I am the only child of my biological parents, who divorced just after I turned four. I don’t know all the circumstances, but I’m pretty sure my father was messing around with other women. The divorce devastated my mother.

I have no memories of my biological father or much of anything until age 5, when my mother and I moved into a small rental house in Corona Del Mar, California. My mom got me a little dog and we went to the tide pools at the beach often.

My mother remarried when I was six. I was the ring-bearer in a hippie wedding on the beach. My stepfather was an “uncle figure” to me – He was an entrepreneurial and creative man who spent much of his time alone with his “projects” in the garage (cars, planes, models, music, art, and his latest business ideas). I never called him dad, just “Mickey.” 

I don’t know the reason for the timing, but I reestablished a relationship with my biological father when I was 12. I remember the awkward moment at his apartment in Marina Del Ray where I looked at him and said, “I guess it’s time to let bygones be bygones.” It was my weird way of forgiving him, even though he never asked for forgiveness or communicated that anything was “off” regarding his 8-year absence in my life. My father was a child of poverty and uneducated siblings. I guess he needed to leave our suburban family, discover himself, and become a worldly success in the big city, because that was his driving force.

My mother was a salt-of-the-earth, public school teacher. At some point during the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s, she found Christ and was all-in with the Christian lifestyle. She helped plant a church in a shopping center, ran a small group from our home, and organized a youth program at a second church on the side. We lived in a little house in the growing Orange County suburbs and life was simple.

My father was a successful man-of-the-world. He built custom homes for movie stars and business elites in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and West LA. It felt like he lived in a different house and had a different girlfriend nearly every time I visited. I started spending every other weekend at my dad’s place. My parents met half-way between Orange County and Los Angeles each Saturday morning and Sunday evening to exchange me – twice — at the circular-shaped Holiday Inn along the 405 Freeway in Long Beach. I usually waited alone in the reception area by the planter box, while the receptionist “kept an eye on me.”

Looking back, I see my identity was messy at this point in my life. I loved my mom and her work-ethic, but her simple ways of schoolteacher and Christian faith didn’t mesh with my budding intellect and religious skepticism. It seemed my jet-setting father had it figured out, so I started seeking his approval any way I could. He was my “real dad” and there was pressure to follow in his worldly ways. My stepfather started joking, “I guess I’m your plastic dad now.”

My friends were jealous. I got to hang out with movie stars in Los Angeles. My dad was “rich” and living the dream. I was lucky to have two Christmases and go on special trips around the holidays. He partied hard, and I watched in amazement. I was a chubby, loner, insecure kid who felt the pressure to reshape myself in the image of what my father desired and required. Of course, my insecurity in image and identity only increased the more I visited his world on the weekends. From 12 to 16, I struggled to understand who I really was, as I got good at faking who I really wasn’t. 

My father got me a car when I was 16. He bought three identical Hondas for his job superintendents and gave me one. He wrote it off as a business expense and I started working for him a bit. It also allowed me to drive myself for the every-other-weekend ritual to Los Angeles.

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I went on a road trip, and parked my car on bluff over the Pacific Ocean for two days. Using “the power of positive thinking,” I decided then and there to be strong, lose weight, get help with my acne, and be a new person. I jettisoned my Christian faith and distanced myself from mom’s “simple life” – I went all-in on a worldly identity that would make my father proud. I became student body president of a large public high school, “outstanding teen” of California in a Hollywood-like competition, took moral shortcuts towards being popular, called in dad’s favors to get into the best colleges, and immersed myself in escapes and hedonisms of various kinds. I have a list of unsavory memories attached to my father’s definition of being a man and setting myself up for success.

I marched to this parade for about 15 years, including Georgetown, Oxford, and Berkeley for my education, and high-flying law firms and tech companies for my career. I worshipped at the altar of materialism, naturalism, hedonism, and success — all to build a legacy (an “empire,” he called it) to make my father accept me and make him proud according to his materialistic dreams.

By God’s grace, I married a wonderful woman, had three incredible kids, and returned to the God of my mother in 2000. In his last couple years, my father also rejected the emptiness of the world system and came to Jesus Christ through a series of apologetics challenges I designed for him. I am a new creation in Christ and truly feel no lingering effects of my identity crisis. Looking back, I see many times where I squashed down the emotions to avoid the perception of weakness. I even lived-out self-deluding lies for many years as a coping mechanism. However, Jesus saved me from all that and renewed my heart and mind. In the end, my mother’s prayers were answered when she gave her life for me, but that’s another story. It was then, that I understood what Jesus did for me, and my identity (physical, emotional, and spiritual) was fully reborn and grounded in Him.

My story is no different than so many others in this age of no-fault divorce. However, although my biological identity was severely broken, Jesus Christ did His full repair.