Marvin Charles: From Drugs to D.A.D.S #54

Warwick Fairfax

February 2, 2021

From the tragic beginnings of being orphaned then abused by his guardian uncle, to his adulthood as a crack addict who fathered seven children by five woman, Marvin Charles was an unhappy story just waiting on a sad ending. But then he got sober and embraced God as his anchor — and dramatically rewrote his destiny. Divine Alternatives for Dads — D.A.D.S. — the nonprofit he founded 20 years ago after navigating the legal system to put his family back together, has helped 5,000 men reclaim their roles as fathers and learn the practical and emotional skills to knit their own families back together.
For more information about Marvin Charles and D.A.D.S, visit www.aboutdads.org
For more information about Crucible Leadership, visit www.crucibleleadership.com

Highlights

  • Marvin’s Leave it to Beaver childhood and how it was upended when his mom died (3:21)
  • His first punishment at his uncle’s hands — and its impact on his life (5:55)
  • Feeling free when he was removed from his abusive uncle’s guardianship (9:28)
  • How he repeated the same kinds of mistakes as his uncle when he became a father (11:33)
  • How the movie SUPERFLY changed his life … not for the good (13:08)
  • The perils of freedom (14:20)
  • How 90 days in a treatment center changed his life (15:23)
  • His addiction to crack unraveled his life (18:01)
  • How trying to abandon his 7-month-old daughter on a hospital’s steps helped him turn his life around (20:35)
  • The essential role his Christian faith played in his moving beyond his self-inflicted crucibles (25:14)
  • How he mended fences with his son, Marvin Jr. (26:40)
  • Discovering he was adopted … and meeting his biological mother and father (30:04)
  • How he put his family back together and built DADS (32:36)
  • The mission of DADS (36:34)
  • Helping men see fatherhood through a new set of lenses (41:36)
  • The power of unconditional love and support (50:17)
  • Why fatherlessness is like AIDS in its effect on society (52:15)
  • The episode’s key takeaway (58:40)

Transcript

Warwick F:
Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Marvin C:
The freedom that I had caused me to be arrested all over this country. It caused me to live a lifestyle that caused me to become an alcoholic addict. Now, I was free, and the thing about freedom is usually when a person gets free, they move into a particular community and they stay in that community, and so they become accustomed to that community and all that goes on in that community. If it’s drugs and alcohol, when you’re in a community or an environment that does that, and you don’t try to get out of that, because everything else seems strange to you, or unappreciative, you didn’t know that. Well, I did that. I did that for 20 plus years.

Marvin C:
I wound up having seven children from five different women, and then the desire to get clean came and went, but I never could hold that down because I didn’t have any focus.

Gary S:
That doesn’t sound too much like the fruits, at least the good fruits of freedom, does it? Yet that’s the life, today’s guest, Marvin Charles, lived for decades. The life he desperately wanted as an orphaned and abused child who just wanted to live life on his terms.

Gary S:
Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. You’ll hear today in Warwick’s extremely moving conversation with Marvin, how sometimes the things we long for to ease our pain can actually cause us more pain. Sometimes our crucibles, if we don’t process them wisely, can lead to more crucibles. But here’s the good news that Marvin’s story underscores. From your greatest pain can come your greatest triumph. He’s found a life of true significance through learning the lessons of his missteps and applying them to help men, many of whom are living just like he used to, embrace their role as fathers, and build lives of joy. He does it all through Divine Alternatives for Dads Services, acronym, DADS, the Seattle nonprofit he’s been running now for 20 years.

Warwick F:
Well, Marvin, thank you for being here. I love what your organization does. Divine Alternatives for Dads Services. I love what Gary just read about, what was it? Embracing a living God for a larger purpose?

Gary S:
That’s exactly it. Yep.

Warwick F:
Boy, that is powerful. Marvin, before we get into DADS and what you do, I’d love to hear a bit about you in the Seattle Area, understand. I’d love to hear a bit about your background growing up, early memories, kind of set the scene of who is Marvin Charles, and how did he grow up and a little about your family story.

Marvin C:
I’d be glad and honored to do that, Warwick. I’m born and raised in Seattle. I had what was called, I don’t know if you remember the program, Leave it to Beaver.

Warwick F:
Right.

Marvin C:
That was my family. It was the urban perspective of that, but I guess later on it became the Cosby, but trust me, all I knew was Leave it to Beaver. I had a sister, Marion and I. We were we had a mother and father in our home. My mom prepared lunch for us, we walked to school together when things were much more sensible during that time. It was the early ’60s. Then one day we came home from school and my mother was on the couch and she was on the couch for a couple of days, and then they rushed her off to the hospital and we never seen her again. Well, she passed away.

Marvin C:
I remember I was nine years old. My sister was seven, and my aunt and uncle came over. My father was there. He was a guy who spent a lot of time working. She took care of the home and the children and he worked and provided the resources that it took. But when this part of our life was stopped, we had to move to live with our aunt and uncle. This was the aunt and uncle that you had to dress up to go over to their house. They had plastic on their furniture. It’s the one you really didn’t want to go there, but so now we were living there.

Marvin C:
I remember the first thing my uncle told me was that wasn’t your mother, that’s not your father. You guys belong to the state, but we’re going to take care of you. I was nine years old. If I didn’t know anything else, I knew that at nine years old, that’s not what you tell a nine year old.

Warwick F:
When you heard that, you’re nine and they’re saying, we’re your aunt and uncle, but you belong to the state. Emotionally, what are you hearing from them?

Marvin C:
Well, you know what? Mind you, our mother had just passed away. I couldn’t get past that aspect of it. I remember running out the house and going next door and my cousin coming to get me, his son, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” It was what I knew that I was in for. I couldn’t even wrap my heads around what he said or what was taking place, it’s what’s getting ready to happen next. I stayed in that mind frame for six years when we went to move with my aunt and uncle. The first I got, I remember I was playing with my sister in my room, and I broke the window, my glass window pane, and so he made me go outside, get some bricks across the street in a lot, bring them back, crush them up on newspaper, then kneel in them while I held two other rocks over my shoulders.

Marvin C:
If I lowered my elbows below my shoulder, he threatened to hit me with this strap. That was the first punishment at 10 years old. That can give you a snapshot of what I was faced with for the next six years. Then I wore a Catholic uniform to a public school so all the kids made fun of me. It was really an alienation that from the time I was 10 years old till I was 16, that was really humiliating. I spent a lot of time living in my head, really living in my head. Didn’t have friends that I could play with or people I could count on. I always kid and joke about it, but I’m very serious about it. I felt like I never went to prison because I did a long time in prison because I had already did six years in prison, and that was my mindset.

Marvin C:
At the time I was 16, I really couldn’t take it anymore. I would complain to my guidance counselor at school, and I lost my door key. The guidance counselor said, listen, don’t run away. If you run away, run to the youth center, because if you don’t, the police will get you and just bring you right back. That was the only advice that … I have marinated on that advice for a long time, and so I lost my door key, came home one day, begged my sister to leave her key out. She left her key out. My uncle came home, stepped on the mat, found the key and was waiting for me when I came to the door, and he said, Listen, I want you to go get another brick from across the street.”

Marvin C:
I knew what punishment I was slated for. When I went to go get the brick, I just took off and kept running, and I ran to the youth center. They called him and told him that they had me and that there was no need for him to come looking for me, and they set a court date and they brought us together a week later. I remember my aunt, I’m sitting between my aunt and uncles the most. I was 16 years old. I was scared to death. I didn’t know what was going to take place. The judge asked my uncle, he said, “This child has told us about a number of different things that had taken place, and I want to know, are they true?”

Marvin C:
My uncle said, “Yes, your honor. I believe if a child lives in my household, he must abide by my rules and regulation.” The judge slammed the mallet down and said, I make this child a ward of the courts. I don’t think my uncle was expecting that.

Warwick F:
When the judge slams that hammer down, what do you think he was saying? He was giving a judgment about his rules and regulations on your uncle? What was that judgment that, that judge gave to your uncle, would you say?

Marvin C:
That I was to not go back to that household.

Warwick F:
But do you feel like in some sense he was condemning your uncle’s behavior or your uncle’s disciplinary philosophy or something?

Marvin C:
I think, for me, all I saw was I’m free. I mean, it’s like, I can imagine this, and I know this is probably not a ethical topic to speak about, but I just imagined myself what a slave must’ve felt like when they got a chance to see freedom and nothing stopped them. That was how passionate I was about just being free. Free of the stuff that I was faced with for the past six years. That was a good thing, but it was dangerous as well, but I only came to know that later.

Gary S:
Yeah.

Warwick F:
Right. I want to pick up that in a second, but your uncle obviously showed you plenty of discipline, but did he or your aunt give you an equal measure of love, that unconditional love that every human spirit craves sort of like milk? Was that any part of it?

Marvin C:
I don’t think so, and that’s something I’ve had a lot of time to ponder about. What gives me the significant understanding about that is because love wouldn’t allow me to go off the rails later on in my life, which then I realized I was recreating the same situation into my own children’s life. Why was that?

Warwick F:
Yeah, and that’s a scary thing that … I love history, and sadly history tends to repeat itself. Most of us throughout the last several hundred or thousand years, we don’t learn. People will persecute others, take advantage. You hear about people who are raised alcoholic homes and they become alcoholics, or they’d been abused as a kid and they abuse their own kids. I can’t imagine how you could possibly do that. I’m not a psychologist, but it seems like it’s all too common.

Marvin C:
But here’s why, because truth be told, you don’t know anything else. You only do what you know. If you were raised in an environment that those behaviors that you were faced with are what you learned, so then you come and grow up and then you’re faced with the same circumstances that you … I don’t mean the behavior part of it, but a circumstance like now I’m a father and I have a family, and I have to raise my family. I remember specifically using these words, my uncle used to say, “I want you, and I want you like you came into this world.”

Marvin C:
Now, that meant, go upstairs, take all your clothes off because I’m getting ready to spank you, so you knew when he said that, right?

Warwick F:
Yeah.

Marvin C:
When I became a father and started having children around me, I would use the same language. I want you, and I want you like you came in this world. Where did that come from? I didn’t like it when he was doing it to me.

Warwick F:
You probably didn’t even realize what you were saying in the context where it came in the heat of the moment. Out it comes, but that is haunting, I guess.

Marvin C:
It was. To be honest with you, when I got free from that situation, I moved into another foster home that the state paid my friend’s mother to give me a place there. He had his nieces and nephews living there and he and his mom and her boyfriend, and all I would do was clean up and wash dishes, and mop, and clean because I didn’t know anything else. The kids would make fun of me. They would say, “What are you …” I’m 16, 17 years, and all I know how to do is clean up behind people. I started getting a little looser with that. It was the ’70s and things were going on in black communities across this country.

Marvin C:
I went and saw the movie Super Fly. Now, all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I know what I want to be. I don’t have any restraints. I don’t have any people saying, you ought to do this. You ought to do that. I thought the utmost that a person could have is freedom, and I had plenty of it. So I went and got clothes and looked like him, I went and got my hair fixed like him. I went and did all of these things. Now, I spend the next 20 years trying to do everything I thought he did. Now, I didn’t know. I just saw a movie. A movie lasted two hours. I spent 20 years trying to live into that movie.

Warwick F:
Is that what you were talking about earlier about you crave freedom and you got it, but yet there was a side of freedom that you didn’t appreciate. What was that side that you learned later about? Freedom is a wonderful thing, but there was something about it that didn’t seem so positive. How would you frame that?

Marvin C:
The freedom that I had caused me to be arrested all over this country. It caused me to live a lifestyle that caused me to become an alcoholic addict. Now, I was free. The thing about freedom is usually when a person gets free, they move into a particular community and they stay in that community, and so they become accustomed to that community and all that goes on to that community. So, if it’s drugs and alcohol, when you’re in a community or an environment that does that, and you don’t try to get out of that because everything else seems strange to you, or unappreciative, you didn’t know that. Well, I did that. I did that for 20 plus years.

Marvin C:
I wound up having seven children from five different women, and then the desire to get clean came and went, but I never could hold that down because I didn’t have any focus. Then I realized one day I went to a treatment center that I stayed there for 90 days. That 90 days of clarity gave me something that I had not known. First of all, halfway through there, I met the person of Jesus Christ. Somebody asked me, “Don’t you want a personal relationship with Jesus?” Which I had no idea what that was.

Warwick F:
You didn’t really have much of a faith upbringing, either from your parents or uncle and aunt, they weren’t like even religious or church going?

Marvin C:
Not at all. In fact, he said, “I want you guys to go to church.” His statement was, “And don’t wake us up to take you. You need to make it there.” So, there was no real strong preference of that in our household. It was before my mother passed away, but at nine, that just fleeted out away. My lifestyle, certainly that didn’t compliment it at all. You know what I mean? This Jesus that I knew was this kind of Jesus, anytime I was in trouble, Lord, if you get me out of this, I won’t do it again.

Warwick F:
Kind of what they call a transactional relationship.

Marvin C:
Exactly, and I never kept up my end of the deal. You know what I mean?

Warwick F:
Yeah.

Marvin C:
Yeah, that’s what took place, but when I got to this treatment center, I met this person called Jesus, and I was in a place, my children were scattered throughout the foster care system. My girlfriend was still using and I had two babies by her. What I realized, and this is, I think the epiphany that I had, I had children who were growing up in the foster care system just like me. I recreated the same thing in their life, and if I didn’t like it, how could I do the same thing to them? I think that’s when the wheels started turning for me.

Marvin C:
All I knew how to do is Jesus, if you are who you say you are, then help me. You have my undivided attention. I’ve created something in their lives that I didn’t like it, and I didn’t realize that my disobedience has caused this, and I need you to help me get out of this. That was all I was looking for.

Warwick F:
What was the paradigm shift? Because you’re living a life where you’ve got a number of different relationship, different kids with different folks. I mean, there’s a shift in thinking. What was the old way of thinking? How did that shift … I mean-

Marvin C:
That’s a great question. In my former life, after leaving my aunt and uncle and turning 18 years old, I managed to graduate my high school. But after seeing the movie Super Fly, all I wanted to do was be a pimp, and I lived that lifestyle very well all across this country. But when I picked up this crack cocaine habit that I started really doing myself bad. I started being with women and I wasn’t treating them good, and I wasn’t treating myself, and they weren’t treating me.

Marvin C:
The lifestyle just started being really wonky, really up and down, and I got tired. I literally got tired of living. Then, one of the mothers left me my son, who was my third child, his name was Marvin. He was five years old, and I didn’t have any stability for him. I knew that that wasn’t right. I tried to get in other relationships and play house and do these things, but none of that was working. It came to the point where, if I really want to get clean, I’m going to have to set my son someplace, and I don’t know any place that’ll be appropriate for him, but I got to weigh this.

Marvin C:
I took him to his mother’s house, which was not a good place at all. She lived with her grandmother, all her sisters, they all had children, and he was in the midst of it, and I wasn’t very well liked by that particular family, but I had to put my son somewhere. I went into treatment and I had to really deal with this thought. The first thought was, I just need to get off these drugs. I just really need to reframe myself. What is it like to think clearly without being under the influence? Can I make some reasonable decisions?

Marvin C:
That was a turning point that this gave me an opportunity to really see life through life’s lenses. I still didn’t know what to do. I was 40 plus years old. I got seven kids. I don’t have a trade, I don’t have a degree, I don’t have anything, but I trusted the Lord enough to guide me and lead me. Three months in treatment, I got out. The mother of my two youngest children came in as I got out, and so the courts gave me the opportunity to say … Let me throw this piece in. I left one of our drug-filled environments with my seven month old daughter, because I was mad about guys coming in and out of my house and saying, I want to see your old lady, and so I just grabbed the baby who I had been changing diapers and feeding for the seven months since she was born.

Marvin C:
I went to the hospital to leave her on the steps of the hospital, and I got to the hospital and I couldn’t do it. I went to a woman’s shelter and they told me, “Take her to the CPS office.” So, I did that. CPS is a child protection agency. I went there, I took my daughter there and they treated me like I was public enemy number one. They were right to do so because they had been coming … I had two other children who were in custody of the CPS, and they had been coming to our house, knocking on the door, and we’d tell everybody to be quiet, and I wouldn’t respond. Now, I’m showing up on their doorstep, and they’re like, “So, now what do you want us to do?” I just was determined.

Marvin C:
I said, “Listen, I don’t know what to do.” Well, there was a lady who came out of the back and said, “Listen, in order for us to do this, the mother’s going to have to sign off.” I said, “No problem.” She drove me in the baby back to our drug-filled environment, I told the mother, “We need to sign and give this child up. I want to go get myself together.” She signed the paper reluctantly, and then the lady left with the baby. I went to say goodbye to the baby. I got locked out of the house so instantly I became homeless. I knew that I’m 40 plus years old, this is no way for a 40-year-old man to be living.

Marvin C:
You don’t have anything to do with your life. That stayed on my mind once I got into treatment, and when somebody introduced me to Christ, I said, “I’m here, I surrender. Show me what to do.”

Warwick F:
You were sort of at the bottom of the pit, the bottom of the crucible. It sounds like before you saw that movie, Super Fly, you were maybe drifting through life, maybe life’s unfair. I didn’t have a great life. People weren’t nice to me. It’s all about me. I don’t know. Was there a conscious plan? Who cares about everybody else? Nobody else cares about me. The world’s not fair, it’s so messed up. I’m just going to enjoy myself and just get through each day as best I can. Was it like something along those lines?

Marvin C:
That was my script. It’s about me. I’m going to take care of me. Everybody always said I was bad. Well, I’m going to be a bad man. You know what I mean? I went from Hollywood, to New York, to Washington, DC, to Florida, to Texas. To me, for a while, that was a life. Allowed me to do pretty women, plenty money, but that’s the lure. That was the lure because it was not substantial.

Gary S:
It’s true, isn’t it, Marvin, that it was about you, you just said that, you were living for yourself, but you mentioned, as you were going through those years, you had several children.

Marvin C:
Yes.

Gary S:
I think you even said, at one point when you and I talked before this, that you had brought Marvin Jr into a crack house with you. While you’re living for yourself, you are creating a family, and at what point did you realize, as you were coming back from your crucibles, as you were trying to come to yourself and live a more responsible life, did you … What was that epiphany moment when you said, oh my gosh, I’ve got these kids and I have a responsibility to them. When did that happen for you?

Marvin C:
Again, when I stood in front of that hospital to leave my seven month old daughter on the steps, I realized that she didn’t ask for this. None of my children asked for that. Why does this seem so familiar? It’s because I was left, and because I was left, it doesn’t give me the right to leave somebody else. There has to be something different. It has to be. What I came to the understanding was, and I think this happened in treatment, but if I don’t do it, nobody else is going to do it for me.

Marvin C:
If I don’t make the attempt, whatever it was, if I don’t make the attempt, so when I entered into this relationship with Jesus Christ, what I did was … I didn’t, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like a light bolt of lightning came out of the sky and hit me and said, no, no. I had to work at this relationship, and I didn’t know anything about Jesus, I didn’t know anything about the things that he does in people’s lives. All mines were experience, and so here was my first experience. I got a treatment. I knew I still loved the mother, who I’m married to today, but she was still using, and the thought about …

Marvin C:
When you’re in recovery of drugs and alcohol, they tell you, “You need to leave your past behind you.” Well, I found that very difficult to do. I got children, but how do I do that? It caused me to have to lean on this person, Jesus. You have to guide me because I don’t know what to do. I’m scared to death. I don’t have the experience that most people have. So, who do I trust? It came down to just this, Warwick, I had to trust Jesus for everything. For everything. I didn’t know how to do that. I remember I would ask people, “Hey man, does Jesus talk to you?”

Marvin C:
People would look at me like, well, he’s crazy, but I didn’t know anything to do. I’ll tell you this, let me add this little piece here. That same son that talking to you about, he’s named Marvin, he’s 31 years old today, and the mother of his children passed away six months ago, and he’s gotten his children, and he and I had a volatile relationship for years. About six years ago, he came into my office, and we have a Bible study in my office and he sat down. I was late that day. I walked in and he’s in the middle of the Bible study, and he’s ranting, and he’s raving, and he’s talking loud and crazy.

Marvin C:
I sit in the corner and I’m like, wow. There’s about 25 men in this room. We call this Bible study park bench to Park Avenue, because you got people who come out of the ivory towers and people who come out prison sitting in the same room together. Then one of the brothers got up and said, Here, man, here’s what we do in this room.” And they picked him up. My son is 6’8″. I have two of them, one 6’7″ and one 6’8″. They sat him in the chair and the brothers got around him and laid hands and prayed for him. He got up and he went and sat down, and I saw what he did, and I knew he’d been angry at me, and I apologized over the years because God made me understand that there was a lot of damage I did, but nothing ever happened.

Marvin C:
When I sat down in that chair that day, and I began to say, “Man, I used to drag you from crack house to crack house. I used, I wasn’t real responsible. I did all kinds of things, and I’m sorry. I know I’ve told you this before, but I … And I think the fact that I’ve made that a mens’ comment to him in the room full of 25 men, it did something. It broke something, because he got up, he came over to me, he got on his knees, and he put his arms around my calf and he said, “Dad, all I ever wanted to do was make you proud of me.”

Warwick F:
Oh wow.

Marvin C:
Wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and I’m thinking, God only you could have done that. I’ve tried to do this for years, but it didn’t work, but you did it.

Warwick F:
Well, I guess His timing. That’s powerful. It sounded like, obviously the big shift in your life was with faith in Christ, I mean, your faith gave you an anchor for your soul that you probably never had before. It gave you a purpose and a reason for living that maybe you didn’t have. I mean, was that part of the shift?

Marvin C:
You’re so spot on. I need to add a little bit to that story. When I got out of treatment and we fought for our kids, Jeanette and I fought for our kids through the system, which is why we started DADS because we had a victory. We had several victories. Well, here was one of the victories that gave me an astronomical belief in Jesus, more so, I tell my favorite line is, you can’t beat me having faith in what God will do for you. Here’s what happened. We were just putting our house together, our family together, children were coming home. We had to get jobs, and my wife and I, and we were really trying to debate, okay, maybe you ought to stay home with the kids and I go to work because we can’t afford daycare with four kids in our house and all of that.

Marvin C:
That worked itself out. Then one day I came home from work and the phone rang. I answered the phone and somebody said, “Is this Marvin Charles?” Well, I thought it was a telemarketer. I said, “Yes.” The lady said, “Well, there’s a lady who’s been looking for you for 43 and a half years and she’s your mother, and she lives right down the street from you.” I was like, what? I couldn’t believe it. Jeanette had just went to pick the kids up to bring them home. I said, this lady just called and said, “My mother has been looking for me and she lives right down the street.” We loaded the kids up when we went to that house, and there was this lady standing on the corner with her daughter and her niece, and it was my sister and my mother.

Marvin C:
I got out of the car and I grabbed this woman and we looked identical. So, she told me, “I had you when I was 14 years old, and my mother had a baby who was born seven months after you and the state wasn’t going to … Because my mother was on welfare and they weren’t going to take care of both of us, so they took you and put you up for adoption.” Then the next day I asked her about my dad, “Where’s he at?” She said, “Well, the last time I know he was living in Oakland.” We contacted him. I jumped on a plane to see him. Shortly after that, she jumped on a plane to see him. Now, mind you, when I was in treatment, the first prayer I prayed from this new relation with Jesus Christ was Lord, help me put my family back together again.

Warwick F:
The amazing thing is you probably didn’t know that you were adopted, right?

Marvin C:
Well, yeah, my uncle told me that, I belong to the state. That’s what that meant.

Warwick F:
Okay, but you didn’t know that you had a mother and…

Marvin C:
No, no I didn’t know none of that. I had none of that.

Warwick F:
That is so unbelievable.

Marvin C:
Let me tell you what happened, Warwick. My mother jumped on a plane and went down to visit my dad. He asked her to marry her. She said, yes, they come back to Seattle. Now, I have this whole family that God put together.

Warwick F:
But that was one powerful prayer. Power of prayer, but I’d like to hear a bit about DADS, but I think there’s a part of your story, where, from what I understand, you got this award from The Atlantic Family Center. You put your family together, and as you put your family together, it gave you a vision of a mission and ministry, so talk about how you put your family together and then how that shifted into this whole movement, this ministry that you have.

Marvin C:
Really, it was out of complications that really the ministry came alive. My wife and I, after putting our family together, and then I went … We did Good Morning America, we did some TV overseas, and when we came back, and after the dust settled, there was a real simplistic question that evolved. During that time was a crack epidemic and it was really strong in communities all over this country, and we felt like we had got a reprieve from it. So, we said there were people that we got high with, we did time with, we did crime with who were faced with the same situations. How could we take what we’ve learned from navigating the system and help other people navigate the system. We literally called ourselves systems navigators.

Warwick F:
Just so the listeners know, because not everybody might understand the story, you had like six kids, they were foster care, but you brought all your kids together. You dealt with the system, got housing, got clean, got a job, to talk just a little bit about that as we shift to what you do now, because you were living what you now help other people. Because that’s a miracle in of itself. It couldn’t have been easy what you did.

Marvin C:
See, we never looked at it like that. We looked at it like God gave us the ability to navigate the child welfare system, the child support system, the state system, where they give you money to take care of your family, but at some point, you have to pay that back. So, we were saying, okay, how do we do that? Well, I’ll tell you, this was the motivating moving factor. One day I come home from work. I got one job, it’s paying for all six of us in this house to take care of this family. We got a rental property.

Marvin C:
Money wasn’t coming very fast at all, but we were making the best of it. Now, mind you, you got to keep this in mind. I told you about the high part of life that I lived when I had no cares in the world. Now I got all these cares and not enough money to take care of it. Because of my relationship with Jesus, I was tempted a lot of time to go and resort back to some other mindsets, but that’s what God delivered me from. Why would I go back there? So, how do I keep and maintain this? Well, then one day the child support system emptied my bank account out and I didn’t know what to do. I never had child support system, but my wife did, because the children were in the foster care system, it created a debt with child support. A lot of folks don’t know. Right?

Warwick F:
Yeah.

Marvin C:
She convinced them that, “No, it’s not my money. It’s his money. But because we’re married, he put my name on the bank account.” I don’t know how she did it, but she convinced them, they put the money back.

Warwick F:
Wow.

Marvin C:
Then what happened was she said, “Do you know how many other people are suffering through this? Just this aspect of it?” So, she worked with her child support counselor and built a very good relationship with them. So much so till literally, we would on the weekends go and talk to people who were having the same problem. I set up a little office in our house, where during the week the kids would go off to school, and from 10 o’clock to two o’clock, she would literally be working with clients or fathers in the community who had some of those same issues.

Warwick F:
That was part of the birth of DADS, of Divine Alternatives for Dads so it took a bit about, I think we understand how it was birthed. Talk about what that does and just the important mission that you have. What is that?

Marvin C:
Our mission statement is to give fathers hope by walking together in supportive community, helping navigate systems, relational and legal barriers which separate fathers from their children. We really believe that once you inform a father of the opportunities that fathering or fatherhood gives them, it changes the whole mindset of a father. It changes. I always say the greatest gift that a father can give is to prepare his children for a future that he will never see. Men get that. There’s another simplistic thing that we found out over 20 years ago.

Marvin C:
Most fathers want to just be heard, and there are not opportunities system-wise where they get heard. I have a conference room in my office here, and that table, we called the strongest table in the State of Washington because it has everybody’s tears, everybody’s complaints, everybody everything, and they get to leave it right there. Because of that work that we’ve been able to do, we found out some significant things. In low income communities, when fathers have children, most fathers are there in the hospital when the child is born. Then I ask fathers, how many of you were there when your baby was born? They all raised their hands.

Marvin C:
How many of you signed the birth certificate? They all raised their hands. Well, what they don’t know is they didn’t sign a birth certificate. What they signed was a paternity affidavit, which is a promissory note to say, you will pay child support for this child, even if you find out it’s not yours, because this is a legal binding document. Now, I don’t tell him not to sign it. What I say is just know what you’re doing. Understand. It’s a lot of things like that, that we’ve … Information we’ve come across the last 22 years and we try to share with people. Don’t get mad at the system. Don’t get mad at the mother. These are some of the things you’ve done. You just took it for granted when you were doing it. How do I know? Because I did it.

Warwick F:
It sounds like there’s two levels. There’s the practical level navigating child welfare, helping them get clean, helping them get a job, helping them get housing, all of the things that you need to do to get your kids back. So, there’s the practical, but it sounds like there’s sort of the spiritual soul component in which people don’t change unless they have a reason to, unless you can shift their thinking. I imagine some of it might be, look, like you, I wasn’t treated fairly, life is unfair. The system is messed up. Nobody cares what I think. Nobody wants to listen to me. Why should I care about anybody else when nobody cares about me?

Warwick F:
That whole thinking says, that’s probably not an easy … It’s not easy to shift that thinking, but somehow, that’s a lot of the heavy lifting you do, is trying to shift this. Some of what they say is true, like life is unfair. There is systemic issues. There are objectively things that do make life unfair. It’s not all their fault, but it’s easy to wade into all of that and just say, well, life’s unfair, so why should I care? How do you shift that thinking? Because it can’t be easy.

Marvin C:
Well, it’s not easy unless you think about it or you see it through a different set of lenses. Let me give you an example. The mentality that I had to have in order to embrace this person called Jesus Christ was a significant embrace, a significant way of thinking. But then I thought about it, and I said, well, whatever the devil asked me to do, I went and did it. I had no problem. If he said, I want you to go up in this bank with two 45’s, one in each hand, I would do it. Christ who is the preventer of me of sin and sin in my life and living a righteous life wouldn’t ask me to do any of those things. So, how do I find what he ask me to do more complicated than what the devil did?

Marvin C:
I had to seek and nourish my understanding on that. That’s the same thing I try to bring and preach to men that walk through my door.

Warwick F:
What’s the answer to that? Because that’s a really good question. Why is it harder to do what God wants you to do?

Marvin C:
Because it was easier for me to do what the devil want, and this stuff that God wants me to do is new to me. But guess what? Being a pimp was new to me until I took the challenge of trying to do it, right? So, give Christ the same opportunity. That’s what I had to do, and so I do this to men all the time. Here’s one of mine trade secrets. A man will come in and he’ll talk to me about what the mother’s doing, and how come the mothers were late, and this is … I let them talk for 30 minutes, and I purposely let them rant and rave for 30 minutes about what the mom does. Then I stop them and said, “I thought you were here because you wanted to see your child.” “I do.” “Well, you’ve talked for 30 minutes and haven’t mentioned the child one time.”

Marvin C:
If I was a judge, I wouldn’t see anywhere in the world that you wanted to be involved in the child’s life. That’s the first linchpin. You can’t tell me that it’s about your child, but all you’re doing is talking about the mom and the unrighteousness. You’re going to have to get over that. That’s not going to work. You catch them at the doorway with that understanding.

Warwick F:
It does. There’s something about maybe all human beings, no matter what they’ve been through, when they have a son or a daughter, when you say, you’ve got a responsibility to care for them, do you feel like there’s something, maybe a God given anchor, a thread, something that you can build on that it catches?

Marvin C:
Yes. Yes, exactly. Because most of them will resort back to the thinking, not initially, but they will resort back to the thinking, I don’t want my child to grow up like I grew up.

Warwick F:
I want to give my child a better life, a better opportunity than I had.

Marvin C:
Because of the significant turn of events in their life, they get away from that. It’s like being on an island, they get away from that thinking. I said, “No, I’m a perfect example.” What we say to men is, “Just go get yourself together. You know why? Because one day your child is going to knock on your door, and what are you going to tell them? You know what they’re going to say? If you’re not together, they’re going to say, “You’re just like what mom said you were.”

Warwick F:
That is a powerful motivator, isn’t it?

Marvin C:
Yes.

Warwick F:
And the vision, I’m sure of your son, you’d apologize, but the power of when an apology is accepted, when you’ve been forgiven, that moment, I’m sure you share, because I talk about vulnerability for a purpose. That story probably helped a lot of other guys. You can have that moment with your son and your daughter, and that’s something that you probably treasure forever in your heart.

Marvin C:
It’s crazy because they treasure it just as much, and that’s what DADS try to say is, you’re sitting here complaining about not being with your son, but what most men won’t do is think, and I mean think that their child is somewhere missing them just as much.

Warwick F:
It is interesting. The Bible talks about sin can be passed down through seven generations, basically means forever. It’s sort of a metaphor, but yet virtue can have the same effect. Obviously, as we talked about off air, I grew up in as different a background as you did. I mean, very, very different background, but one of the things I remember is the fellow that started the family media business. He was a strong a man of Christ as you could possibly get. He was an elder at his church.

Warwick F:
This is like in the early 1840s, he came out from England with nothing. He was a very good husband, very good dad. He’s employees loved him. When he died, his employees said we’ve lost a kind and valued employer. Yet, every aspect of his life was in balance. He was successful, but yet, he had incredible relationship with his kids. As I said, elder at his church and with his wife. Well, that faith lasted several generations. As the family became more successful, became a little bit more traditional, and a little less Christ centered, but that positive legacy has lasted for generations.

Warwick F:
I’m the fifth generation. The impact, you talk about how there might be people that you have an effect on that you don’t know. Well, that’s my great-great-grandfather. Very few people will know their great, great-grandkids, it’s almost technically impossible unless you live to 150, but yet, that positive aspect and the effect that he’s had on my life, my dad was a little bit more ecumenical, good guy, but a little bit sort of intellectual, not quite the same faith set in us, but that influence that he’s had on my life, John Fairfax, my great, great grandfather. It’s hard to quantify. That’s a touch stone. That’s a legacy.

Warwick F:
Well, the people that you work with, they have a chance to affect five generations in their family, kids that they’ll never know. That’s a blessing that can, maybe not last forever, but last for a long time.

Marvin C:
I would challenge you to say forever.

Warwick F:
Exactly.

Marvin C:
Yes, right. Because children nowadays are equipped or have access to equip their selves on their own. Well, I’m a prime example of what that will do. I don’t want my seven … I had another daughter at 54, so I’m 65 years old, so I just need you to know that. But the difference is she was raised up … She’s being raised up in a two parent home, and she has no idea about the other part of it. Her siblings come to her and said, “You don’t know how good you have.”

Warwick F:
You’ve got it so good. You’re sort of …

Marvin C:
Right, but like you said, she has a relationship. We’ve sent her to a Christian private school, and we tell her, we do not hide from it. This is where we came from, this is what we do. Our communication level is so open. She has a group of friends that she’s closely connected to. I look at what I’ve learned from her and her being raised in that environment. Yes, I do see the impact that I could have on my youngest child’s life for generations.

Warwick F:
What I love about what you said, I’m sure this is part of what you do in DADS is like change, obviously from your perspective, or from mine, have a focus in faith, Christ-centeredness, but at age appropriate levels, don’t hide who you were. Don’t hide the pain because again, my case is very different, but my dad was married three times, my mother, twice. Fortunately, I was from the last marriage of each, but I’ve seen the devastation that divorce can have, even in wealthy affluent families. In some cases, maybe lack of parents being around, lack of love, nannies raising kids, which is not very healthy.

Warwick F:
I was sort of paranoid a bit about divorce. I was very careful. I wanted to make sure my wife, who we’ve been fortunately married over 30 years to have somebody of character who loved the Lord. I’ve told that to my kids. You got to be careful. Make sure from my perspective that your wife or husband has a strong faith and character. Well, I don’t hide from my kids. You don’t want to be like my dad or mom in the sense of all the marriage. You don’t want to be like that. At age appropriate levels, the challenges we’ve been through can help our kids, help our grandkids. Does that make sense?

Marvin C:
Yes. It makes a lot of sense. I’m sharing with you that my son who now has his two children is not married, but he has a young lady friend, and they’ve agreed to parent these two children. I had to go to her job, my wife and I, and tell her how much we appreciate her. She said to me, I’ll never forget this. She said, “Anytime a guy friend that I’ve been with parents shows up, it’s usually to tell me to leave their son alone.”

Warwick F:
Interesting.

Marvin C:
I said, “No, that’s the least of my worry. I want you to know that we’re here to support you because just to be with him and be willing to take on this responsibility, we know it’s not an easy one.” I really wanted to tell her, I wish you guys would get married, but I felt like I was way out of place with saying that, but that’s my prayer. That’s my prayer. If you’re willing to put that time and energy in, then that’s warranted. I see something taking place in the lives of these two grandchildren.

Warwick F:
It’s amazing, the power of unconditional love and support, instead of like I don’t know, a spring in a dry land. If a plant gets a little bit of unconditional love, it’s like they can change people. That’s what you do with the guys you work with and the girlfriends, wives of the guys you work with. I mean, it has an impact. I’m sure you see that.

Marvin C:
Yes, it does. Warwick, we’ve seen over pretty close to 5,000 men in the last 20 years that we’ve been in existence. It has a major impact on the lives of the children that are connected to these families.

Gary S:
That is a term, a perspective that we talk a lot about, Marvin, at Crucible Leadership and Beyond the Crucible, the idea of the legacy that you leave and certainly your life of significance, your legacy is in the lives of those 5,000 men. As we get to the point now where we’re going to bring the plane in for a landing, I wanted to have you unpack a quote that I’ve seen you give, because we’ve been talking a lot about … You’ve talked a lot about your personal experience with struggling with your own fatherhood and then embracing your fatherhood.

Gary S:
We’ve talked about the way you’ve helped other men do that. Warwick talked a little bit about his situation, but backing up to a 30,000 foot level, you said something, and I want you to explain this to our listeners. You said that fatherlessness is like aids to society. Explain what you mean by that, because I think it’s a powerful metaphor for what the lack of involved fathers does in society.

Marvin C:
I’ll talk about the disease and then I’ll talk about the cure. I’ve often said that fatherlessness is like the AIDS virus. If you know anything about AIDS, AIDS doesn’t kill you. What it does, it breaks down your immune system, and the infection that you catch is what kills you. Well, fatherlessness is the same way. If you take a father out of the home, the family doesn’t die, but what it does is open the family up for infection, teenage pregnancy, at risk youth behavior, all of those things that has impacted the society in which we live in.

Marvin C:
What we believe in DADS is, one of the cures is, how do we reengage the father back into the lives of the children? And in some cases, maybe even the family, but I think that what we try to do is draw the attention to the father, how important his life is to the children that he’s fathered. I think that there’s not enough understanding for men to understand the value that they are to their children. Number one is, and I’m guilty of this, and most people in the world are, is we never listen to children.

Marvin C:
My wife showed me a prime example one day in our office. There was this father and this mother who had a five-year-old son, and my wife had the mother in her office, and I had the father in my office, and the child kept running back, saying, “Mommy, look at this. Mommy, look at this.” Then he’d run to the dad in my office and say, “Daddy, look at this, look at this.” That child showed the mother and the father, what Jeanette and I are pointing it out, the importance that both of them were to him. A lot of times when adults make those decisions, they don’t look at the importance of the father and the mother to that child’s life.

Marvin C:
They only see their own importance. That’s how I think if we can get people to understand the importance that both of them are to that child’s life, it could change the matter.

Warwick F:
Wow. That’s wonderful as we kind of begin to sum up here. I mean, a lot of people I’m sure in the Seattle Area and beyond look at what you do with DADS, Divine Alternative for Dads Services and say, well, Marvin, this is like a miracle. You’re changing families lives, fathers lives. Wow. I mean, how do you do it? Obviously, the Lord has his hand on everything you do, but what would you say, in summary, is some of the keys of why what you do makes such a massive difference?

Marvin C:
There’s a scripture that I came upon in my early days of recovery. This preacher, when I wasn’t familiar with the Bible, where to go, he said, “Just go to Psalms 119 and read that every day.” That’s 175 verses that I read every day, and I read them. Well, then there was two that jumped out at me that I think described it to the T for me. Psalms 119, the 67th verse says, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word.” I could see myself in that scripture, going astray. Then, a couple of verses down from that is the 71st verse, and the 71st verse says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, or I might not have sought your way.”

Marvin C:
I said, that’s me all the way. That is me. I want folks to know that I believe that I could never get right enough with Christ to where I could make a difference in anybody’s life. But when he pointed me to those scriptures, I realized that the ground was level at the foot of the cross, and I had just as much of an opportunity as anybody else and I use those scriptures to let people know that you have the same opportunity. It’s about what you want to do though. You can’t blame that on anybody else. You have to make a choice. Nobody could stop you. That’s been the meat of my sermon.

Gary S:
I have been involved in the communications business long enough, and I’ve been a Christian long enough to know when the last word in a conversation is spoken, and you just spoke it, Marvin. Before we go, though, before I close, I want to give you the chance so our listeners can know more about DADS. How can they find DADS on the internet? Where can they go to learn more about your organization?

Marvin C:
Our web address is www.aboutdads.org. Again, that’s www.aboutdads.org.

Gary S:
Excellent. Warwick, any final thoughts before I close?

Warwick F:
Well, only it’s just remarkable what I hear, Marvin, talk about the work you’re doing with dads. You do all the practical things, which are really necessary in terms of helping dads get clean who have substance abuse issues, housing, negotiating with the whole child welfare system, but nobody changes without a reason. You give them a reason, a faith underpinning from your perspective and mine, a faith in Christ. You help them realize that they are fathers, and that has a spiritual eternal significance, legacy significance. You give them a reason to change.

Warwick F:
Nobody changes without a reason, and it’s even then it’s hard. It seems that the spiritual anchor, the underpinning is transforming lives. As you say, what’s exciting, it’s transforming lives of maybe grandkids, great, great-grandkids they might never know, but they will hear the stories of lives being changed and their great, great grandfather, or whoever it was, led the start of a shift in their family. I mean, that’s an amazing vision, amazing legacy that you have in so many people’s lives.

Marvin C:
Well, thank you.

Gary S:
That ding that you heard, listener, is the captain turning on the landing gears, that sign that says it’s time to land. So, we’re landing the plane at this moment. As I like to do at the end of episode, sometimes I’ll pull some key takeaways, three key takeaways. There was one moment here. I’m just going to go with one key takeaway from our conversation with Marvin Charles, and there was something that Marvin said when he was talking about going through his crucible and how he, on the other side of that crucible, he and his wife took what they learned going through their crucible and applied it to help others.

Gary S:
He used this phrase about … They had a victory. They had a victory over their own crucible, and from that, they’ve applied it to the creation of DADS. I think the takeaway on that point is your victory, regardless of what your crucible is, your victory in overcoming your crucible can be and often is the jumping off point for your life of significance. The lessons you learned and applied, and the actions you’ve taken in moving beyond the failure, setbacks, and missteps of your life can be offered to help others to do the same thing with their failures, their setbacks and their missteps.

Gary S:
Out of your pain can be birthed your purpose. That’s what we’ve just talked about for the last hour with Marvin Charles. Until we are together next time, listener, thank you for spending time with us. Warwick and I have a little favor to ask you. On the app that you’re listening to this podcast right now, we’d ask that you’d click subscribe. That will ensure that you’ll never miss an episode and it will also ensure that we’re able to get really, truly, we hope hopeful and helpful content like our conversation with Marvin into the smartphones and the computer desktops of more people.

Gary S:
Again, until the next time that we are together, please remember that your crucible experience is painful. We know that. All three of us have been through crucibles of our own, but here’s the good news, that crucible experience that you’re going through, or maybe you’re starting to come out of is not the end of your story. In fact, as it was for Marvin, it can be the beginning of an entirely new story, an entirely more fulfilling story, an entirely life-changing story for you and for others, because where that story takes you, as you begin to write it, as you learn the lessons of your crucible and walk through them, that journey can take you to a totally different destination. That is a life of significance.

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