I consider Dennis one of my best friends, a man who stands by me and works hard to understand me when others more easily cast me aside.
Dennis wasn’t always this way towards me, nor was I towards Dennis. Pain in both of our lives has made us different and better men. In a conversation today he told me, “Though I was the birth father of Nate, Nate was the birth father of the reborn Dennis.”
I mentioned that I walked through parts of their story:
- I was in Dennis’ home within hours of him and Susan hearing that their 27-year-old son was dead.
- I was at the viewing where family and friends gathered to weep over their loss.
- I met with Dennis before the funeral, just to let him spill his heart and cry with him.
- I was at the funeral with my entire family lending whatever support we could.
- I was at the graveside service, holding Dennis’ grandson, who was too wiggly to stay in his mother’s arms. I walked and cuddled with Cole, as his uncle, whom he never met, was placed in the ground.
I read the book the first time when Dennis was looking for feedback about the story, the flow, and how his message came across. The second time was with the finished manuscript, which will be released in March of 2013.
Both times I called Dennis when I was finished and said, “I don’t know how you will ever get over Nate’s loss.” Both times we cried together.
But Beautiful Nate isn’t a book about grief or losing a child; though the themes of both are present. It also has themes about intentional child rearing – although not in a How-To outline. Dennis and Susan went into parenthood with purpose. They sought out mentors, they read books, they listened to Focus on the Family – Dennis even worked for the Idaho Family Forum for a decade. The Mansfields choose to home-schooled their kids, being involved in every part of their children’s education. They followed all of the conservative instructions, yet Nate’s life didn’t fall into line with their desired plans and goals.
Our children aren’t born with a printed guarantee or a warranty plan.
Nate made some hard choices in this life – with the friends he choose to hang out with and the drugs he choose to take. These decisions landed him in a county jail and later a prison in Missouri.
The toll this took on Nate’s family can’t really be measured – drug addiction is an ugly monster with tentacles that touch everyone in proximity. Dennis is open about how it affected him, even his career.
Still this book is not a How-To keep your kids from drugs, or what to do if your kids do become addicted. More than anything this is a story about a father and a son, who both dearly love each other, who have some significant ups and downs, and whose time together on this side of eternity was cut way too short.
I sat in a meeting last week in Dennis’ home, his living room full of unique men that Dennis has made his friends. In a moment of humility and wonder Dennis says, “Gentlemen, what if we’ve been wrong…” The question lingers and no one easily addresses it because there are no simple answers to that devastating inquiry. We want to be right. We strive to know. It is a huge part of our identity and it is the measuring stick that we use to draw lines in the sand about who is on whose side.
Being right can be its own addictive, crippling drug.
When we think we have life all figured out and have all of the answers, we put ourselves at risk; if our experience doesn’t meet our expectations then what? We usually find ourselves imprisoned by our own judgments – and we try to escape with excuses while the inner turmoil and shame just drags us further into the cell. The only freedom comes from the realization of our own brokenness and the ability to humbly admit we don’t know it all. Dennis is a free man and that is of more value than being right.
Beautiful Nate is a beautiful story; yes there is tragedy, but there is also new life. And Dennis honors his son by sharing their journey together in this book. I hope you take the time to read it. Get to know beautiful Nate, and get to know reborn Dennis.