When the fatherless kills a father

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 | Lonnie Poindexter | Family

The tragic event that took place in Cleveland on Easter Sunday haunts me. I know all too well the importance of the presence of the father and patriarch in the family.

Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old man saddled with gambling debt and grieving the loss of a longtime girlfriend, took it upon himself to unleash his personal pain on a father, a grandfather, and a great grandfather. That patriarch, Mr. Robert Godwin, Sr., was a 74-year-old retiree who was picking up discarded aluminum cans after having Easter dinner with his family when he was approached by Stephens, who asked him if he knew his girlfriend, Joy Lane. He then told Mr. Godwin to repeat her name, and with coldness of heart, he shot Mr. Godwin at point-blank range, telling him it was because of his estranged girlfriend. Stephens recorded the whole gruesome event and played it on Facebook Live, stating as he pulled up in his car that he was going to “kill this old guy.”

As the nationwide manhunt ensued, it occurred to me that while members of both Mr. Godwin’s and Stephens’ family were being interviewed by media, no mention was made of Stephens’ father. They interviewed his mother, Maggie Green, who said Stephens had visited her prior to the event and said goodbye and that it would be the last time she would see him. She told the press that she told him to “not go and do anything stupid.”

As I pondered on the horrid event, I watched how Mr. Godwin’s family rallied together when they heard the news. I watched as a local Fox affiliate interviewed one family member after another -- his son, Robert, Jr., his daughter, Debbie, even his grandchildren -- who all expressed the love they had for their patriarch. Mr. Godwin had nine children, 14 grandchildren, and multiple great-grandchildren. It’s obvious they all loved him deeply, and it was evident in the pain shown on their faces and in their voices that his death is a tragic loss.

Now contrast that with the murderer, Steve Stephens. No doubt a loss to his family as well, including his estranged girlfriend, who said he was good to her children. His mother, friends, and associates have also expressed their sadness at his heinous act and eventual suicide.

All week I have asked myself, “Where was his father? Why hadn’t he been interviewed? Why hadn’t he called out through the media for his son to surrender?” I scoured the Web for any reference to his dad’s presence in his life, but I could find nothing.

Stephens was obviously a troubled young man. Mounting gambling debts, bankruptcy, and the breakup with his longtime girlfriend were no doubt troubling him. He mentioned in his Facebook ramblings that even his mother didn’t care.

I sense the core of Stephens’ issues was his inability to navigate the rougher patches in life, or what I call critical thinking. I was taught critical thinking by my father. He taught me how to stand firm during difficult circumstances and to “calm down and think things through, Son.” My father also taught me by example. I watched him do that “man thing” day in day and out during my formative years.

I remember when I was in my 30s and a budding entrepreneur, I had fallen in love with a beautiful young lady who seemed to adore me. But of late, our relationship had gotten rocky, and she eventually broke up with me. Distraught, I asked my father, “Do you think she loved me?” He put his arm around my shoulder, chuckled, and told me, “Yeah, I think she loved you, Son. She just didn’t love the fact you didn’t have any money anymore.” You see, our business had fallen on hard times, and my business partner and I had to tighten our belts. So I could no longer afford to take her to dinner at fancy restaurants or buy her nice things. My dad then gave me a big hug and told me I would hurt for a little bit, but I would be alright. He was right; I got over the hurt and moved on with my young life and learned that no matter how bad I felt or how I had been wronged, this too would pass. He taught me to learn from my mistakes and persevere. And that is the key to a successful life.

My dad coached me through many rough patches in my life and still coaches me today. One of his favorite sayings is, “You have bigger fish to fry, Son. Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That was/is his way of telling me to stay focused on my goals. His keys to success are simple and what I live by today: 1. Faith in God, 2. Stay focused on your goals, and 3. Don’t sweat the small stuff (because you have bigger fish to fry).

If I were Stephens’ father, I would have been shouting from the rooftops and on every channel on TV, “Son, turn yourself in. You have bigger fish to fry.” Better yet, If I had been Stephens’ father, I don't think he would have ever committed that heinous crime in the first place, because I would have taught him critical thinking from the time he was a little boy. I would have taught him my dad’s three keys to success.

Prayers for both the Godwin and the Stephens family for strength, healing, and forgiveness. This tragic event is the byproduct of the fatherless generation.