A Father’s Story
It was halftime during Super bowl XLV (2011). We were with extended family at our home. During the second quarter, my brother-in-law logged onto our family computer to catch up on business emails. When logging out, it’s his custom to clear the history from the computer so his company’s passwords are not saved. In doing so, he brought up the recent history and found some websites that troubled him.He alerted my wife (his sister) and they both viewed several extremely graphic pornographic websites that had been saved in the computer’s history. They discussed it for a few moments and decided to pull me away from the game to confront me about what they had found.
I am in my mid-40’s, a father of four children. Based on the ages of our kids and the graphic nature of the websites, they assumed the websites were connected to me. After we settled that it was not me, I proceeded to view the websites and knew we had a big problem. These sites were not just topless women or partially nude couples, but included sites with violent sex, orgies, and graphic sexual positions. Although I was shaken up by the content, I was determined to find out who in our family was drowning in this stuff. I don’t really know why, but I suspected that it was my youngest; my 10-year old son.
During the rest of the game I was in and out of the family-filled TV room, pacing, praying and thinking of words to say…words that would both confront and also leave the door open for honesty. Near the end of the game, families began to pack up and head out. It was a school night and our family was starting to fade. My 10-year-old son poked his head into the office where we keep our computer. He said “goodnight” and I said the same back. He said “will you be up?” and I said “yes.” Before he hit the stairs I got up and said to him…”Hey, have you been looking at anything you shouldn’t be looking at on the computer?” He quickly, and with confidence, replied: “Me? No, I haven’t at all.” I said, “OK, good.” He then started upstairs, but I gently stopped him and asked him to come back down into the office. He did. I said to him, “I’m going to ask you one more time; think before you answer… have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at on that (pointing to the desktop computer). He paused, looked away from me, then to the floor and said “yes.” When I tell you I have never seen a look of shame and guilt so clearly, I am being totally honest. I did not feel anger or disappointment. I reached out and embraced my boy, whom I later learned had been sucked in by the power of Internet pornography for a long time. I embraced him; he wept, I wept, and we rocked as we had done so often when he was an infant. During the next several hours he confessed his daily habit of viewing pornography at certain “safe” hours (when our daily family pattern would allow him time on the computer while others were out of sight). Other times were with friends at sleepovers, where they would use their iPod Touches, Internet capable game consoles or smart phones to surf pornography websites. Through his tears he described how bad he felt about himself and how powerless he felt in trying to stop.
The hour was now 2am. We were both beat and we were still embracing. Instead of disappointment and anger I felt relief and a deeper love for my son who was almost asleep in my arms. As I carried him to bed I thought about God’s yearning to have us in the same place every night…after a day of messing up, if we only felt the “ease” to relax in His arms, tell it all as it really is, and then find the peace to collapse in His arms…that’s exactly where He wants us. He does not want us living a lie, running up the stairs, brushing our teeth, burying our secrets and going it alone. Once I placed him in his bed he fell asleep and subsequently woke several times during the next hour calling out my name to discuss and confess some more…eventually he got everything off his chest and finally fell asleep.
I did not sleep that night nor did my wife. We talked. We cried. We prayed. We argued. The weight on us was heavy. The next day was long. I was desperate to help my son and I felt incompetent to do it myself. I reached out to several close friends… one of which was John Freeman from Harvest USA. John and I are close friends. I told him everything. There were long pauses, as I could not speak through the tears. John was patient. When I was done, all I could do was ask him, would my son be all right. John didn’t take the role of an expert but rather a deep and close friend. He did not at this time encourage me to seek outside help as he thought we had everything we needed within our family. He did not blithely point to Bible verses or books but instead, reminded me of my close relationship with a God who loves me and would never turn His back on me. John comforted me and gave me the courage to be a loving father to a hurting and scared son who was full of shame. He encouraged me to be a safe place for my son, someone to talk to and help interpret what he had seen and what he was feeling. He suggested that a remedy would not come instantly but would come over a long period of time as I grew into being a safe and loving place for my son to come and rest.
John’s words, along with those of other men who know me well, helped me rise up to become the place where my son could find grace, forgiveness and “ease” so he could move beyond the trap he found himself in.
Now that my son had felt the healing and cleansing power of confession and forgiveness, the days ahead became darker for me.
The subsequent days were filled with despair and discouragement in thinking about what my child had been exposed to for a long time. Conversations between my wife and I were nonstop about what to do now and how this could have happened. For one of the first times in our 24-year marriage, the conversations were starting to dramatically break down and anger crept in. I did not know it at first but I was slowly coming to terms with my guilt of removing our home Internet filter years ago (because it was a nuisance). I started to admit to myself that we had been lax in forming our daily schedule which allowed for consistent unsupervised time after school, and our naïveté of allowing him full access to Internet-capable devices for his personal use at a very young age. I have been through dark seasons in my life and I rank this as one of the most difficult.
The weight that was on our hearts last Super Bowl Sunday lightened as time passed. In the weeks that followed the opportunities to speak to my son, my wife and my girls about these topics and about God’s unwavering love for us no matter what we do, think, feel or see, were many.
We now have a top-rated content filter on our computer, are clear with our kids about the dangers of web-enabled devices, have set up “house rules” for our family and friends regarding those devices, and have kept this topic in the forefront of family discussion. This was a wake-up call, but instead of being a start to an ugly downward cycle it has opened our family to a better way of dealing with the ever-present world of pornography and more than that, the relentless and never-ending love that God has for each of us. Through this I am reminded that there is nothing we can do that will cause God to withhold His love and affection for us. All He wants is for us to collapse in His arms, give Him all of our troubles, shame, guilt, and secrets, and then to find rest in Him.