Back in July, I took my boys to help out at Shake-n-Shine camp. This week-long camp is an unforgettable week as our church takes children on camp that may not have a chance otherwise. We have a 1-to-1 camper/counselor ratio to maximize impact.
Since I normally lead the Mega Relay on Thursday night, I took the boys with me like I did last year. Both Obadiah and Eli are 5 years old now. The children at this camp are 7-11.
We loaded up the materials, drove out to Due West, and began to setup. We walked into the boys’ dorm to get some ice and water for one of the games. Walking through the room full of campers and counselors, my boys were just a few steps behind me.
As I walked through the room, I realized something unique about our situation. I walked into a room with predominately white men who were with black boys. And I, a white man, entered that room with a black son and a white son.
As we were in the kitchen, one of the Shake-n-Shine boys came to get a popsicle and heard Eli ask me something and call me, “Dad.”
As soon as he heard it, his head whipped around with bewildered eyes. He looked at me and pointed at Eli, “Is that your son?”
“Yes, Eli is my son.”
Puzzled, he had this look as if he didn’t trust the white man speaking, so he leaned close towards Eli and whispered, “Is that your daddy?”
Eli looked puzzled at why he would even have to ask such a silly question but simply stated to this older boy, “Yes.”
The boy stepped back, looked at Eli then looked at me. He looked at Eli again and then glanced back at me.
“Well, you do kinda look alike.”
And, off we go.
We lead the game and it is a great time. Afterwards, we join all the fellas on the back porch to enjoy some watermelon as we cooled off on that humid night.
“Dad, can you cut my watermelon?” Eli asked among numerous black boys and white men. All the older boys stopped and stared.
Another boy asked the question, “Is that your daddy?”
In this moment, it was all I could do not to pick up my son, run him out to the truck, and go home. I didn’t like him being put on the spot. I knew these times would come, but I just wanted to protect him in this moment and I tried to turn the attention off of him.
Staring at me, this boy asked, “Did you adopt him?”
“God brought all of my children into my family.”
Pointing towards Obadiah, “Did you adopt him too?”
“God brought both of my sons to me. They are both mine.”
Feeling the awkwardness of the moment, my friend Gary Gillion spoke up to the crowd and said, “Can’t you see it? Don’t you see that Eli looks like Travis?”
Obadiah raised his sticky face from within his watermelon rind and stated, “People tell me that I look like Travis.”
At this point, everyone is listening into the conversation, and I just didn’t know what to say to make either of my boys feel secure in this moment. It was at that time that I realized I didn’t need to do anything in that moment. What had been done in moments prior had prepared the perfect response at this time. But the response wasn’t going to come from me.
Eli would be the one to speak up.
Standing shorter than the 20 plus boys that were surrounding him and the 20 men that were listening in, Eli looked at all of them and calmly affirmed:
“No, I look like Travis too. I have brown eyes just like my daddy and I have short dark hair just like my daddy.”
As he began to motion to these qualities on us, I teared up with a father’s joy that was unmatched in that moment. I was so proud of my son. He knows whose he is and he knows he is loved and he never feels the need to apologize for that fact. He is aware that he is unique like every other member of the family but he also is aware of the family resemblance.
As I gave him a wink from across the porch, Gary piped in and said, “Eli, you do look like your dad. But your dad’s hair is not short. Your hair is short. Your dad is bald.”
As we all began to laugh, I thanked God for two special sons.
On the drive back to Greenwood, I kept looking back in the rearview mirror of my pickup truck and looked into those big brown eyes that he got from his daddy. We do look alike. If you are around us, there’s no doubt that he is my son.
And I couldn’t be more honored to be his daddy.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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