I am the fourth of five sons born to a fire-breathing Pentecostal preacher dad and a music-loving mom. Being raised in a very rigid, hellfire and brimstone version of that denomination made the fact that my preaching machine of a father was also an alcoholic all the more confusing and traumatic. There was a lot of abuse in our home, and family was never a safe place for me. I grew up viewing God the same way I viewed my dad—as a harsh, judgmental, all-powerful force I could never please.
This post is written in partnership with Fathom Events for the film I Still Believe.
When my music career began to take off, I thought that the Grammy Awards, accolades and attention would finally make me feel like I was worthy. It didn’t work. Inside I was still, as Tori once wrote about me, “a frightened, angry boy in grown-up’s clothes.” Being diagnosed with severe clinical depression in my 20’s just further confirmed my worst fear that there was something irrevocably broken in me.
When alcohol was introduced into my life, I thought I had found a wonder drug. It quieted the critical voices in my head, and numbed the painful memories. But eventually, inevitably, it turned on me, and to my horror I found myself repeating so many of my father’s patterns.
I was never, ever physically abusive, but my self-hatred would cause me to pull away and isolate, and then lash out if Tori got too close to discovering my secret life. I was screaming inside for someone to love and accept me, and I was behaving in ways that were guaranteed to push away the people who did. It was kind of like a dog that gets hit by a car and is terribly injured, but when someone stops to help get him to safety, he tries to rip their head off.
I was everything I was never supposed to be. I carried so much shame inside of me I wouldn’t even make eye contact in the mirror when I shaved. I was working so hard to try to outrun it, yet even after several treatment centers, years of therapy, and periods of sobriety, sooner or later something would trigger that deep well of pain. I could hear the echo of my father’s voice telling me I wasn’t worth the salt on my bread, I wasn’t worth the bullet to shoot me with. And when I couldn’t fight it anymore, I would give up and relapse, which of course would bring on another giant tsunami of shame.
Finally, at the end of my rope and with my marriage hanging by a thread, I entered an intensive program in Santa Fe that specialized in treating children of trauma. Those skilled therapists took me right down into my deepest, most difficult memories. They helped me understand that the scared child and the angry young man versions of myself were still trapped inside me—and that my adult self had to learn how to give them the grace I never got.
I gradually began to accept the fact that there was nothing I could ever do that would make my Father God love me anymore—or any less. I didn’t deserve it, I couldn’t earn it, but His love would never leave me or forsake me. And with Him beside me, I faced down the ghosts of my past and found forgiveness and compassion, not only for my parents—but for myself.
It took a lot of work, a lot of help, and a lot of years to finally learn how to remove my dad’s face from my image of God. And it took a while longer to trust that He loved and accepted me in all of my flawed humanity, just as He had loved and accepted my dad in all of his. Gently, tenderly and completely, the Father I had always longed for walked me into the light. And I can never thank Him enough.
I don’t share my story for you to feel sorry for me but rather to call out how very important a godly father is in a boy’s life. I can’t tell you how I longed to have my dad affirm me and tell me he was proud of the things I accomplished as a musician.
What a difference it would have made to receive a blessing from my dad, instead of being cursed and beaten. It would have made a world of difference in how I viewed myself and how I viewed God. If you are a father, you have the opportunity to give this gift to your son—to bless and affirm him. Biblical fatherhood celebrates the boy and calls out the man. This may be the greatest gift he will ever receive. Don’t take this lightly and never underestimate how much you mean to him.
Tori and I wrote this song right after my dad passed—it says what I never had a chance to say to him in person.
LONG HARD ROAD
We loved each other so very much, but not so very well