Lewis Whitaker is all smiles these days.
But that wasn’t the case when he was a kid.
“I couldn’t be a child. I guess that’s why I smile and act so goofy today. It’s because you never knew what my father was going to do to us, what time he was going to do it and what kind of mood he was in,” said Whitaker, 59. “I didn’t have a chance to act like a child because I was so scared of what he might say or do. I think that’s why I’m so happy today because of that. Now I smile because of where God has brought me.”
Whitaker grew up going to church. But his father physically and mentally abused him, his siblings and his mother.
“That went on for probably 20 years,” Whitaker added. “It takes a toll on you mentally. This man that brought me into this world, how can he slap, kick and beat your mother and abuse his family that he loved so much?”
Whitaker left home at 21, but he reconnected and reconciled with his dad about 10 years later.
“I’ll never forget it. We were outside in his backyard. I was afraid to go in the house because of what took place in the rooms,” he said. “Out of the clear, blue sky, he says, ‘Son, I’m sorry. It wasn’t your mother’s fault. It was my fault. I got out into the streets and started doing things, and I brought it home.’”
When Whitaker was in his 40s, he heard his father say the words he had longed for since he was a little boy.
“Over the phone, for the first time, he said, ‘I love you son.’ Now he does it on a regular basis,” Whitaker said. “Now I can go over to his house, sit in the backyard and we can talk about cars, boating or fishing.”
Whitaker and his wife, Sherrie, have been married 33 years. They have three adult children and are expecting their first grandchild in February. They have been Southeast Christian Church members for about 15 years.
Lucky number seven
Whitaker jokes that he had a drug problem in his early 20s.
“When guys tell me they have a drug problem, I tell them all the time, ‘So did I.’ My mom drug me to church, drug me to Sunday School and drug me to Bible study,” Whitaker said.
There were seven women—his mom, sisters, aunts and cousins—who kept Whitaker accountable from straying down the wrong path.
At 18, he and seven of his high school friends were baptized.
It wasn’t until he met seven men a few years later—men much older than he—who “took him under their wing” that he truly began living for Christ.
“These men set the foundation for who I am today,” Whitaker added. “These seven men allowed me to accompany them as they visited the sick and delivered communion to the elderly. That kept me out of a whole lot of things I could have gotten into. These seven men never told me what to do or how to do it because a true mentor leads by example.”
Whitaker initially struggled to trust the men because of his experience with his father, but he eventually began to follow their examples. And when he became a father himself, he made it a point to let his children know that he loved them and to take an interest in their lives. He faithfully attended baseball and basketball games and parent-teacher conferences.
Now Whitaker invests in the lives of men.
It is a supernatural act of God that he has been volunteering in Men’s Mentoring for almost two years.
“I could not talk to guys 20 years ago,” Whitaker said. “The atmosphere that I grew up in—coming from guys—there was just no way. It got better in my 40s—and as I got older—I realized there are certain things that my aunts and cousins couldn’t talk to me about.”
Men’s Mentoring is a one-on-one discipleship program designed for those experiencing a season of struggle who would like help becoming a spiritual leader. Mentors provide guidance in a variety of areas—from marriage, parenting and career changes to finances, anxiety and addictions—with the ultimate purpose of connecting to Jesus.
Whitaker often mentors men who have a father wound, such as having a dad who was an alcoholic.
“I’m not afraid to sit and look a guy in the eye and talk to him,” Whitaker said. “I talk to a lot of guys. The guys walking around now are depressed because of past hurt, and I felt that way for a long time. I felt like a rat in a cage running around in circles and came to the realization, ‘OK. This has to stop. There’s got to be a better way of life.’”
For info on Men’s Mentoring, call (502) 253-8400 or visit southeastchristian.org.