Ray Lewis talks about how the greatest glory in life comes from the greatest pain. Ray takes us inside the unexpected pain he experienced in his personal life as well as in the game of football. He shares how he took his greatest pain and turned them into his greatest victories in this TEDx Talk.
You may want to watch the entire video, but scroll to 15:27 and watch. This is where I started my greatest pain. Just like Ray Lewis, time after time I sat waiting for my father to come pick me up. His quote “The Greatest pain a man will ever go through his life is the disconnection of a father when you know he’s living”
This hit me like a ton of bricks. Growing up in a small town has its advantages and disadvantages. I know how it feels to know that my father lives twenty minutes away and wanted nothing to do with me. It took about twenty years to really understand the pain that was buried deep down inside. As a young man, I had older people my father’s age say that I looked just like my father. I would say yea, I guess so, but I never really knew my father.
Let me take you back to two memories of my father. It was the early 1990s, I lived on a dirt road named eleven circle. This was the house my father purchased after he got out of the Army. I remember a certain day vividly because of the pain I felt. My mother had cooked spaghetti and was eating with my brother at the table. I could have been either seven or eight and my brother four or five. My father comes in the house like a ball of fire. I remember my parents starting fighting to the point where it became physical. My mom went for a knife and eventually, everything went haywire after that. Dinner was destroyed and I grabbed my brother and went to our room. In that moment, I was scared, angry and helpless that I couldn’t help my mother. From that day, I buried that pain and never revisited talking about it. It took years of therapy to really uncover that pain. I had the hardest time eating spaghetti or even smelling it and I keep it hidden for years. I hated my father for years and eventually our relationship was non-existent. I’ve taken blow after blow from him. From the custody battles in court, moving from place to place, supervised weekend visits, I became numb to the man that had the same exact name as I did. Now that I’m thinking about it, my grandmother was the reason I would go weekend visits with my father.
I lived with my father for about a year and a half in high school. I was out of control from the eighth grade until the tenth grade. My father would pop up from time to time throughout the years. You know things, like holidays, birthdays, and school events. At 15, I was uncontrollable that no one could talk to me. I was looking for guidance just in the wrong places. My temper was so short that I got into numerous fights which led to getting suspended from school. I barely was going to classes or even yet school. I spent a lot of time in ISS. The ISS teacher knew me so well.
My anger took a dangerous turn in May of 2000. My mother and I would argue like crazy and I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. One day, I came into the house after playing football with the neighborhood kids. I guess my progress report came in the mail. She told me not to do something and I blew up. Throwing things, kicking the walls and even kicking over my mother’s mailbox. I was a ball of fire that burned anything in my way.
It got to the point where charges were brought against me for knocking over the mailbox. The end result, probation, court cost, and a record. My mother could no longer handle me and I ended up living with my dad. Living with my father changed me in so many ways. It put me in an uncomfortable position to get to know a man that I didn’t know. He did teach me some things like changing brakes, being accountable, hard work ethic and focusing on my education. Although things were positive there were times where I faced verbal abuse. At times, it felt like a drill sergeant and I was in boot camp. My father was in the military and did everything with precision. So imagine you are in high school and your day starting at 6 am and not ending at 10 pm. I was in complete isolation from all my friends and all family members. I spent a lot of time myself and often was depressed. The verbal abuse would tear me down emotionally, and I head in my anger towards my father. Eventually, I had enough and I decided to leave my father’s house. But it wasn’t easy, my father would not let me leave. My mother reached out to my father explained to him that I wanted to leave. The conversation ended up in a mess and my father threatened that I couldn’t leave. My mom gave me a cell phone and I hid it under my bed. One night my mom called me after my father left for the night and told me to pack my things. With the county sheriff, I was escorted to my mother’s house.
Of course, my father was pissed off to the max. The transition was hard and I struggled to readjust to my mother’s rules. I went into my senior year, looking over my shoulder just in case my father showed up. When you live in a small town, everyone knows you and your family. I worked at the local grocery store, so everyone knew my father. Having to look over my shoulder started a fear inside of me. No one knew my struggle because I internalized everything. When it came to my high school graduation, I was hesitant in sending him an invitation but I did it anyway. My graduation was one of the greatest days of my life, but also the most awkward. My father showed up after not seeing him for about a year and a half. My father never told me he was proud, he just gave me $40.00 in a car and went on his way.
As I transitioned into a college student, my father never reached out to me. As I finished out my freshman year, my mother arrived in Charlotte, but she wasn’t alone. My father was waiting in the car. I had many emotions of anger, frustration, and confusion. That was the longest four and a half hour drive back home of my life. As soon as I arrived back in Goldsboro, I was out. I grabbed my bike and went to one of friend’s house. One of the conversations, in the car, was how I would be paying for my sophomore year. I ended up working so much that the summer to save up to pay my tuition. My mom reached out to someone about an Army scholarship for the children of Army veterans. I filled out the application, wrote a scholarship essay, and completed a panel interview. The scholarship committee had spoken to my father and he was on board with the scholarship. Two weeks before my sophomore year the scholarship committee called and to me that my application was not processed. The lady on the phone explained that all the materials were completed except the signature authorization form from my father. She explained that letters and phone calls were sent to my father to complete the form. I was crushed, my education was in jeopardy. I became enraged on the inside and I was ready to explode. How you do not sign the paper that would pay for your son’s entire college tuition??
I took my anger and searched for student loans to help pay for my sophomore years. The only company that granted me a loan was Sallie Mae. I went into the sophomore year with rage and pain, but I kept it in check. It didn’t help that my grandpa’s health was deteriorating, I was an RA and I started my intake process into Phi Beta Sigma. A lot right? Trust me it was. Every day, I made myself get up and go to class hurting on the inside. I challenged myself not to depend on anyone for anything. If my own father didn’t help me why would anybody else?
Fast forward to my senior year of college. I had a balance on my student account which had to be paid before I graduated. I didn’t have the money and my mother didn’t either. One day, I called my Aunt and told her the situation and she helped pay for my cap and gown. As I tackled that hurdle, it was time to send out invitations. I had so much going on, I let me mom handle the invitations. She called me to ask ” Do you want to send your father an invitation” Without thinking about it, I said “NO”. I wanted to say Hell NO!!!! But you have to respect your mom for not cussing lol. I worked three years without his help paying for college, why the heck do you get the pleasure of sharing my joy. My mother sent one anyway without me knowing.
Graduation day: May 7, 2006. This entire weekend was special because I was my graduation and birthday weekend so it was extra special. Everyone was happy, laughing, and ready for the first man in my family to graduate with a bachelors degree. Well, let’s just say the effect wore off quickly after receiving my degree. As the family gathered in the hallway to take pictures, someone mentioned that my father was there. Instantly my mood changed quickly. I look back at pictures and see the moments with my father there. My aunt pulled me to the side and told me to fix my face. I put on my game face and made it through the dinner celebration. I wanted to reach across the table and hit my father dead in the face.
After the celebration, some of the family came back to my dorm room along with my father. As I was preparing to gather things up, my father came to my dorm room. It was the most awkward moment, he really wanted to have a full blown conversation with me. I’m like dude get the hell on! You didn’t help me get to this point and now I have extra loan debt. I really don’t know how it ended that day. I was so frustrated that my last couple of pictures showed my frustration.
After May 7, 2006. The next time I spoke to my father was November 2008. This time the meeting wasn’t a positive one. I received a tax notice for a car registered under my name. I figured it was a mistake because my father and I carry the same last name. So went to him and told him about the registration and we handled it the same day.
One year later, I received a notice that a car was registered to me and that a fine was attached to my driver’s license. Before I jumped too quick, I did my research and found out more details. My father had bought a car and put everything in my name. Crazy right? That could be a mistake. This time, I was pissed off. I had an investigator look into it and it was revealed that my father forged my name on all documents and used my driver’s license. You talk about fired up!!!!! Whew!!! After the investigation, it lead me to a point of deciding to press charges against my father or let him walk.
For thirty minutes, I had to contemplate whether to lock my dad up. Oh, must definitely I took into consideration all the pain I had seen and been through. At the end of the day, I didn’t press charges. We just had to go down to the MVA and registration offices to clear everything up. It would be five years later until I came face to face with my father again. This encounter was intentional. Simply put, I still had the anger deep down inside of me from all the years before. My therapist suggested that I write a letter to my father, but I needed to face him head-on.
I drove down from Maryland for my normal visit to see my mother and grandmother. It was a Saturday evening when I decided to go talk to him. I had it all planned in my head. Talk about this-this and this. A lot had happened in five years since our last encounter. My grandmother passed away while I was attending grad school. He never showed up to the funeral, that made me look at him as a straight up butt hole. When I got there, I pulled up in front of my grandmother’s home and blew my horn. One thing about the country, always blow your car horn before getting out of your car. It’s normally one or two dogs guarding the place. Just dropping some country 101 knowledge off you. Oh and crack your window slightly just in case Cujo is around.
My father came driving up on a riding lawnmower and he has this shock on his face. I start off saying happy belated birthday and the reason I came by. I really wanted to apologize for any wrong that I had done over the years and have a clean slate. Well, that didn’t happen. He went into defense mode and questioned who sent me. He goes off on a tangent and brought up some things about my mother. I felt a volcano erupting on the inside of me and I went on the defense. Something calmed me and I asked him one question. Do you want a relationship with me? Your oldest son before I head back to Maryland. He answered quickly. I don’t want no relationship and you can go on and get off my property. I said ok cool and got back into my car. As I drove back to my mom’s house, I pulled the car over and I let out the biggest cry I’ve ever done. I was heartbroken to hear those words coming from my own father. My crying turned into anger and I drove back to Maryland nonstop. Looking back at it now driving back was very crazy and stupid. A five and a half hour drive only took four hours that day.
The next day, I felt a bit of release and that everything would work itself out. I still had to work through some of the issues of abandonment, resentment, frustration and the pain. Trust me it didn’t happen overnight. I started to learn more and more about myself and the things I needed to work on. I use to get frustrated when the Sallie Mae bill came every month but it paid off now. Shimmy dance!!!!!
Sometimes I wish I could turn back the hands of time. I had to pray a prayer of forgiveness to accept the apology from someone that I may never get. I don’t hate my father, I just pray for him and I move on with my life. Maybe one day we will have a Harboring the anger only takes root in your heart and causes you to become toxic. Boys don’t often make the transition into manhood because they never received a verbal affirmation from their father. I’m here to say that with GOD is the only one that can fill the open void if a father and give you the affirmation that he is well pleased.
In the end, all the pain helped me to be a stronger man. My only wish is that young males don’t have to go through the things I had to go through. I hope my story of forgiveness helps you in some way. I’m just taking my greatest pain and making it one of my greatest victories.