My birth dad’s name was James Robert Devers. He was one of 10 children and fathered a family of 7 children, of which I am smack dab in the middle, #4 child (1 sister – the eldest, and 5 brothers). Dad was a handsome, strong, viral, 6’ 2” tall man, with sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He and my mom married when he was 22 and she was 16.
Though we lived on our own land, financially we would have been considered a lower income family; living without such amenities as indoor plumbing, a furnace, or electricity. We heated with wood and coal and lighted our home with kerosene lamps.
My dad was raised on a farm in north-eastern Virginia – you won’t find many farms in that area now because it’s mostly a bedroom community for Washington DC. He did not graduate from high school – having quit school to work on his dad’s farm after the eighth grade. At age 17 he went to work for the railroad, doing manual labor on the “yards”, where train cars came in for repairs.
James Devers was a man of integrity – if he gave his word, he kept it. He was a hard worker, an outdoorsman. My dad taught us by his life to not be lazy. He was self-sufficient and industrious.
As he continued to work for the railroad, Dad also did odd jobs for friends, extended family and neighbors. Plus he had a large garden in the summer to help feed his family. Any garden overage was taken to the farmers’ market or given away. He was a very outgoing man, friendly to strangers – there were not many people in our town that he did not know. Dad felt that to have friends, you had to be friendly. He was optimistic, confident, and generous, especially to his girls. He was also proud and prejudiced.
He came from a stock of people who accepted bad news as a part of life. When he was diagnosed with cancer at age 64, he accepted death as inevitable – which didn’t quite gel with his optimistic nature. He lived for only two more years.
Cancer brought him to faith in Christ – as he said to me from his hospital bed – “I know who I have to trust for heaven, and it’s not me.” And the person who led him to Christ was one that, due to Dad’s racial prejudices, would not have been allowed into his inner personal space a few years before. But God’s love does that – it takes down barriers and redefines us and our long-held beliefs.
At the time my dad became ill, I was single, living in NJ and attending a church there. My pastor and his wife had no children of their own and “adopted” me. I remember when my dad was diagnosed they said to me, “You will always have a home with us.”
So, when my birth dad passed away, I had another dad. His name was Phil and he was basically a “city boy”. He was raised as an only child in a middle income family. Phil was very different from my father, though about the same age. He was college and seminary educated, not of many words, and had a deep faith that had sustained him since youth. He was thoughtful and a good listener. He had a good sense of humor, but was not loud like my father. He also was a man of his word and chose his words carefully. He was a careful planner, financial saver, and wise investor. He was a “suit and tie man”, where my birth dad was a work pants, work boots guy, except for occasions like weddings. Phil wasn’t expressive with his affection, but he, along with my adopted mom, parented me as a young adult – shared their lives, even vacations with me and later with my husband.
My third dad was my father-in-law, Dave Alves. I think when he died I cried more than my husband did. He was upper-middle class, college-educated, and had served in the US Navy. He had risen from immigrant Portuguese status to a management position with an insurance firm. Dad Alves was a fun person. He filled a room when he entered. He was the entertainer at family parties. Outgoing, stubborn, but never quite sure of himself. He was warm and accepting and interested in kids – my husband’s childhood friends loved being around his dad.
I also loved Dad Alves because he and his wife, Betty, had adopted my husband, David, from an orphanage when he was about age 4 or 5 years old. They took a chance on a kid who had been in 10 or so foster homes in the first couple years after being removed from his birth parents by the state of Massachusetts. Dave and Betty did a good job with him.
Dad Alves not only accepted me, but was proud of my vocal abilities and encouraged David and me in our Christian concert ministry – though not a follower of Christ at the time. He came to a commitment to Christ on his hospital bed after a heart attack. He died several months later.
All three of my “dads” contributed to what I have been and am becoming, by loving me, encouraging me in my particular ministry pursuits, validating my abilities, and modeling character traits such as: generosity, kindness, friendliness, integrity, hard work, honesty, truthfulness, and courage to face what comes your way. They also taught me the need for listening to others, taking time for fun, and applying yourself to your goals.
But my 4th dad is the best of all – and that’s my Heavenly Father. Though I’m sure He was active in my life long before I recognized Him as “Father”, He proves over and over how very precious I am as a daughter of His. He has provided me with tools not only for this life, but for the life beyond this one. Unlike my other dads, He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me, to give me wisdom for each situation, to answer my prayers, to heal me, to save me from disaster, to be with me in trouble, to cause “all things to work for good” in my life.
I don’t have to travel to visit Him, but I can have an audience with Him any time of the day or night. He listens to my yearnings, my pleadings, my supplications, my confessions, my complaints, my discouragements, my questions, my theorizing and my expressions of gratitude. His presence fills the room, especially the room inside me, more than either of my other dads. He points out my faults and weaknesses only to show me a better way and to lead me to learn to trust Him completely with my life.
Thank you, God for my three earthly fathers, and for being the ultimate Father for whatever “orphans” are out there, who want to be in a loving family with a loving Dad.
©2011, Marcy Alves
There are many awesome fathers who are not birth-fathers; there are many birth-fathers who are no more than sperm-donors. I don’t mean to ignore all the great fathers out there who are birth-fathers, but I’d like to pay homage to those men who have filled the gap for many “fatherless” kids.
There are many reasons why you may not have produced any children of your own:
- You are not married and know that to bring a child into the world without a committed relationship to the child’s mother would not be what is best for the child, for the mother, or for you.
- You have not met a woman that you would choose to be in an on-going relationship with.
- You and your wife are both so intent on your career that it would be a disservice to any children you might produce.
- You and your wife have not been able to conceive for physical, emotional or providential reasons.
- You and your wife have felt that God’s plan for your lives would be hindered by having children of your own.
For whatever reason, you are not yet a birth-father. But somewhere along the way, God has put children in your life through your work, your church, your extended family, your neighborhood, or your volunteer positions.
God has put kids in your life whose own fathers cannot be there for them due to extended military service, death, or sickness; or who are present, but are abusive or negligent in their father role; or those who don’t know how to father their kids, because of their own lack of a good father role model.
Many a messy divorce has resulted in distance between kids and their birth-fathers, who don’t know how to bridge the gap. Perhaps a child you know is merely a product of a sperm-donor and has never had a father in his/her life.
For whatever reason, God has placed you in the life of a fatherless child, and you care about that child. You have used your opportunity to be a father to someone else’s child. You are a surrogate father and you deserve honor as we celebrate Fathers’ Day.
The Bible reveals God’s heart about surrogate parenting:
James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction . . .” (ESV)
Psalm 68:5 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” (NIV)
Being a father is no easy task, but even the smallest efforts at being there as a surrogate father for the kid(s) God has put in your life can result in fantastic rewards, both for you and those children.
My husband, David, is a surrogate father – and he is a fantastic dad to many kids whom God has brought our way over the years. We are one of those couples that God chose not to have our own children. When we did conceive, there were miscarriages. We chose not to go the route of mechanical medical means of conception – we wanted children from God, not science.
And the Lord has brought many such kids into our lives over the course of our 33-year marriage. We have worked with youth groups, as Sunday school teachers, as speakers and counselors at youth camps, and informally with kids – children of our friends, relatives, and church members and others. We love children.
The Lord put several kids in our lives who have become “family”. We have heart adoptions that are as real to us as if they were our own kids. We have one special daughter whom God brought into our lives through our youth group ministry over 20-years ago, who is still in our lives today.
David has both a human and a Godly influence on our “kids”. He does fun things with them, just to have fun. He also gets into deep conversations with them on matters of the soul – the way they live their lives – and on their relationship with God. He truly has a “father-anointing”, which is recognized not only by young children and teens, but also by young adults – matter of fact, he also “fathers” older adults who are “spiritual children”.
My husband amazes me with his ability to know when and how to do certain things with his “kids” – fun things; work projects, in which he instructs as he works with them; pizza or coffee times that lead to deeper discussions. He has that uncanny ability to know when to press in and when to lighten-up.
These “adopted kids” – who are not from government programs, but were placed in our lives by a higher office – know that David loves them with the right kind of love, that he is interested in them, that he accepts them. They also know instinctively when the lifestyle or action they choose at any given moment would hurt him or betray the values he has shared with them – at those times they distance themselves – David does not pursue, he waits for their return to God and to relationship.
I have witnessed the effects that my husband’s life has had on so many children and adults; I know that both he and they have grown from those “father encounters”, those times of confrontation and encouragement to be all they can be as children of God.
If you have not yet had the joy of surrogate fatherhood, extending God’s love, offer yourself to the Lord God for that purpose. Trust Him to give you all you need to be a father to the hurting, the lost, the fatherless, the confused – those who just need a father-friend.
If you have allowed God to use you in this way as a father in some child’s life, you are in the place where God has positioned you. Continue to persevere, to reach out, to befriend those fatherless children, and to love them with God’s love. Don’t give up on the kids He has placed in your life. Hold them in prayer continually before the ultimate Father of all fathers.
Happy Fathers’ Day, surrogate dads.
©2012, Marcy Alves
- A Father to the fatherless (catholicherald.com)
- Father (veemedia.wordpress.com)
- Children growing up in ‘men deserts’ with no father in 65% of homes in Liverpool ward (metro.co.uk)
- Study: 60 percent of Richmond families are fatherless (wtvr.com)