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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Artist Theo Smith Presh Laundry creates a piece inspired by his father during the Fatherhood: The First Class Seat, Part II event at the Public Safety Academy on Saturday.

Delivering hope to the fatherless

Roundtable series shares how to grow through struggles

– If you feel broken because your father wasn’t loving and supportive, that pain can damage your future relationships.

But it doesn’t have to.

That was the message Saturday at a roundtable discussion at the Ivy Tech South Campus in the Public Safety Academy. About 60 students, mentors and organizers attended.

The event, titled Fatherhood: The First Class Seat, Part II, was organized by Fort Wayne Girls Rock and jointly sponsored by Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, IPFW and the Indiana-Purdue Student Government Association.

The Rev. Anthony Payton, pastor at Come As You Are Community Church, talked to the group about how estrangement from his father affected him, causing him to withdraw emotionally at age 13. His tough-guy mindset led him to drugs before he eventually turned his life around.

But even as a 55-year-old man with numerous accomplishments, Payton has a father-shaped hole in his heart.

The pastor was struck by that fact in November while on a trip home from Santo Domingo. Another passenger asked to trade seats with Payton so he could sit with his elderly father during the flight. Payton accepted the trade that placed him in first class.

But Payton wasn’t able to enjoy the food, drinks and other perks because he realized he’d never traveled anywhere with his late father, a man who waved a casual hello when their paths crossed in the neighborhood but who had never treated his son with any more warmth than a friendly neighbor might.

Payton realized that the man who gave up first class accommodations to sit beside his own father actually had the better seat.

During that flight, all of Payton’s professional and personal accomplishments felt hollow.

“I would love it if my dad had been there,” he said. “If my dad would have said ‘great job.’ If my dad had given me a pat on the back.

“That vacuum exists,” he said. “That hole is still there.”

That same void leads thousands of black teens to sell drugs, land in jail and commit suicide, Payton said.

Until kids without fathers understand the pain and deal with it, their lives often spin out of control, he said.

As a father, Payton has prayed for guidance, read books on parenting and followed others’ examples.

He’s told his children he loves them and has asked them for forgiveness when he makes mistakes.

Big Kess, a disc jockey with WILD, 93.6 FM, participated in the discussion. He’s a single father raising an 11-year-old son.

The local morning show celebrity has used his father has an example of how not to be a dad.

“If I go to one game, I’m a better father than he was,” Big Kess said. “If I help with one math problem, I’m a better father than he was.”

An unidentified black woman in the crowd shared how her father left her mother for a white woman. Years later, that betrayal led the daughter to warn her own sons never to date white girls.

She realizes now that her pain was caused by her father and shouldn’t be passed on to her children.

But it’s not easy to break the cycle.

Denita Washington, Fort Wayne Girls Rock’s executive director, organized the event – and made numerous on-the-fly changes to the program Saturday to accommodate late arrivals and participants’ enthusiasm.

Fort Wayne Girls Rock is a program that engages and empowers girls – and sometimes boys – in middle and high school.

Washington hopes that by understanding more about family dynamics, children and adults can change the things that aren’t working in their lives.

Part I in the discussion series dealt with all adults in minority children’s lives. Part III, still in the planning stages, will look at the wider community.