My Father's Absence: Lecrae on Growing Up Without a Dad

I’ve heard people say that the traumas from our childhoods follow us into adulthood. That’s certainly true for me. If you could trace my life’s biggest struggles back to their origin, most of them would lead to a childhood version of me wrestling with my father’s absence.

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My mom, Ormie, had unexpectedly gotten pregnant when she was only 23. She had already broken up with my dad and the two knew they were young and immature, but they decided to get married anyway. 

That’s just what you did in those days under such circumstances.

But my parent’s biggest problems didn’t stem from their ages; they resulted from my father’s abusive personality. He was using drugs and drinking heavily. His unpredictable temper combined with her fiery disposition made for an explosive situation. Not one conducive for raising an infant.

My mom knew my dad was one bad trip away from getting really ugly. Before I even reached my first birthday, my mom snatched me up and escaped. I became a fatherless child before I could even pronounce the word daddy.

Struggling to Make Ends Meet

Raising me by herself meant struggling to make ends meet. We were on government assistance, but my mom worked multiple jobs to make sure we never lacked basic necessities. We always had food on the table. It may have been liver and cheap meat and government cheese, but the table was never bare.

Our clothes came from Goodwill, but we were never without shoes or shirts. As a result, I didn’t realize I was poor as a child. I knew we didn’t have as much as some of the other kids in school, but I assumed we were like a lot of other normal people.

Whatever I lacked in terms of financial resources, I made up for with machismo. In first grade, when most children learn basic addition and subtraction, I knocked a kid’s tooth right out of his mouth. In fourth grade, when kids are experimenting with the scientific method, I was formally (but incorrectly) accused by my school administration of gang activity.

Part of my bravado was a way to hide the nagging feelings of insignificance as a young kid. My mother and my aunts tried their best to encourage me and tell me they believed in me, but the unspoken forces in the world made me feel like “less than.” Even though I wrestled with self-esteem and a lack of identity, I couldn’t articulate it. And when I did, others didn’t seem to care. So I began to believe that my problems and pain weren’t important. That I should keep these thoughts bottled up, which only worked until the anger built up and spilled over on those around me.

The Nagging Questions and the Source of My Pain

“Why are you always acting out, Lecrae?” my mom often asked me after I had gotten into trouble.

I shrugged my shoulders like I didn’t know. But deep down, I did know the source of it all.

Underneath all of my pain and misbehavior was a sense of emptiness. After my mom and I escaped my dad’s instability, he decided to stay gone and stay away. And the hole left by my father’s absence throbbed constantly like an open wound that refused to scab over. On a lazy Saturday, my mind would sometimes flood with questions: 

Where is my dad right now? Is he thinking of me too? If so, why doesn’t he find me? Why doesn’t he at least call me?

The years rolled on, but the pain never disappeared. I mourned my dad’s absence and yearned for his presence. Every child wants and needs a father, and mine didn’t want anything to do with me. No phone calls. No birthday cards. No arm around the shoulder after a bad day at school. (Actually, one call and one card.)

The Epidemic of Fatherlessness in America

I’m not the only kid to grow up with this pain. Millions of fatherless children in America struggle with this reality. The loneliness. The missing person in the stands when they finally hit the home run. The pain of watching their mothers struggle to bear the burden of a two-person job. The sinking feelings one gets when the sun rises on yet another Father’s Day. And, of course, the hundreds of aching, unanswered questions that leave them wanting to scream, “How come he don’t want me?” like Will in that famous scene from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” after his deadbeat dad leaves again.

I’ve heard people say that the traumas from our childhoods follow us into adulthood. That’s certainly true for me. If you could trace my life’s biggest struggles back to their origin, most of them would lead to a childhood version of me wrestling with my father’s absence. Even when I wasn’t rebelling or having an emotional breakdown, there was a dull, throbbing sense of rejection and abandonment.

In the swirling pain of abandonment and insignificance, I searched for someone—anyone—I could look up to. My cousins and uncles filled this role somewhat as the only older males in my life. They were my surrogate role models, but no one filled in the cracks completely. They were more like pieces of a composite dad. Each had their strengths.

But unlike the father I wanted, I didn’t see my uncles and cousins everyday. Some lived close by, but most were half a continent away. I wanted role models who really understood me and never left my side. I wanted role models who spoke my language and were willing to tell me the truth about life. And this is where hip-hop rushed in like water to fill the cracks left by my father’s absence.

Continue Reading:

From Rehab to Redemption: The True Story of Lecrae (Part 1 of 2) 

What My Grandmother Taught Me About Jesus

Article courtesy of Parent Life magazine. Excerpted from Unashamed by Lecrae. Copyright B&H Publishing Group 2016.

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Lecrae is a two-time Grammy Award winning hip-hop artist, has been nominated for five Grammy Awards, fourteen Dove Awards and a Billboard Music Award, Soul Train Music Award, and BET Hip-Hop Award. Lecrae is founder of ReachLife, a nonprofit that seeks to bridge the gap between faith and the urban context. He resides in Atlanta with his wife, Darragh and three children. Learn more about his autobiography, Unashamed.