Article by Greg Morse
Content strategist, desiringGod.org
I’ve replayed the scene in my mind more times than I can count. The fluorescent lights filled the basement with a golden tint. The furniture was worn; the table, slanted. I did not know where we were or who this man was. I remember studying my mother’s face. She seemed to like him. He must be safe.
He was tall. Dark. He looked more like me than mom. I remember enjoying that he seemed to like me. He would bend down and ask me questions, give me candy. But when I asked if he wanted to go outside to play ball, he said he couldn’t. Somebody wouldn’t let him. The halfway house had rules a young boy couldn’t understand.
And life did too, apparently. The years unfolded with broken promises, forgotten birthdays, and Christmases spent staring at the door. As time passed, the mold would set, and concrete harden. Sentiments of “I drove past your house the other day to see my brother” — without a thought to stop by and see his son — were soon met with a feigned shrug. It wouldn’t affect me. It couldn’t affect me. I grew up at a young age, and grown-ups don’t need their father’s help.
And this same hurt, frustration, and desperation for the father I (and so many like me) hated to need played out again before my eyes this weekend.
In more ways than one, the story of Adonis Creed is the story of too many black boys. Despite the profanity and one suggestive scene, the story is a poignant picture of a prevalent absence. Although his father, the famous boxer Apollo Creed, died in the ring — an absence more excusable than most — he still grew up without a dad. For a time, he fought his way around different foster care homes until Apollo’s wife (not Adonis’s biological mother) takes him in. Even though Apollo is dead, Adonis still cries out for him.
Angry, hardened, lost, he enters the ring alone to find his father, and in so doing, to find himself. No man in his corner. No one to teach him how to throw a right hook or a left uppercut, how to propose to his girlfriend, or how to process hardship in his family. What makes the movie impactful is that Adonis finds a father in Rocky Balboa.
Struggling to be a father to his own son after his wife’s passing, Rocky becomes an unlikely mentor and father figure for the young man. He trains him, supports him, and gives him fatherly advice. They have a captivating relationship. They verbally spar with one another. Get angry with and hurt by each other. Forgive. Go to war together. In essence, they are father and son.
The bond between them is brilliantly contrasted with Creed’s imposing opponent: Viktor Drago. Born in hate, trained by his father since he was a child, he eats, sleeps, and breathes fighting. Viktor is the child of the man who killed Creed’s father. He has been trained in hopes of getting vengeance on Rocky, who beat Drago, which cost their family everything. He is more weapon than son. Drago’s father is present, but is blinded by revenge. The movie is about two families, two father-son relationships, and the power of those relationships to make or break the men.
Growing up in the inner city, my story was not the exception. The other Lost Boys and I didn’t sit around and talk about how our biological pops weren’t in our lives. That wasn’t a part of the culture. We wouldn’t be bothered by the unnamed who didn’t want to trouble themselves with being around. We were harder than that. No use crying over the cracks in the pavement.
“Who is your Rocky?” I asked a black Christian brother after the movie concluded. He took a while to think and had no reply. With two children, he couldn’t think of a father-figure who has guided him spiritually, emotionally, and parentally. I could only tell him to become the Rocky he never had.
Men need a man in their corner. Whether biological or not, they need older, wiser, more experienced men in order to become the type of warrior God calls them to be. And as much as biological fatherlessness is an epidemic in the black community, I wonder if the church can boast of much more health regarding our young men. Are we training the sons among us to become strong, faithful, and godly husbands, fathers, soldiers?
Where are the Pauls who spent time mentoring the Lukes, the Timothys, the Tituses? Where can the fatherless go to find the father they never had? How many men can call a younger man their “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4)? The streets and the world are lining up to recruit our men for other armies. Where are our aged generals, commanders, and captains God has prepared to train others for our warfare? Many of us are against the ropes, bruised, bleeding, swinging about, just trying to survive this round. We need you.
God certainly is the Father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), but he cares for his children through present, mature saints in local churches. God promises to give every adopted son many fathers when they become a member of the Body of Christ (Mark 10:29–30). The apostle modeled this. Paul’s creed was written into the lives of his children. The young men in our churches are our crown before God (1 Thessalonians 2:19). They need us.
If you don’t have a spiritual father, pray for one. Ask men to meet with you. Ask them to mentor you in the word. Ask to spend time around their family. Ask how to balance a checkbook, change a tire, love your wife like Christ does the church. If you don’t have a spiritual son, it’s not too late. Even now you can change the life of a young man and the lives of many others through him. Entrust what you know to faithful men who will go and teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Find an Adonis to father.
He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul.