, a multiethnic church. They’ve got ten kids; so they are busy, and they do lots of things.
I’ve got to tell you what was kind of behind the scenes. Ray told me, after we did this conversation about his childhood, growing up in a blended family, that he connected dots to his present and his past in ways that he really hadn’t in a long time. Some new insights came as we talked. When we started the conversation, I asked him to tell his life story from the vantage point of being a child. I’ve got to tell you—that changes some things—right?
Dave: Yes, it really does.
Ron: What it does is it forces us to go: “You know what? This is the way I remember it, and this is how I made meaning out of that. This is the/here is the identity I drew out of these moments in my life.”
Now, you as an adult, get to say, “But is that really the way it is? What’s God’s truth on this?” As children, we kind of have a skewed perspective.
Ron: Sometimes, we need to revisit that in order to say, “Now, let me put God’s truth…let me grow up.” First Corinthians 13, verse 11, kind of gives us that little thing; Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child.” Yes, we pretty much all do that—right?—
Ron: —we do what children do. “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways”; there is a lot embedded, I think, in that statement. One of the things we have to learn to do, as adults, is put away some of the conclusions that we drew about ourselves as children.
Ray is going to talk about his journey with his family—the man he thought was his dad, only to discover there is somebody else—right?—there are family secrets embedded. It’s a very interesting story; and in it, he is questioning: “Who am I? Where do I fit? What does this mean?” At the end of it, you are going to discover the adult, mature, Christian man’s point of view of what he remembered as a child. It’s really a marvelous journey.
Dave: Yes, let’s listen to it.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ray: 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 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 grew up in a home with teenagers, basically, as parents.
I’m the oldest; so I’ve always been in charge/always been the one who was responsible. I would pick up my three-year-old sister from preschool, walk home,—
Ray: —go to the apartment, lock the door back, make sure everyone got their chores done.
Ron: How old were you at this time?
Ray: Seven, eight, and nine.
Ron: Yes; even from a child’s vantage point, how did you experience all that emotional instability?
Ray: I mean, trying to put on my kid’s eyes or heart, it was normal; it was 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?” “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 at school, and I just didn’t want to rock the boat at all.
Ron: Robyn, so as he is talking, what are you thinking?
Robyn: 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. All of those things were: “How can I keep it where nobody is injured?”
Some of the things we are finding out, even to this day, are because of some of those past injuries that happened—
Robyn: —at 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—and when you are eight years old and you’re trying to box your daddy so you can protect your mom—those things.
Ray: Well, 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—and that’s when 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 was eight or nine or 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, there is blood, and tears, and screaming.
Then we hear sirens. Our neighbors heard what was going on; somebody called the police. As the sirens got closer to 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.
Dave: You are listening to FamilyLife Today with Ray and Robyn McKelvy. Boy, I feel like I’m watching a movie;—
Dave: —you know? But it’s Ray’s life.
You talk about connecting the dots. You know what is really interesting for me—I’ve known Ray for a couple of decades—I had no idea.
Dave: I would have never thought that was in his past, which is going to be interesting to hear the rest of this story; because something great has transpired from then to now.
Ron: Don’t you think it’s a good journey sometimes to unload the past that we hide from everybody in our adult world? That doesn’t mean we should be indiscriminate and share everything that has gone on in our life with everyone; we need to choose carefully who we unload things to. But it is interesting how we can know somebody for a long time and really not know them.
Ann: Well, it’s interesting too, as I hear that last sentence—“I don’t ever want you to be my daddy,”—how does that not affect your future? He has carried that; I’m sure he carried that for years, without acknowledging the affect it had on him.
Ron: Yes; as we continue to listen, we are going to hear more of the story and how that rolls into the next season of his life.
Dave: The suspense is killing me. [Laughter] Let’s go; let’s hear the rest.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ray: 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 is just like this hole that is there that you kind of spend your life trying to patch up or to fill—and so, 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—my mom had to go to work—and she said, “I don’t care who comes to the door. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR!”
I remember my dad came back to the apartment. He had knocked; and he said, “This is your daddy.” Well, 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. I ended up having to go to court to testify against him.
Ron: That is so difficult/so traumatic.
Ray: It is!
Ron: It is such a lose-lose for a kid.
Ray: It really is. I don’t, again, remember all the details; but they were divorced. Shortly after that, my mom started dating.
When I was ten, my mom met another man that I totally adored. They ended up getting married, 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.” [Laughter] My mom was able to not work outside the home, and dinner was ready when we got home. It just felt like, “Wow! We have a family; this is the way it should be.”
But I had a sense, just because of my hypersensitivity to my atmosphere, I began to sense that my mom and stepdad—it didn’t feel right to me—so I wrote them a three-page letter. I entitled it: “How to Keep Your Marriage Together”; 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 happening?” I began to hear more of that, even though they were together.
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. 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 are 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 has tears running down his face. He said, “I’m sorry”; he said [as if crying] “We’re not going to make it.” He said, “I’m so sorry; your mom and I are not going to make it.” [Emotion in voice] 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 groceries, 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: Literally, it was the death of a marriage; but the death of a family. It fractured everything.
Ron: Yes, yes; did it fracture something in you?
Ray: Well, I almost felt like, “Okay; strike two on dad”; but I had a strike three.
Ron: 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?
Ron: Sometime after that, you are going to discover that the man you called dad is not who you thought he was. Do you want to tell us that story?
Ray: I was at school in eighth grade. During this time, I was with a friend; and we were running track at school. 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.
Ray: So I thought, “That was really weird; she should know better.” So the next day, my friend came back; and he said, “I went home and told my mom what you said; and she said, ‘No, your dad’s name is Charles Bush.’” I was like, “I don’t care what your mother said!”
So then, I was curious enough that I went home—my mom was cooking, and I looked over at her—and I said, “Mom, do you know a Charles Bush?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Derek keeps saying that’s my daddy.” Without hesitation/without looking at me, she said, “He is.”
Ron: Wow; now, 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.”
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 just 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: So 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 peace keeper, you don’t ask those questions; because it might upset the apple cart. There is a reason why they don’t talk about that, so I didn’t talk about it. So 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.
Dave: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today, where Ron Deal was hearing Ray McKelvy’s story; and boy, oh boy, what a story!—where I think what he gets into, at that last part, is what every man and every woman, really—
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: —has to wrestle through, regardless of your upbringing: “Who am I?” “What’s my identity?”
Ann: I think that identity question—we all carry that—
Ron: We do.
Ann: —and we’re all asking that question.
Dave: I don’t think they can be answered horizontally; I really don’t. We do find identity from our father—I mean, I can relate a lot to what I’m hearing from Ray—I didn’t know who I was; I tried to find it from my dad; I never really got it there. Thank God I found it from my heavenly Father.
Dave: It literally changed my life, and I think we are going to find a similar case with Ray in Part Two.
Ron: I think we will; we’re going to hear that next time.
I’ve got to add just a quick thought. You know, Martin Luther, the great reformer, said, “My dad was hard, unyielding, and relentless; I cannot help but think of God that way.” We, as parents, need to remember—
Ron: —that God made us in His image; and then we make God in our image.
If there is consistency and love provided to our children, it gives them a running start on their identity so that then they can—as you said—vertically catch that in their God relationship.
Ann: I would add Ron that I have two great parents who loved me, who were always there for me; but I was still asking that question. I believe God is the One who answers that question, because He created us; He knows us; and He can also heal us.
Bob: I think it is always important for us to remember, as we hear stories like the one we’ve heard today from Ray and Robyn McKelvy, it’s helpful to know that God is the One who brings beauty from ashes—that He can bring great healing, and great redemption, and restoration out of those messy family situations—that’s the greatness of our God.
That is something that Ron Deal points to regularly in the resources that he provides for us. His podcast, which is called FamilyLife Blended, so many of you tune into that podcast regularly. There is a link if you’d like to find out more about the FamilyLife Blended podcast—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—the information is available there.
There is also information about Ron’s books, including his newest book which is called Preparing to Blend, which is a guidebook for those who are entering into a blended marriage/kind of premarital preparation for couples who are beginning a blended marriage and need to grapple with the kinds of questions that have been talked about here today. That book is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order it from us, or you can call1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy. Again, the book is called Preparing to Blend. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or call us at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Here, at FamilyLife Today, one of our goals is to help point you toward Christ to help you deal with the reality of the messiness that is a part of all of our story. FamilyLife Today’s mission is to effectively develop godly marriages and families—that doesn’t mean perfect marriages and families—because there aren’t any. It means marriages and families that keep going to Christ, in the midst of the mess, to find hope and to find help.
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In fact, if you can help with a donation today, we’d love to send you a copy of Rebecca McLaughlin’s book, 10 Questions Every Ten Should Ask. It’s a book we’ve talked about this week, and it’s a great resource for parents who are helping to raise children in a confused culture when it comes to spiritual issues. The book is our thank-you gift to you when you donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation. Thanks, in advance, for your support of this ministry; and we look forward to hearing from you.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to pick up Ray McKelvy’s story where we left it today. We’ll go to when he was 13—and his mom and stepdad are divorced—and the kids are scattered. Ray continues the story tomorrow, along with Ron Deal. I hope you can be here for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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