faithful fathering

Rick Wertz is a father. I would venture to say that he is an exceptional father, with all the love, strength and passion that most fathers would aspire to match. But almost 25 years ago, at a time in Rick’s life when anyone outside of his immediate family would have seen a successful, driven professional - “a man on the rise”, he experienced an awakening, one that would take him on a path of ministry and influence that touches hundreds of fathers every year in our community and beyond.

I met Rick one evening, a week or so ago in the FUMC foyer, after reaching out to him and asking if I could learn more about his Faithful Fathering initiative. My desire was to write an article, focusing not as much on the mission statement of his organization, but more on his personal inspiration and motivation – in other words, what makes a man walk away from a promising engineering and operational management career with an industry leading oil and gas drilling services conglomerate, to start a faith-based fathering initiative.  (Picture: Rick & Linda Wertz)   

I felt that it was initially imperative that I explain my “charge” to Rick, the same way that I had expressed my desired contribution to Pastor John and FUMC Communications Director Joan Myskowski. I wanted to write a periodic feature column for the church that could educate and inspire our parishioners, with human interest stories, member profiles, or a behind the scenes look at outreach efforts and their effects on the community we serve. I did however convey to Rick that his Faithful Fathering website, with its multitude of videos, program and study guides, calls to action, etc. could speak to his ministry far better than I could, and that I really wanted to communicate his personal story – the “man behind the movement” so to speak. What he shared with me, with full unabashed disclosure and humility, was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Perhaps because he and I are close to the same age, married to the loves of our lives for (37) and (35) years respectively, each with a son and daughter the same ages although reversed, there was enough common ground to bond immediately.

I have a strong impression that the early years in Rick’s life are not a secret, and I now know with absolute certainty that the challenges he endured and overcame significantly shaped him into the man of faith and purpose that he is today.

Raised in Kansas City, Missouri (also my mother’s hometown, another Wertz/Troth connection) Rick’s mother insured that he had an early and consistent relationship with Christ. Deeply rooted, he still credits that foundation as the basis for his faith today, and perhaps was a saving grace of light within a much troubled household. Rick’s mother married his father shortly before he was deployed as a combat, naval fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during WWII. After his return, they started a family with Rick as the only son and youngest child. He has three older sisters. Rick described his father as an abusive and violent alcoholic, to the extent that he left home at age (13) to live with his oldest sister and her husband. Shortly thereafter, Rick’s parents divorced and he and his father were completely estranged. At that juncture Rick had two prayers that carried him through young adulthood. Firstly, that he would be blessed with a happy and healthy marriage and family, and secondly that he would be able to provide for that family and live above the poverty line, a level of measure that had never been surpassed in his childhood. His mother never remarried, and surprisingly remained a supportive and devoted friend in his father’s life. All three sisters have been divorced, one having divorced twice, possibly a bi-product of the environment that drove Rick away from home in early adolescence.

Having been blessed with both athleticism and academic discipline, Rick excelled in school, and initially attended junior college in Kansas for two years on scholarship where he met Linda, his wife to be. The connection and attraction was evident, but they matriculated to different public universities (Kansas and Oklahoma State). Still Rick knew, and most likely Linda did also, that they would re-unite after they both graduated, but according to Rick’s standard of responsibility, not until he was gainfully employed and stable. He did not wish to marry Linda and take her away from her friends and family until he knew that he could adequately provide for her over the long term. Two years after stepping on to the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, he exited with a mechanical engineering degree in hand (normally a five year program but he had accelerated the effort due to lack of funds – another testament to his drive and resolve). More than a dozen job offers followed, and he accepted a Field Engineer position with Schlumberger in Oilfield Services. With the boxes checks (education, and employment first) Rick and Linda were married in 1980.

For fifteen years, Rick toiled at the industry standard (12+ hour days) progressing quickly within a company where hard work,technical aptitude, superior training and initiative were handsomely rewarded with more responsibility and longer hours! Promotions from Field Engineer to Sales to Operations Manager took Rick and Linda from Wichita Falls, to Pampa, and then to Midland where they started their family. Daughter Amanda arrived in 1986 and son Tom came along in 1988. Linda raised the children, managed the household and the family budget. In 1990 Rick accepted a management promotion in New Orleans, and then followed that role with back-to-back international positions in London and Norway. His family, of course, joined him overseas. There were certainly ups and downs and highs and lows, but the Wertz family was solid and united. The two primary goals which Rick had prayed for years ago (the loving family and financial stability) were not only a reality, but had far exceeding his levels of expectation.

With the foundation of Rick’s story now communicated, in itself amazing and inspirational, Rick proceeded to share the most revealing and humbling events relating to his evolution as a man, husband and father. Specifically highlighted were three defined moments of clarity or “turning points” that solidified his future path and influenced his later calling to the Faithful Fathering ministry. I am labeling the first two events with words of his choosing.

The Awakening

With Amanda and Tom at ages 5 and 2 ½, Rick had often been absent from home for significant periods of time on business. He returned one day from another trip, and looked through the window to the back yard and casually asked Linda, “Who is that playing with Amanda?” Linda looked at him, perhaps with a smile on her face although more likely with a bit of puzzlement, and said, “Rick, that’s your son. You’ve been traveling far too much.” Now, that could have been an easy incident to overlook - merely a momentary disconnect after a weary day, week, or month. But Rick remembers it profoundly, and refers to that moment in time as an “awakening”, even a divine intervention. He felt the presence of Jesus Christ attesting to that single defining incident with magnitude and enormity, the undeniable fact that a father had not recognized his own son.

Even without all the benefits and depth of knowledge that he would later obtain with his future fathering education, Rick was awakened to the painful truth that his presence with Amanda and Tom had been severely lacking - and even when his presence was in play, his engagement had been absent as well. These failings, strongly recognized if not yet understood, would later become cornerstones of his fathering initiative. Not long after this awakening, followed by plenty of prayer and soul searching with Linda and fueled with all the emotions that go into life changing decisions, Rick resigned from Schlumberger and moved his family to Houston.

He worked as a consultant for some time, leveraging his professional skill sets with former clients and colleagues, while benefiting from the flexibility of schedule that enabled him to stay connected and present with his children. He turned down lucrative job offers which could have once again required family time sacrifices, while risking the same disengagement from which he had escaped.

The Redemption

This turning point pre-dated his Schlumberger resignation, but still had a huge impact on Rick’s emotional and spiritual transformation moving forward. He had not spoken to his father for 15 years since the day he had left to live with his sister. His father had not attended Rick’s high school or college graduations, or even his wedding. With no common bond and none desired, Rick had remained steadfastly determined to be nothing like his father was, and to be everything that he wasn’t. When Amanda was born, Rick’s bitterness and resolve began to melt away with the single commonality of fatherhood. He broke the silence and invited his father to Midland so that he could meet his newborn granddaughter. The olive branch was accepted. As mutually emotional as that reunion must have been, Rick enhanced the opportunity by taking his father to the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, a tribute to the United States Navy and its action in the South Pacific theater of WWII. This tour had a profound effect on Rick (an undoubtedly on his father also), seeing the exhibits and viewing film of Hellcat fighter pilots ditching in the ocean and dying, as they ran out of fuel returning from missions. His father had survived those missions when many had not. He had never shared any of his experiences with his son. Rick told me in our interview, “I was convicted that if I would have had to do that in my early 20s, I may not have been able to get away from the alcohol either. So I asked my father if he would forgive me for judging him. I had judged a man when I had no right to do so.” His father said “Yes, I forgive you”. Granted, Rick admits that it would have been nice if his father had reciprocated and asked for his forgiveness for all the abuse and suffering that the family had endured, but “it was not about him,” Rick continued. “It was about me. We can only change one person.” In fact, Rick had honored his father by forgiving him, and for judging him without the true knowledge of what he had endured so many years ago. It was not a perfect relationship moving forward, but Rick’s redemption had opened the door and allowed his father to know his granddaughter, and later, also his only grandson.

That reconciliation between Rick and his father proved foundational for another defining moment during a father/son adventure in which Rick and his son participated. Early in the week Tom wrote a letter to his dad thanking him for being involved through coaching sports and other activities. He also mentioned that it would be okay if Rick wanted to use “the awakening” testimony in his ministry to encourage other dads to prioritize quality one-on-one time with their sons. Rick had been using the testimony for years believing that he already obtained his son’s approval. He quickly realized that the wound from the failure to recognize his son years ago was still very real and deep to Tom. He asked his son for forgiveness, and Tom graciously did so. It was proud moment for Dad, and he used that emotional exchange for another teachable moment. He told Tom that “only a man can forgive another man”. The bridge had been crossed.

Rick’s relationship with the National Center for Fathering began in 1996 through volunteerism and training roles, bolstered by continuing “fathering” related, theological based education. In 2000, he established and founded his own Texas based 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization - Faithful Fathering Initiative in Texas, Inc. The ministry is rooted and based with church involvement and approval, across all Christian denominations. He describes Faithful Fathering as an “upstream ministry – one father, one family, one church at a time”. Again, as I shared with Rick early in our meeting, I would bring little value to him or our parishioners by simply reciting what is already so well defined and explained on the Faithful Fathering website, He has done an extraordinary job with his marketing, communicating the organization’s mission statement and the range of services and education delivered.

As Rick and I passed the one hour time frame that I had promised not to exceed for the interview, and the time indeed flew by, he asked me again “Now, why are you doing this?” I clarified my charge again as committed to Joan and Pastor John, and my desire to do more than simply report, but to illuminate and inspire by focusing on the person more so than the initiative. In my banking world, analytics and financial spreads are basic, but getting behind the numbers and understanding people is equally as important. He said that he understood, but rather preferred that I not focus solely on Rick Wertz in my piece, but more on Faithful Fathering. I believe that I have found a proper balance here, but as I expressed that evening with Rick, the man behind the mission is the real story - his personal evolution in both action and thoughts, and the role that his faith has played in all that he does within the ministry. Acquiescing to my charge and accepting the fact that “the man” would be my primary focus, Rick then quickly deflected the lion’s share of all credit and success to his “bride”. I could easily relate.

Before we parted, Rick prayed with me and for me and my family. I have been blessed in many ways throughout my life. I was not at all privileged in my youth, but was fortunate to have had loving and giving parents who were both present and engaged in my life. I am proud to have a new friend in Rick, and he may possibly have a new recruit. He said that his ministry needs another “old man” in the equation. I was not offended.

~Mark Troth