As the nation pauses Sunday to recognize and pay tribute to fathers, one local pastor hopes he can share his experience as a father, a son, a divorcé with children and the shepherd of a flock of sons through his church in East St. Louis.
The Rev. Damon Mitchell, who has been the leader of St. Luke’s African Methodist Episcopal church since September 2014, will deliver a message from the pulpit that he has titled “Talk to Fathers.”
Mitchell said fathers should have an active role in children’s lives.
“Fathers have such a critical role in their children’s lives, especially boys. We are the males that the boys look up to and pattern their behavior after,” Mitchell said.
“We should take time out to appreciate the fathers and any persons who are father figures. It’s not easy to do everything that is required of you as a dad, but when you have children, you must do your job if your child is to have a chance at becoming a productive citizen, someone who has morals, principles and values to guide them on their life journey,” Mitchell said.
He said anyone who has assumed the father role for any child — anyone who has served as a mentor or role model or provided nurturing and guidance to a child — needs to be recognized on Father’s Day as well.
“I had a lot of mentors in my life who shepherded and provided guidance for me. One of those men was Ron Harris, the minister of music at my home church, Bethel AME Church in Madison. He always supported me no matter what the case may have been,” Mitchell said. “He loaded all of the young people up after choir practice and took us out for pizza. That was a really fun time.”
When Mitchell started college, Harris gave him money to buy textbooks.
Mitchell’s dad was not around for a lot of his life, and he said the people who stepped up keep him on the straight and narrow are individuals he will think about on Father’s Day. Mitchell’s parents separated when he was young, and his father lived in Missouri, while Mitchell lived in Illinois. His father had to work a lot, so there was little for him to be around Mitchell.
Mitchell was married for 10 years. He has been divorced for one year. His daughter is 9 and his son is 6. Mitchell said he instilled love, discipline, respect and faith in them. And, now that he is not married to their mother, the agenda is still the same, he said.
In many homes, it is the mother who has the child and juggles the day-to-day activities, a job, and raising the children. Mitchell said he understands the pressure that mothers go through. He is a father, works a full-time job, pastors a church and grew up in a single-parent home.
“It’s a lot of pressure, when you go from two incomes to one and you still have to provide the same things for the children. And, emotionally there never seems to be enough quiet time for yourself because of the multi-responsibilities. Finding a babysitter for a couple of hours can be rough,” Mitchell said.
Asked how his children have been affected by the divorce, Mitchell said, “My ex-wife gets them every other week and some days through the week. We remained friends and work together in the interest of our children. I told our children that their mom and I love them very much and the only ways their lives would be impacted is that some days they would be with their mom and some days they would be with me. I love my children, and whatever it takes to make them wholesome human beings, I am going to do.”
He said his message to fathers everywhere is, “Men who have children, take your role as fathers seriously.”
“The way a girl is treated by a loving father or father figure will show her how a man is supposed to treat her. And when she is ready to choose her mate, she will look for someone who will be good to her,” Mitchell said.
He added, “If a boy sees a father or father figure beat and abuse a woman, he is likely to do the same. What we project to our children, boys and girls, is what we can expect to see come from them. We must be the example we want our children to follow.”