For 13 years, no greeting card described how Rick Stuck felt about Father’s Day.
Not one said, “Thanks for bailing” or “Thanks for giving up on us.”
Stuck was 7 when his dad died. For a long time, he thought overwork and alcohol took him too soon.
Over the years, he missed having a dad—someone to help him navigate life, throw a ball, sit in the stands to cheer. Someone to help his mom pay bills and care for the kids. Someone to keep his family from homelessness or despair.
Father’s Day reminded Stuck of loss.
“June 9, 2006, was my first Father’s Day without a dad,” the 21-year-old member of Southeast Christian Church said. “The pain hadn’t quite hit me yet, and during the next few years, I celebrated my mom on Father’s Day.”
In high school, Stuck learned that his dad overdosed on a lethal mix of cocaine and fentanyl.
It seemed like the ultimate betrayal, and bitterness festered as others celebrated Father’s Day.
“I believed my father loved drugs more than me,” Stuck said. “That he would rather have drugs than raise my sister and me, that he didn’t love us. I blamed him for everything that was wrong with me: awkward social skills, the fact we were poor, how hard my mother worked to pay the bills, the fact we often had nowhere to stay.”
Stuck’s mom tried. She worked nights at a gas station in addition to day jobs. She took her family to church on Christmas and Easter. She prayed life would get better.
Southeast member Steve Koch met her at the gas station where she worked and often invited her to church.
Stuck visited Southeast’s Indiana Campus in the eighth grade. His small group leader, Scot Haire, took him out to dinner on his birthday, took him shopping for shoes before school started and sponsored him for Bible & Beach so he could have a week of fun and learn about Jesus in Florida.
“Those simple acts meant everything,” Stuck said. “For a lifetime, I will remember those acts of love from a mentor who simply loved me.”
By Stuck’s senior year of high school, his family had moved 12 times, often bunking with family members or friends. Another move to a trailer 45 minutes away meant he’d be far away from school, sports and church.
Caleb Hutchcraft, the new high school pastor at the Indiana Campus, invited Stuck to stay with his family. They had no idea that invitation was another chapter in an epic story of life change.
“I lived with a pastor who never pushed the Gospel on me, who poured into me, listened and simply loved me for who I was and showed me tangible love,” Stuck said.
Another Indiana Campus member hosted Stuck’s high school graduation party. Others invited him to family outings and get-togethers. They paid for missions trips and Bible & Beach. They helped Stuck’s mother move.
Perceptions of Father’s Day began to change.
“This is what I remember on Father’s Day,” Stuck said. “We love because Jesus first loved us. God pursued me through the hearts of fathers in my church. He wanted me to know that I was loved, that I mattered, and that He had a plan for my life. He let me know that no matter what darkness I go through, He is always there. He is more faithful than any father on earth ever will be. He is life-giving, and He is love.”
Now Stuck is a pre-med student at Indiana University in Bloomington. He also serves in the U.S. Army National Guard and the IU ROTC.
Hutchcraft and Stuck talked on Father’s Day.
“Ricky is creating a legacy in his life,” Hutchcraft said. “His children will know a good dad. His wife will know a good husband. Ricky is an example of how the Lord provides through His church. He’s an example of hope.”
Stuck has big goals.
“As a physician I want to save as many fathers as possible both in the civilian and military populations because children deserve their fathers, and they need to know they are loved,” he said. “But even more, I want to show the tangible love through the wisdom of medicine, to show the love of Jesus as it has been shown to me.”
And the father Stuck barely remembers?
“I forgave him,” Stuck said. “He came from a fatherless home and could not control the darkness, pain, poverty and fatherlessness in his own childhood. I love him, and I thank him for the unconditional love he showed me while he was on earth. I wouldn’t trade my story. All this made me into the man that I am today, and allowed me to meet Jesus.”