Father to the Fatherless

I have learned more about my father in the last week, since his untimely death, than I ever imagined.  Sifting through thousands of pictures, it’s incredibly difficult to boil down his life and impact into a slide show that won’t take 3 hours.

Murray William Barrett… Dad, as I have always known him, became fatherless at the age of three. This means my father was raised by a single mom back when being a single mom wasn’t common.

Rather than become rebellious, dad developed a heart for helping other fatherless boys. His mother knew she couldn’t teach dad how to be a man so she intentionally found other men to come alongside and be the father figure he needed. My father paid that forward by investing in fatherless boys, and preteens in general, for the rest of his life.

For privacy reasons, I cannot post the names or pictures of my father investing in the next generation, which span from his college years up till the week before he passed. (A sample of these pictures will be represented in the slides presented at Saturday’s memorial service.) Throughout all his “college years” pictures, I didn’t find one picture of my dad at a party or hanging out with friends. They are all pictures of him with boys at a nearby boarding school.

During my dad’s time in the Marine Corps, he was involved in work with South Texas Children’s Home. His investment was such an impact that he made the news and is in an article asking people to “adopt” fatherless children. Dad also took his squadron of pilots out to the home to help with various service projects. He was involved with South Texas Children’s Home to the point that they continued sending my grandmother letters years after he had already moved elsewhere.

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My father served in United States Marine Corps but knew he wanted to return to working with boys.  Once his service was complete, dad became the Lower School Headmaster at Hargrave Military Academy. His second year in that role, my father was told he must teach middle school math. This serendipitous coincidence unearthed in my dad a love of teaching and he immediately knew what he wanted to do with his life.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America had a special place in dad’s heart and he mentored boys through the program in three different cities as his career moved him around the country.  After my parents were married and moved to Oklahoma City for my mom’s military assignment, he applied for a new “little brother” … but then found out mom was expecting and was encouraged to focus on his new child.

Dad accepted this guidance, but still continued to invest in the children of Oklahoma, primarily through teaching in the local schools and being involved in the church.  I know this not from memory (I was one when we left Oklahoma), but because Oklahoma State Representative Scott Inman talked about it on the news.

Throughout our childhood, I can’t remember my father ever missing a recital, sporting event, or church play. We took family trips and had amazing experiences. Looking back, I can see opportunities to make more money that my father passed up to ensure he was fully present for his children.

While dad was always invested in children’s ministries or youth groups, no matter where we lived, it’s in New Braunfels that his impact is most visible to me. This is partially because I was older when we moved to New Braunfels but also partially because my parents have lived here for nearly 16 years, longer than any other place in their lives.

My father taught at New Braunfels Middle School but he wasn’t just there to teach math and collect a paycheck.  He invested in his students far beyond what is expected of a teacher and sought to impart maturity, self-image, and confidence in every child that entered his classroom.

Mom and dad became involved with the Awana ministry their first year in New Braunfels and have continued to work with it ever since. Currently my mom is the commander and dad was the games director, leaving big shoes to fill for whomever comes behind.

My parents started teaching the preteens at First Baptist Church in 2003 and have continued to lead that class to this day. Between these two programs, an entire generation has come up under dad’s love and silliness, balanced with mom’s structure and forethought.

When my younger sister went off to college, dad decided that it was time to return to Big Brothers Big Sisters for a new “little brother” and has been filling the role of mentor and father figure to a fatherless boy ever since. Although the time came to retire from his consistent teaching schedule, dad quickly enrolled as a substitute, amplifying his impact as he was no longer limited to one school or one classroom.

As a deacon, my father prayed for and visited widows. Eventually Billy convinced him that he was a senior adult and should join the Sunshine Singers, FBCNB’s senior adult choir. He took part in service projects and was always there for someone in need.

But my dad’s heart belonged to children and there was a special space reserved for boys who, like himself, lacked their father. This is not something that happened because he sought significance in his retirement.  Dad’s entire life was marked by this passionate investment, whatever way he could, wherever he lived.

Where some, when faced with the tragedy of being fatherless, would become inward focused and selfish, my father looked outward and sought opportunities to be that father for anyone who had a need. My hope is that I can carry on his legacy and leave just a fraction of the impact on the world that he has had.

That is how I will honor his life now that he is gone.

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3 thoughts on “Father to the Fatherless

  1. Karen Brinkley Presley

    I thoroughly enjoy reading each post about Murray. I was friends with him in college at SWT. We both worked and lived at San Marcos Baptist Academy to pay for college. Murray was just as you describe. I always remember him with at least 3 lower school boys hanging off of him. He didn’t see his role with them as a job. It was his passion. He was a great friend, a gentleman, and lots of fun to be around. I was overwhelmed by the strength each family member as you honored him yesterday. The perfect tribute for an amazing man. Hugs and prayers to the entire family.

    Like

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