My Father – What Could have Been

father figures

I’ve been fortunate to have had some father figures in my life who stood in place where my father should have been. This gave me a place of safety, comfort and support. Not all boys get that.

When I see the homeless and hungry men who come through the doors of the Rescue Mission each night, their bodies and souls ravaged by the effects of alcohol, neglect and abuse, I can’t help but think of my own father. I think about how different life could have been if a 12-month recovery program like the one we have here at the Rescue Mission was available to him. A program like this could have saved him, and his life.

He was a working alcoholic. He worked six days a week, and he drank six days a week. Back then, it was a different world. There weren’t open recovery programs available like the ones today. In fact, he didn’t find a way out of the abusive cycle until he died – at age 45 from the damages of alcohol. I was just barely 14 years old when my father died.  I was always mature for my age, but at that moment I became a man earlier than I should have. I look back at photos of myself when I was a teen, and never saw a smile on my face – with the exception of my high school prom picture. Responsibilities weighed heavy on me.

After my father passed, my mother became a huge influence in my spiritual growth and learning to care for others. I also had strong Christian support by my Pastor’s entire family.  But in addition to this important support, I was fortunate to also have some father-figures step into my life.  These were men who stood in place where my father should have been.  This gave me a feeling of safety, comfort and support. I realize how lucky I was to have this – and that not all boys have a father-figure in their lives.  This extra support helped shape the confidence I have today and give me the ability to help others. So many struggling young boys, whose fathers left due to abuse and neglect, never go on to experience the type of relationships that offers much needed positive reinforcement. There is no one to show them a way out of their situation.

So, as I look at the men going through our recovery program here at the Rescue Mission,  I realize what they have left behind.  Perhaps a son like me.  Or a daughter.  A wife.  A family.  But before we can rebuild their families, we need time to rebuild them each spiritually – and solve the problem that led them to abuse and homelessness in the first place. That’s why the recovery program here at the San Diego Rescue Mission is 12 months long. There is a lot of work to do.

When I think of our program, I think of my dad. I think about how things could have ended differently if he had the same tools available to him back in 1958.

When I see the men in our dining hall, I think, “This is your chance! Your chance to fix things, and go back to some normal life, before it’s too late!”

This Father’s Day, my 12 grandchildren and five adult married kids will be far away from me on the East Coast. We talk often on the phone. They share stories about the weekend’s soccer games, upcoming baseball practices and other family events. My wife and I visit a few times a year, and cherish the memories we create. (Our next trip coming up in just a few weeks!)  It’s painful being separated by such distance, but my wife and I made this decision to be here, in San Diego because of the Rescue Mission and the important work we do.  This is my mission. I have a lot of personal reasons for being here.

This is why God brought me to this job.

Herb Johnson




Herb Johnson