By Robert Provitera
The road must have been wet before the temperature dropped because the tires that had been there before mine had carved out a deep path in the ice which brought my car where I had not intended it to go. It was a challenge to redirect the vehicle beyond the tracks of my predecessor. I stopped fighting my way out of the ruts and went with the flow. It was just easier to continue that way until I got stuck. Then, the fight to get out was exponentially more of a struggle.
I thought about that experience while a group of fathers and I were discussing a short movie we had just finished watching called Xavier's story.
A young boy named Xavier lost his mother in a drive-by shooting while his father was in jail. It seemed that this now motherless boy would grow up without the guidance of a father as well. He would travel down the same path as the men in the family who had gone before him. The movie captured the emotional and circumstantial impact that fatherlessness had on his father's life. Neither his football successes nor his delinquent behavior were enough to attract the desperately needed attention of his own father. While still in prison, he received the news about the crime that took Xavier's mother. The realization that his son was alone and that he was not there for him when it was needed most made him think about how fatherlessness affected him growing up. He decided then that he wanted to change. He wanted to be the father to his son that he did not have.
It was not the first time I had watched that movie, but this time I was focused on the group of men behind bars who were watching it with me. Each one of them had made the same choice as Xavier's father. They chose to sign up for a fatherhood initiative program while incarcerated with the hope of becoming a better father. I noticed every eye and ear in that cold room had traveled beyond those bars and into the heart of Xavier's story, towing behind them their own histories. The connection to a life path that led them here and the desire to change course was a powerful bond that linked these men to the story and to each other.
I remember leaving the facility that day and stopping in my tracks when I reached the parking lot. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the experience and with the thought of how nervous I was to step out into a place I never thought I would be in. A facility that I had always dreaded, and how differently I felt about it now. It is not prison walls that are holding these men captive. It is something much deeper, longer, and harder to scale.
A family's etched course can seem frozen in place, but from inside those walls, I am a witness to men's lives in the process of jumping out of those directional ruts that have been steering them down the wrong path for generations. I see caring, brave men shifting gears and accelerating into the wisdom and understanding that breaks through barriers and cycles of bad choices and destructive behavior. There is great hope that these men will not get stuck where they did not intend to go. The fight to get out continues, but taking control of the wheel that steers them towards a new way is the choice that begins the better part of their journey.
One inmate who will be paroled before the fatherhood initiative program ends raised his hand to ask if he would be allowed to return to prison to complete it.
Wow. That is when you know that the story is greater than Xavier, greater than the men who watch his movie, greater than me, and greater than the program itself. This inspiring man knows that the prison walls are smaller than the frozen path of his family history that continues to thaw with every insightful turn. The course of fatherhood pursued with passion drives freedom into the futures of men to come.
I am one thankful facilitator just honored to be along for the ride.
Moving through this chilly season, I have discovered snow tires and the path less traveled. For me, there will never be a winter's drive down an unplowed Pennsylvania road that doesn't carry me to and far beyond Xavier's story and the melting away of families without a father.