“Wayne, that boy sho need you.” Those words were etched into my spirit by my late father, Charley C. Croomes, Sr. over twenty years ago, speaking of my oldest son, now in his twenties. “I know, dad. I know” was the only conviction I could whisper in response back then. In a way, my dad was saying my son’s eyes were fastened upon me. He was watching my every move. Ultimately, those words would form a chorus in my head and change the way I thought about fatherhood. Charley C. Croomes, Sr. had known what it was like to need his father. He was a former military man with an intimidating presence and had grown up in poverty in rural Oklahoma after his dad, my grandfather, abandoned his family when my dad was a boy. My dad and mom divorced when I was a toddler and he was given custody of my two older brothers and me and eventually he settled us in Phoenix, Arizona. I remember my dad as a hard-working man and fiercely protective of his family. He was fond of telling my two brothers and me about how life was tough for him coming up; it was his way of reminding us of our greater burden of success. Over time, my mom and dad reconciled and remarried. It helped that my father, after years of struggling with alcohol, discovered Christianity and gave his life to Christ. I began to see him in a different way. He overcame an addiction and got his life together. My dad now sleeps with the ancestors, but his lessons remain crucial to my understanding of what being a father really means and the role we play in the lives of our children. He was there because he knew we needed him. Sometimes God gives us a second chance to do something better. I became a father for the first time in 1985, amidst an era of great personal idealism and ambition. I arrived at that momentous intersection of fatherhood early and immature. About a year and a half after the birth of my first son, an opportunity arose for me to study at a prestigious college in Texas. I went for it. I was guided by a belief that I was going to make myself a better man, but there had not formed a connection to being a better father. My son would visit me during summer and spring breaks and I would fly home to visit as often as I could. I became a father for the second time in 2007, after a promising relationship with his mother came to an abrupt end. By then my idealism about the world and my place in it had reached its apex. If you are an active presence in the life of your child or children, I salute you and encourage you to keep the faith. Keep it up! If you are not, my purpose is not to berate you nor condemn you. Rather, my goal is to share lessons from my own experience and leave you some kernels of advice in hopes that you experience the greatest joy as a father. Regardless of the relationship context, fatherhood is one of the greatest joys that life can offer. Fatherhood is a tool, an art and a science that was divinely designed to bring purpose to the life of a child. My Lessons As the father of two sons, born of two different eras in my life and birthed from two very different generations, what steels my resolve now is the unfinished business of fatherhood I began over two decades ago. I am now using that experience to become a better father today. I am writing to you because I have been inspired by the divergent paths to fatherhood my life has taken. Of the many lessons from my journey, this one kernel sticks with me as I remember it from my father: fatherhood is sacrificial. I have learned this the tough way. The important thing is I have learned it. And if you haven’t, then do your best to understand what it really means. I want to speak especially to those who are unmarried fathers and who have been separated from their child or children due to issues with the mother, and whose parental relationship may or may not be under court supervision. In many ways, the struggle of unmarried fathers is to remain relevant to their children. You make the ultimate sacrifice the moment you decide that you are going to be a part of your child’s life – regardless of the cost! Fatherhood does not always play out in an Ozzie and Harriet context. Recall that my mom and dad divorced when I was a toddler. They would later reconcile their differences and remarry by the time I turned twelve. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for a lot of couples – things do not always work out. As a father dealing with this scenario, I have learned this: whatever the context, it is imperative that you do not fret (Psalms 37) and that you stay focused on and faithful to your child. Too many fathers hide in the shadows of their children’s lives because of the inherently bitter dealings with their child’s mother. Unfortunately, there are women who use children as weapons against the fathers due to unresolved feelings, anger over a break-up and many other issues. This is the bottom line: tough times don’t last, tough fathers do! Fatherhood is still evolving for me. I am striving to become a role model for both of my sons. I understand acutely the two lives that I have shaped and am shaping. My father’s voice has now become a source of inspiration, as opposed to trepidation. Often I look toward heaven and say ‘thanks, pops!’ I have two beautiful and intelligent sons, one an up and coming music industry entrepreneur, the other moving swiftly and brilliantly through his toddler years. They both have taught me invaluable lessons about commitment and responsibility. Indeed they have made me a better man and a better father.