Adrian Peterson was back in court yesterday, but the USA Today headline from last week jumped out at me:
“Associates of Adrian Peterson only see evidence of ‘a good parent’”
The embattled former Minnesota Vikings star running back was indefinitely suspended last month after charges of child abuse against him were made public. He’s admitted to disciplining his son with a switch, although he suggests he never intended to harm the boy.
The pictures of the bruises suggests a much different and sordid story.
Whether or not Peterson will ever play in the NFL again remains to be seen. The legal process will run its course and team and league officials will be left to determine the football star’s professional fate.
But as friends and associates of Peterson come forward to defend his character and parenting skills, I’m left scratching my head about what goes into such an assessment.
Thousands of words have been expended debating Peterson’s choice and execution of discipline, and rightly so. As we have previously acknowledged, there’s a wide chasm between appropriate, loving discipline and child abuse. It’s an important and healthy discussion.
But rarely mentioned within the conversation these past weeks is that Mr. Peterson isn’t just a father of the one child at the center of the controversy – but of five.
Five children – to five different women. None to whom he’s married.
One of the children died at age 2, a victim of abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend (not Peterson).
Adrian Peterson only found out about the boy’s existence two months earlier and met the youngster for the first time the day before he died.
From USA Today:
“While he can provide for (all his kids) financially, he can’t be there for them for other issues and to help raise them,” said Steve Eudey, who coached Peterson in youth football, housed him for a year when Peterson’s mother moved out of the school district and helped him through the college recruiting process.
“I think it bothers Adrian that he’s a part-time dad to these other four kids. He’s come to learn even prior to this situation that that type of lifestyle causes a lot of heartache and disappointment.”
The author is likely referring to Peterson’s own upbringing, which was eerily similar to the life he’s currently living. One of fourteen half-siblings to various mothers, the suspended running back was abused by his own father, who was imprisoned for money laundering and drug dealing. Like his own sons, Adrian didn’t have an involved dad either.
It would be natural, and convenient to suggest that the life Peterson has lived has been an outlier, but the facts suggest otherwise. Within the African-American community, out-of-wedlock births have become normative with 72 percent of all black children born to unmarried women.
But getting back to the headline, is it possible to be a good parent when you’re fathering children out of wedlock and spending almost no time with them?
I don’t believe so.
Job one for a dad is to love and support the child’s mother via the life-long commitment of marriage. It is through living out God’s design for the family that kids are most likely to thrive.
Of course, I know there are exceptions. There are men who desperately wanted to remain married but whose former spouse felt differently. There are fathers involuntarily estranged from their kids, due to court orders and other legal and personal complications. What I’m talking about here is wanton disregard and irresponsibility. And in those instances, I don’t see how anyone could be deemed a good parent.
Our hearts are tender towards those children caught in the middle through no fault of their own. But my heart also breaks for those men who almost don’t know any better, who have never had a father in the home to love them and teach them about life. These men are stuck in a vicious cycle and are repeating unhealthy and destructive patterns of behavior.
But there comes a time in every man’s life, regardless of how tough his background and upbringing, when he needs to step up and own up to his responsibilities as a man.
Speaking very personally, my own father walked away from us when I was 5. Thankfully, I found the Lord and men to mentor me along the way. To this day, I parent out of this void, and do my best to give our boys what I so terribly missed in my own childhood – namely unconditional love and the comfort of knowing that I’ll never leave them no matter what happens.
A good parent is many things, and good parenting comes in many forms, but all good dads have this in common: the best interest of their children is always on their minds, in their hearts and displayed day in and day out.
But I’d love to hear from you. What’s your opinion? What type of family background did you come from and how has it influenced your own parenting?