In his new book "Fatherhood by George," the boxing champion gloves up for parenting. Sharing from his childhood and fatherhood experiences, the parent of 10 offers his personal stories, insights and advice on how to be a winning dad. Here is an excerpt:
Run for your life Drifting out in space, isolated, far away from the gravitational pull of the earth — just hanging around without direction, nothing to keep me grounded — no course to run on, no path to follow. That’s what it felt like for me growing up fatherless. What I lacked and desperately needed was the strong arm of guidance, that stabilizing, grounding force that only a loving father can give.
My mama tried her best to fulfill the roles of both mother and father. She was wonderful and tender, giving me all of her gentle love and care. Because I was so big, Mama always saw to it that I had a little extra food. She’d even let me eat off her plate. Like most good mothers, she sacrificed much for me and would do just about anything for her boy. Yet there was one thing Mama couldn’t do no matter how hard she tried: she couldn’t be a father. Oh, how she longed to be that strong arm of guidance that I needed, but as I grew older and more adamant, she would often fall short. Eventually, my rebellious and stubborn nature, coupled with my intimidating size, simply wore her down. In the end, all she could do was turn me over to the Lord. I can remember that day so vividly. Mama, frustrated and tired, looked up at her teenage giant and said, “Son, I just can’t do it anymore. You’re too much to handle. I’m turning you over to the Lord.”
Now, that may not sound very threatening to some, but make no mistake about it, turning me over to the Lord was not a passive move on her part. It was something my mama took very seriously. She knew she couldn’t manhandle me or protect me from the pressures and temptations of the world anymore. So, through the tears and pain that only a loving mother can know, she committed herself to prayer, leaving me to the Lord for Him to do whatever He needed in order to get my attention. And I’m here to tell you that the Lord answered her prayers.
In the scripture at the beginning of this chapter, Solomon, the author, plainly shows it is the father’s job to guide his children and that children are smart when they pay attention to fatherly advice. And although Solomon’s writing was directed to the children of God universally, as he continued to develop his thoughts in this passage he wrote about the impact his own father, David, had in his life: “My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my instructions. For I too, was once my father’s son, tenderly loved as my mother’s only child. My father taught me, ‘Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live’ ” (Proverbs 4:1–4). What did David mean when he told his son Solomon, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands and you will live”? In essence, he meant that it was his responsibility as a father to lead and direct his son in the ways of life, to a place where he could reach his full potential as a person, and by heeding his father’s advice, Solomon could avoid the pitfalls that lead to destruction.
The call of fatherhood is to be a strong arm of guidance — a consistent blend of love, strength, respect, friendship, teaching, and discipline. But when the father-presence is absent and the mother is unable to fulfill the role, God often has to use other methods as the strong arm of direction. Many times those other methods are brutal. For me, those methods began with a run-in with the law.
After Mama had turned me over to the Lord, it didn’t take very long for the Lord to start working. On one particular night the police were looking for me because I’d been involved in an illegal activity. To say I was scared would have been an understatement. I was terrified — more than I had been in my entire life. So, as a reaction to my fear, I instinctively started to run. The whole time I was running, a voice kept thundering in my mind and I knew it was the voice of God. He told me, “Okay, George, you want to run from rules? You want to run from authority and from what your mother says? Well, George, let’s run now. Let’s run for your life.”
Up to that point, I had seen myself as invincible, that nothing could really happen to me. Yet there I was, running for my life, from the police, trying to find a place to hide. They were chasing me like I was a common criminal, and I knew if I got caught that I was going straight to jail. They even had dogs with them to sniff me out. While trying to hide, a scene from a movie replayed in my mind. Some escaped prisoners were running from tracking dogs, and they jumped into a creek to break their scent. With this scene playing in my mind, I crawled into a busted sewer pipe and laid there, hoping the dogs wouldn’t smell me. Hiding there in that foul, stinky, nasty pipe, hearing the cops’ voices getting closer and closer, thinking about those dogs coming at me, tearing me apart and then going to jail, for the first time it dawned on me that I was no different from those men in the movie. I had done wrong and I was a criminal. All the things Mama had told me started coming to my mind, especially, “George, I’m turning you over to the Lord.” It was then that I said to myself, “If I get out of this sewer pipe, I will never break the law again. I’m going to make something of my life!” Looking back, that was the beginning of my transformation, but it took many years and the Lord using many more of life’s hard methods for me to learn what I needed to learn. Years later, when I became a father myself, I determined I was going to be that strong arm of guidance and stabilizing, grounding force that my children would need in their lives.
The impact of fatherlessness in our world today is far reaching — from high-paid athletes doing foolish things, to inmates in maximum security prisons, to children making poor life choices. Consider for a moment the raw statistics. Roughly 85 percent of youth in prison today come from fatherless homes. Ninety percent of homeless kids or runaways are fatherless. Sixty-three percent of youth suicides were fatherless, as are 71 percent of high school dropouts.
Often when I go into prisons to minister or I’m counseling a professional athlete, it becomes obvious to me that many of them are craving a father figure. They may be big and physical on the outside, but inside there’s a little boy asleep who doesn’t know what to do. They’re reaping the effects of poor choices, and I believe a significant reason they’ve made these poor choices is because of the absence of a father figure in their lives. Every child growing up desperately needs a David or Solomon who will say to them and model before them, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live.” And that is what this book is all about. Whether you’re a brand new father, a father of a teenager, or even a seasoned veteran of an adult child, it’s about you seizing the moment and becoming the father-presence God intended you to be. Think about it. If fatherlessness has the power to affect our world in such a negative way, then imagine the influence a loving father has to shape his children and thus the world in a positive way. Ken Canfield couldn’t have said it better when he wrote in his book “The Heart of a Father,” “A father has enormous power. About this, he has no choice. For good or for bad, by his presence or absence, action or inaction, whether abusive or nurturing, the fact remains: A father is one of the most powerful beings on the face of the earth.”
Excerpted from “Fatherhood by George: Hard-Won Advice on Being a Dad” by George Foreman with permission from Thomas Nelson. Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved.