Rev. Dr. Mark Whitlock (File photo)

Most of my life, I had real challenges with my father. He was absent, an alcoholic, and an abusive husband and father. I left home at sixteen. I lived a wild, wasteful life. I was very much the prodigal son.  

Most Christians have heard a sermon or read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15: 11-24. The parable of the prodigal son runs through all Jesus said and did. Jesus teaches reconciliation through forgiveness.  

The focus of the prodigal son parable is not on the prodigal son, but on reconciliation and the forgiving father. The prodigal son requested the wealth from the inheritance before the father dies. The father grants the son’s request.  

The prodigal son wastes the wealth on wild wayward living. The son placed no value on what the father went through to accumulate the wealth to give an inheritance. 

We live in a day and age where good Black fathers are criticized, condemned, and criminalized. I’m not talking about sperm donors and absentee baby daddies who don’t take responsibility for the babies they made. I’m talking about Black fathers who go to work every day to provide for their families, care for their children and scold their children when wrong and forgive them for their mistakes.  

We often fail to remember the racism, sexism, discrimination, and oppression that Black fathers have faced for over four hundred years – lest we forget the first 20 Black slaves brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.  Have we forgotten that slavery was abolished in 1865, but Jim Crowism started the same year. 

Jim Crowism gave birth to the “Black Codes” that restricted Black fathers’ ability to earn money to provide for their families. 

Jim Crowism relegated Black people universally and Black fathers specifically to segregated seating on bus and trains, as well as waiting rooms, water fountains, bathrooms, building entrances, elevators, cemeteries, swimming pools and amusement parks. (Plessy v. Ferguson in May 18, 1896) 

While the police arrested and incarcerated Black fathers, the Ku Klux Klan beat, lynched, and struck fear by terror showing that Black Lives Don’t Matter. 

Lest we forget that the local laws forbade Black fathers from purchasing and renting homes in White neighborhoods. 

Local laws required Black children to attend segregated schools, use outdated and inferior textbooks, and limited public resources for Black students until 1954. (Brown vs. the Board of Education) 

Black churches were given a different bible form White churches to read. Black fathers were restricted from living in the house that received welfare assistance by law. (1970-1980)  

Black fathers are incarcerated at twice or three times the rate of white fathers. Black fathers have the lowest employment and second unemployment rate in America.  

Black fathers have the highest mortality rate in America. Black fathers suffer from prostate cancer, heart attacks, and lung cancer at a higher rate.  

The truth is, Yes, some Black fathers are absent. Yes, some Black fathers are complicated. Yes, some Black fathers have dropped the ball. But we must investigate the rest of the story. 

I was the prodigal son. I benefited from my father’s wisdom and income as a child. I did not value my father’s contribution to the family. I did not value the challenges he went through as a Black man in America. I do now!   

I joined church at 27, but I started valuing the resurrection at 34. When I discovered he had lung and prostate cancer, I prayed for the Lord to forgive me for holding on to so much anger.  

God told me to seek my father’s forgiveness. I obeyed. My father forgave me. We reconciled. My father accepted Christ. When he earned heavenly wings, I rejoiced knowing we will meet again.      

Forgiveness may be the hardest thing you do, but it will also be the most rewarding. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and love. Forgiveness is a powerful act of love and grace God has given us. 

Thank you, God, for forgiveness! 

Happy Father’s Day!!! 

The Rev. Dr. Mark E. Whitlock is the senior pastor of Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland.