My brother, Raymond…I would go to football games, it was incredible when I was a little kid going to the games. The announcer would say, “Ray Fitzhugh, the ball carrier…touchdown, Ray Fitzhugh.”
He was a tremendous student: 3.5 GPA from a private Jesuit Catholic high school, number one running back in the state of Ohio his senior year, scholarship offers from colleges throughout the country. Instead of opting for one of the scholarships, he joined the army and became an alcoholic. He was discharged from the army and continued a gradual decline. He was selling some drugs for a guy and shortchanged him. He told me they began shooting at him, and he saw sparks as bullets were flying off the fence as he tried to get away. That was his existence. He was totally wasted.
My dad lived on the other side of town and just didn’t have the influence in our lives. He has a Masters degree in physics. He is brilliant. He just didn’t know what it took to be a dad.
My sister was driving her 1976 Camaro, and she says, “Stevie, have you asked Jesus Christ to come into your heart yet?” I said, “No.” She said, “Do you want to?” I answered, “Yeah.” She said, “I’ve never done this before, but let’s pray and let’s do it.” She lead me in the sinners prayer as I received Jesus Christ into my life.
I remember being at the church picnic, following the pastor. I kind of worked my way up to get right behind him. I said, “Brother Ron?” He answered, “Yes?” I said, “I’d like to be baptized.” He said, “That’s great, son. Jesus was twelve years old when he started his ministry.”
My pastor at that church, Arlington Church of God, was a guy named Ron Fowler. He was my father figure. Besides being a pastor he was an All-American Nose Guard while attending Kent State University. The man loved on me. When I was at the state track finals, unbeknownst to me, he had been there taking photos of me throughout the track meet, warming up, stretching, & competing. Afterwards, he invited me to his house and began showing the Steve Fitzhugh slide show he had created. Wow! That man poured himself into me, as he does even today.
My dad has 4 great-grandsons he has never met. They are not even on his radar. As a Masters level professional, he retired after 44 years as a Senior Research and Development Engineer for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. During his career, he received three patent awards for his inventions for Goodyear. He had three laboratories. He is a brainiac. If he heard there was a new calculus course, he would enroll. He was always ahead of his time intellectually.
I have two fund-raising golf tournaments each year. My dad plays golf all the time. I invite him to come. I offer to pay his flight fare with my frequent flyer miles.
His answer? “No, son. The flight is too long.”
I argue. “Dad, the flight’s not that long.”
He replies, “Aw, son, I don’t really want to carry my clubs.”
Again, I try to persuade him, “Dad, you don’t have to worry about clubs. I’ll handle the clubs once you arrive. I have two golf tournaments a year.”
Dad says, “Aw, that’s all right.”
What he didn’t hear was his son saying, “Dad, why don’t you come and hang out with me? Spend some time with me. See where I live. See my house. See my Youth Center that’s been featured on PBS and has been on television all around.”
People know about the connection between my pastor and me. He always calls me one of his sons. My two daughters and I go to the airport to pick him up. We have handmade signs. As he rounds the corner, he sees these two little girls with signs that read, “Dr. Ron Fowler.” He didn’t recognize the girls, but when he saw me he realized they we my daughters. I asked him where he was staying. He answered, “We can get to that, son. The first thing I want to do? Take me to the house, the Youth Center. I must see it. My internal response was, “Whooooa!” He didn’t want to check into his hotel. He didn’t want to eat. The first thing he wanted to do was see the ministry he had heard about. That made me feel like a million dollars. In contrast, for twenty years I hadn’t been successful in my attempts to get my dad to come. Dr. Fowler not only comes, but the first thing he wants to do is see my Youth Ministry.
While taking my fifteen year old sophomore daughter to school, she says, “Dad, I was just thinking, “You’re, like, my best friend. I can talk to you about anything.” Not long ago I was with my oldest daughter who is twenty years old. I asked her, “What do you like most about your dad?” Her answer? “Date night.” What a surprise that was because there have been times I have taken our date night too casual. I’ve canceled a few because of a scheduling conflict. She has always said, “Okay.” These are real joys in life for me. The priceless moments that come unscripted.