I felt that it was initially imperative that I explain my “charge” to Rick, the same way that I had expressed my desired contribution to Pastor John and FUMC Communications Director Joan Myskowski. I wanted to write a periodic feature column for the church that could educate and inspire our parishioners, with human interest stories, member profiles, or a behind the scenes look at outreach efforts and their effects on the community we serve. I did however convey to Rick that his Faithful Fathering website, with its multitude of videos, program and study guides, calls to action, etc. could speak to his ministry far better than I could, and that I really wanted to communicate his personal story – the “man behind the movement” so to speak. What he shared with me, with full unabashed disclosure and humility, was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Perhaps because he and I are close to the same age, married to the loves of our lives for (37) and (35) years respectively, each with a son and daughter the same ages although reversed, there was enough common ground to bond immediately.
I have a strong impression that the early years in Rick’s life are not a secret, and I now know with absolute certainty that the challenges he endured and overcame significantly shaped him into the man of faith and purpose that he is today.
Raised in Kansas City, Missouri (also my mother’s hometown, another Wertz/Troth connection) Rick’s mother insured that he had an early and consistent relationship with Christ. Deeply rooted, he still credits that foundation as the basis for his faith today, and perhaps was a saving grace of light within a much troubled household. Rick’s mother married his father shortly before he was deployed as a combat, naval fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during WWII. After his return, they started a family with Rick as the only son and youngest child. He has three older sisters. Rick described his father as an abusive and violent alcoholic, to the extent that he left home at age (13) to live with his oldest sister and her husband. Shortly thereafter, Rick’s parents divorced and he and his father were completely estranged. At that juncture Rick had two prayers that carried him through young adulthood. Firstly, that he would be blessed with a happy and healthy marriage and family, and secondly that he would be able to provide for that family and live above the poverty line, a level of measure that had never been surpassed in his childhood. His mother never remarried, and surprisingly remained a supportive and devoted friend in his father’s life. All three sisters have been divorced, one having divorced twice, possibly a bi-product of the environment that drove Rick away from home in early adolescence.
Having been blessed with both athleticism and academic discipline, Rick excelled in school, and initially attended junior college in Kansas for two years on scholarship where he met Linda, his wife to be. The connection and attraction was evident, but they matriculated to different public universities (Kansas and Oklahoma State). Still Rick knew, and most likely Linda did also, that they would re-unite after they both graduated, but according to Rick’s standard of responsibility, not until he was gainfully employed and stable. He did not wish to marry Linda and take her away from her friends and family until he knew that he could adequately provide for her over the long term. Two years after stepping on to the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, he exited with a mechanical engineering degree in hand (normally a five year program but he had accelerated the effort due to lack of funds – another testament to his drive and resolve). More than a dozen job offers followed, and he accepted a Field Engineer position with Schlumberger in Oilfield Services. With the boxes checks (education, and employment first) Rick and Linda were married in 1980.
For fifteen years, Rick toiled at the industry standard (12+ hour days) progressing quickly within a company where hard work,technical aptitude, superior training and initiative were handsomely rewarded with more responsibility and longer hours! Promotions from Field Engineer to Sales to Operations Manager took Rick and Linda from Wichita Falls, to Pampa, and then to Midland where they started their family. Daughter Amanda arrived in 1986 and son Tom came along in 1988. Linda raised the children, managed the household and the family budget. In 1990 Rick accepted a management promotion in New Orleans, and then followed that role with back-to-back international positions in London and Norway. His family, of course, joined him overseas. There were certainly ups and downs and highs and lows, but the Wertz family was solid and united. The two primary goals which Rick had prayed for years ago (the loving family and financial stability) were not only a reality, but had far exceeding his levels of expectation.
With the foundation of Rick’s story now communicated, in itself amazing and inspirational, Rick proceeded to share the most revealing and humbling events relating to his evolution as a man, husband and father. Specifically highlighted were three defined moments of clarity or “turning points” that solidified his future path and influenced his later calling to the Faithful Fathering ministry. I am labeling the first two events with words of his choosing.
With Amanda and Tom at ages 5 and 2 ½, Rick had often been absent from home for significant periods of time on business. He returned one day from another trip, and looked through the window to the back yard and casually asked Linda, “Who is that playing with Amanda?” Linda looked at him, perhaps with a smile on her face although more likely with a bit of puzzlement, and said, “Rick, that’s your son. You’ve been traveling far too much.” Now, that could have been an easy incident to overlook - merely a momentary disconnect after a weary day, week, or month. But Rick remembers it profoundly, and refers to that moment in time as an “awakening”, even a divine intervention. He felt the presence of Jesus Christ attesting to that single defining incident with magnitude and enormity, the undeniable fact that a father had not recognized his own son.
Even without all the benefits and depth of knowledge that he would later obtain with his future fathering education, Rick was awakened to the painful truth that his presence with Amanda and Tom had been severely lacking - and even when his presence was in play, his engagement had been absent as well. These failings, strongly recognized if not yet understood, would later become cornerstones of his fathering initiative. Not long after this awakening, followed by plenty of prayer and soul searching with Linda and fueled with all the emotions that go into life changing decisions, Rick resigned from Schlumberger and moved his family to Houston.
He worked as a consultant for some time, leveraging his professional skill sets with former clients and colleagues, while benefiting from the flexibility of schedule that enabled him to stay connected and present with his children. He turned down lucrative job offers which could have once again required family time sacrifices, while risking the same disengagement from which he had escaped.