I had grown up in a very tough environment, a very rough environment. Son of a Teenage Mother. My Dad had left home when I was two years old. I grew up with a single mom and a sibling. We were very, very poor. By the time I reached age sixteen, I had buried six of my friends. At least a dozen of my friends were incarcerated. One is serving a life sentence. It’s a family member. I had been sexually abused as a child by the only man who meant anything to me in my life. He was also a family member and he abused me for three years. My Mom was also suffering from alcoholism and depression. So, pretty much my Sister and I had to raise ourselves. But in spite of all of that, I was able to get out of that environment.
I was the first person in our family to graduate high school even though I wasn’t that great of a student academically. I graduated the top of my class early at the age of twenty. Out of ten thousand students on my campus I was the only African American male in all of my classes. I was voted student of the year out of ten thousand students on my campus. I also made history in the state of Florida by becoming the youngest professor to ever hire to teach in the state of Florida at the age of twenty-four. By the time I reached the age of thirty I had already started a business at the age of twenty-two. I got married at the age of twenty-two as well. I had my doctorate degree and had already worked for the Florida Governors office as well and written several books by the way. So, from the outside looking in despite where I came from, I had succeeded.
I had succeeded as a male but I ultimately failed as a man because I no clue, no idea how to love a wife even though I got married at age twenty-two or how to raise a son even though my son was born at age twenty-seven. I did not have a model. I did not have a plan of how to do that. I had given my life to the Lord at age twenty-seven by a student who led me to Christ. My conversion was sincere. I wanted to be everything that God wanted me to be. However, I didn’t surrender everything to God. I did not tell my wife about the abuse that I had suffered as a child. I did not tell her that I had developed an addiction to pornography which eventually turned into a sexual addiction. I did not tell her that I was sleeping around and I was committing adultery not just on one occasion but on several occasions. Eventually she found out and she wanted to end the marriage. Even though I fought for the marriage, I perfectly understood how I had betrayed her trust and totally destroyed our lives. I put my family at risk. I put myself and my health at risk, our finances at risk and I pretty much almost lost everything.
I decided to get my life back right with God. I repented and He forgave me of my sins. He showed me and extended to me grace and mercy. In fact, my ex-wife, I had done her so bad that she asked me how was I able to forgive myself. She said because she wanted to forgive me but she didn’t know how. She figured that if I could learn to forgive myself, if I could share with her how I was able to do that then maybe it would help her. I told her the reason I was able to forgive myself was because I really cried out to God. I had a difficult time of looking at what I had done to my family. But God spoke two things to me. He told me one; that I could not hate me more than He could loved me. That ministered to my heart. I could not hate myself more than He loved me. He told me to even try it and I couldn’t do it. Also, He shared with me that all the things that I had done to my wife and to my family, even things she never found out about because she didn’t ask. He said; “Everything you did Joe, my Son died for that too. There’s nothing that you have done or could do that my Son did not already die for.
So, I received that forgiveness but I had lost pretty much almost everything. But I still had these wounds and these deep scars from having a father wound from not having a man in my life to teach me how to be a husband or how to be a father. One day at a speaking engagement I was down in Miami ironically because I wasn’t living in Miami at the time. This young man came up to me and asked me to sign a book but he asked me to sign it to his Father. That shocked me because all the years I had been signing books (I had written several books) no one had ever asked me to sign a book to their Father before. So I asked him who his dad was. He told me that his dad was a school teacher like I was a school teacher. He told me that his dad was a school teacher in Miami in the same neighborhood that I grew up in. Now the thing that was shocking to me about this was that this boy that had asked me to sign this book for his dad, this boy was white. He was a college student. He said his dad was teaching in my old community. You have to understand. I didn’t meet a white child until I was until I was twelve years old living in Miami. So, to know that there was a white man teaching in an inner city school, I was intrigued. So I asked him about his dad. He told me how great his dad was and that his dad loved my book on servant leadership. So I gave this young man my card and asked him to just keep in touch with me because he obviously had a great dad and I would love to find out how his life turns out because I didn’t have a father like that. Little did I know that he would give his dad that card. His dad called me up. His dad introduced himself and he told me about his life. He invited me to come down to Miami to speak. It changed my life. I went down to see him and to speak at some of the schools that he wanted me to speak at his school that was in my old neighborhood. I had never returned to my old neighborhood to speak before. He let me into his life for five days and it changed my life. Not only was he a Christian but he showed me what a Christian father and husband looked like. By the way, he had eight kids. They were all living with him. He had his eight children there including his son who had given him my card. I had dinner with them. I sat at the table with them and I saw how they interacted as a family. I watched how he communicated and loved his wife and how his wife respected him. I watched him and he included me in their prayers together and their devotional read. He didn’t just tell me about being a Christian. He showed me what a Christian really looked like in real time. It changed everything for me. When he was taking me back to the airport, I could not believe what I had experience over those last five days. He gave me all these resources, books, cd’s and DVD's to watch on how it helped him with his sons. He had five sons and three daughters and how he was able to teach them certain things like how to pray, read the bible, study the bible, to be able to communicate with them, and how to date his daughters. I was so overwhelmed that I was in tears. He looked at me and asked; “Why are you crying?” I told him, I said; “My whole entire life I was looking for someone to teach me how to be a man.” I have learned everything like how to be a business owner. I learned how to buy my first house before I graduated college, how to ace college, how to do a lot of things, how to succeed professionally on a job and how to network professionally with other people. But no one had ever taught me how to be a man. I told him, I said; “I know you have eight children but will you adopt just one more?” He broke down and cried. He accepted and adopted me into his family. That has been a relationship that I have continued for the last fourteen years. He’s helped me grow in Christ. He’s helped me grow in my faith. More importantly, he has shown and demonstrated what a real man is.
Now I am happily remarried to a wonderful woman. My son now lives with me. I have a daughter that my wife had and she’s now my daughter. Now I am the spiritual leader of our home. The best compliment that I have ever received from my wife and from my children is that my wife said that if she had it to do all over again, that she would marry me all over again. My son and my daughter look at me with a sense of respect that; “that’s the kind of man I want to be.” That’s what my son says. My daughter says; “That’s the kind of man I hope to some day marry.” I can’t thank God enough for his grace and his mercy. Because like He said; there’s no possible way that I could hate myself more than He loves me.