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When the Fatherless Kills a Father

Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 9:10 AM
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The tragic event that took place Easter Sunday in Cleveland, Ohio, haunts me in that I know all too well the importance of a father and patriarch in the family. 

Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old troubled man saddled with gambling debts and grieving over the loss of a longtime girlfriend, took it upon himself to unleash his personal pain on a man who was a father, grandfather and great-grandfather. 

That patriarch was Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old retiree who was picking up discarded aluminum cans – a hobby of his – after eating Easter dinner with his family. While collecting cans, Godwin was approached by Stephens; Stephens asked Godwin if he knew a woman named Joy Lane. He told Godwin to repeat her name, then shot Godwin at point blank range while telling him it was because of Joy Lane – Stephens’ estranged girlfriend – that he was doing this. Stephens recorded the whole gruesome event using Facebook Live and was heard at the beginning of the video saying he was going to “kill this old guy.” 

As the nationwide manhunt ensued and the media interviewed members of both Godwin’s family and Stephens’ family, it occurred to me that no mention had been made of Stephens’ father. In an interview with his mother Maggie Green, she said Stephens had visited her prior to the shooting, said goodbye, and told her this would be the last time she would see him. She told the press that she told him not “to go and do anything stupid.” 

As I pondered the horrid event, I watched how Godwin’s family rallied together when they heard the news. I watched as a local Fox affiliate interviewed one family member after another – his son Robert Jr., his daughter Debbie, even his grandchildren. They all expressed the love they had for their patriarch. Godwin had 9 children, 14 grandchildren, and multiple great-grandchildren. It was obvious they all loved him deeply, and it was evident by the pain on their faces and in their voices that his death was a tragic loss. 

Now contrast that with Stephens. After being chased by police once his whereabouts were known, Stephens killed himself. No doubt his suicide is a loss to his family as well as his estranged girlfriend who said he was good to her children. Also his mother, friends, and associates expressed their sadness over his heinous act and death. 

I kept asking myself, where was his father? Why hadn’t he been interviewed? Why hadn’t he called out through the media for his son to surrender?  I scoured the web looking for any reference to his dad being in his life but I could find nothing. 

Stephens was obviously a troubled young man. Mounting gambling debts, a bankruptcy filed, and the breakup of the relationship with his longtime girlfriend were no doubt troubling him.  He mentioned in his Facebook ramblings that even his mother didn’t care.  After seeing numerous pictures of him in media, I wondered how a grown man wears arched eyebrows. 

I sense that the core of Stephens issues was his inability to navigate the rougher patches in life or what I call critical thinking. I was taught critical thinking by my father. He taught me how to stand firm during difficult circumstances and “calm down and think things through son” as he would put it to me whenever I was distressed by the tribulations of life. My father also taught me by example.  I watched him do that “man thing” day in day and out during my formative years. 

I remember when in my 30’s and a budding entrepreneur I had fallen in love with a beautiful young lady who seemed to adore me.  But our relationship had gotten rocky and she eventually broke up with me. Distraught I asked my father, “Dad do you think she loved me?”  He put his arm around my shoulder, chuckled and told me, “Yeah, I think she loved you son. She just didn’t love the fact you didn’t have any money anymore.”  You see, our business had fallen on hard times, and my business partner and I had to tighten our belts. So I could no longer afford to take her to dinner at fancy restaurants and buy her nice things. My dad then gave me a big hug and told me I would hurt for a little bit but I would be alright.  He was right, I got over the hurt and moved on with my young life and learned that no matter how bad I felt or how I had been wronged. This too would pass. He taught me to learn from my mistakes and persevere. And that is the key to a successful life. 

My dad coached me through many rough patches in life and still coaches me today. One of his favorite sayings is, “You have bigger fish to fry, son. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  That was/is his way of saying stay focused on your goals. His keys to success are very simple and what I live by today:  1) Faith in God  2) Stay focused on your goals. 3) Don’t sweat the small stuff (because you have bigger fish to fry). 

If I was Stephens father I would have been shouting from the roof tops and on every channel on TV, “Son turn yourself in. You have bigger fish to fry”.  Better yet, If I had been Stephens father he would have never committed that heinous crime in the first place because I would have taught him critical thinking from the time he was a little boy. I would have taught him my dad’s 3 keys to success. 

Prayers for both the Godwin and Stephens family for strength, healing and forgiveness. This tragic event is the byproduct of the fatherless generation.

(This article first appeared HERE on the Urban Family Communications website)

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