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Bishop focuses on training fathers for life

By Maggie Blackwell

For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Bishop Russell Smyre developed a class for fathers after a challenge from his son, an ironic twist of fate.

Smyre, pastor of Harvest United Fellowship of Churches, has a full-time job as director of facilities at Gaston Community College. He and his wife, Pat, have three sons and a daughter.

Oldest son Chris, 30, is a resident in family medicine at McGraw Medical Center at Northwestern University. Middle son Russel, Jr., 28, is a mechanical engineer at Zapata Corp. Youngest son Scott is completing his doctorate in neuroscience at Wake Forest University. Daughter Tea is busy raising three children.

A couple of years ago, Chris had a talk with Smyre.

“Thank you for all you’ve done for us,” he said. “We got it, we understand it. But,” he continued, “what are you going to do about the rest of your life? I want you to think about it, pray about it, and let me know what you think.”

Smyre was turning 50 that year and needed a game plan for the third and fourth quarters of his life.

In praying about the question, Smyre realized how much he enjoys mentoring. He particularly enjoys mentoring young men but can only mentor a few at a time. He continued to pray and came back with, “How can you be more efficient, more effective in your mentoring?”

Smyre says he realized that if he can mentor fathers, they can influence their own families and his reach goes further. If a young man said, “I want to be a better dad,” there are few programs out there just for dads.

Smyre got busy and developed “The Every Father Initiative,” a six-session class for fathers who are already in the game and for those who may not be quite yet.

Smyre leans forward and speaks with great enthusiasm.

“Can you imagine being put into a game and not knowing the plays? You don’t want to be in the middle of the game and look around and ask, ‘What am I doing now?’”

He says statistically, if a young woman has no dad in the home, she is six times more likely to become pregnant before marriage. She’s twice as likely to be obese.

“A father cannot be replaced,” he says. “You can put something in that place, in that time, but he cannot be replaced. You can stand in that role, you can try to, but you’ll never take the place of the father. The void is still there.”

The training, he says, focuses on two tracks: education and equipping. It tells fathers how vital they are to the success of the family. Then it equips fathers with the skills they need to raise children successfully.

Fathers, Smyre says, are the foundation of the family, and nobody talks about them until they fail. His goal is to build strong foundations for families.

Pat Smyre is just an animated as he is.

“If we tell these young fathers, ‘You’re not a father; you just had a baby,’ we are diminishing his role. What we must say is, ‘You are now a father.’ We need to equip them. If I’m told I’m a father, I realize I have responsibilities. I’m the protector. I’m the provider. I am all these things, and I must rise to the challenge. Will he make mistakes? Of course. But he is committed.

“There is nothing more powerful than seeing a child run to his dad with his arms lifted up. When Daddy comes home, he feels safe, he feels secure.”

Smyre says fathers have the power to influence the entire community. When fathers are involved, the police’s job is easier. Churches thrive. He says if a child attends church, there’s a 3 percent chance the family will follow. But if a father attends church, that chance increases to 90 percent. When dad is on the team, Smyre says, that team is going to be stronger.

Smyre knows about strong dads. He was the youngest of 10 children in a home with a mother and father. It was a peaceful home, he recalls, and he had a good relationship with his father. He cannot remember a day or a time when he was in doublt whether his dad would come home. He taught Smyre that a man is only as good as his word.

When Smyre was little, his father brought him something from work every day. Sometimes, he chuckles, it was just the rest of his jelly sandwich, but that was fine – he likes jelly sandwiches.

“I never experienced trauma as a kid,” he says. “I didn’t have that. It was always a peaceful state in our home. I tried to emulate that setting in my own home.”

Smyre recalls his dad carried two wallets: one for everyday and one with an emergency fund. “He always had things worked out so if something jumped off, he had a plan.”

Smyre says his dad was the wisest, most caring, compassionate guy he has ever known. Many men looked up to him and came to him for advice. He didn’t yell or holler. He loved sharing life answers or concepts.

Based on this foundation, Smyre has developed the course for The Every Father Initiative.

“Typically, two or three memories drive our aspect on life,” he says. “Our responsibility is to create as many life-defining moments as we can.”

Smyre is building relationships with other organizations to take his course to the public. He’s working with the Pregnancy Support Center to identify potential fathers for the class.

“The richest place in the world is the graveyard. All the gifts, the intellectual capital is buried right there with them, rather than being passed on to the next generation. I’m willing to pass on what God has taught me and package it and give it away.

“The only way to achieve greatness in this world is to take your gift and package it and serve it to the world. A gift is not a gift if you don’t give it away.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the class can contact Smyre at russellsmyre@gmail.com.

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