Fred Richardson’s Search for Unconditional Love
By Kay Etheredge
It was my first day of work in thirty-three years and I shook inside. I sat behind a desk where I felt like an imposter. I had homeschooled our children for twenty-five years and worked as a caterer from our home for eleven years, but this was different. This was the getting up, getting dressed, taking a banana for a snack, and borrowing someone else’s office for one day a week at Brother Bryan Mission where my husband is the director kind of work.
I love to write and am a firm believer that everyone has a story and I love to read and listen to the stories of just about anybody. However, when my husband walked into my “office” and said that one of the men would be coming to tell me his story, I panicked inside.
Then Fredric Richardson walked in. I told him to shut the door and my own voice sounded hollow—both too loud and too small at the same time, but I wanted to be able to talk freely and not be interrupted. The distance across the desk from where I sat to where he sat seemed vast. I tried to control the tremor in my own voice as I began to ask him questions. As I lost myself in his story, I barely noticed the shaking inside me had stopped and don’t we all just want to know that we matter?
Several times Fred reached for a tissue and once he said, “I’m telling you something I’ve never told anybody.” I listened and soon became lost in the salty brokenness that spilled down his cheeks.
Fred never knew his biological father and he said he remembers lying on his bed at a very young age trying so hard to figure out why his father didn’t love him—how he could just walk away and disappear from his life and never look back. He had a stepfather who Fred described as “dutiful”. He paid the bills and made sure Fred and his sisters were sent to private school but he never gave the love and approval that Fred sought and needed. He told Fred almost daily that he would never amount to anything.
Fred began to try different things to gain approval. He tried academics, sports (his stepfather never came to one of his games) and even bringing girlfriends home. Nothing worked. So, Fred began to eat. Maybe he ate to try to fill the ever-deepening void in his life. Maybe a part of him wanted to get so large that he could not be overlooked. For whatever reason the more he ate the more he grew in size and the taunts of others became more frequent. Fred became “Fat Fred,” wearing a size 42-44 at the age of 12. Years have passed but when Fred entered the program at Brother Bryan Mission and was asked to write out his testimony, he referred to himself in the third person writing “No more Fat Fred.”
Sometimes we can almost suffocate under the weight that the words of others place over us. When I asked Fred why he wrote in the third person, he hesitated for just a minute, finally saying, “It was too hard to do it unless he wrote as if it happened to someone else.”
Fred continued to communicate his attempts to gain other’s approval. He told me that even now, if there are ten people in a room and nine of them like him, he will try hard to win over the one who doesn’t. He stole his sister’s clarinet once and sold it so he could buy a snow globe with a heart in it for a girl he liked. Even when he used drugs, Fred said, he would buy drugs and use some but give most of them away to try to gain approval.
Coming to know Jesus as his Savior has helped Fred to discover what real love is. He now has a daughter and grandchildren. When I asked if he is able to tell them he loves them, his whole face lit up. “Oh yes, we say it all the time.”
As our time ended, Fred quietly asked if he could tell me one more story. His sister was going to get a “whupping” one day from his stepfather, and Fred asked if he could take it instead of her. His step-dad assented, but made Fred’s sister watch.
“He really laid it on me hard,” Fred said. Moreover, Fred and I marveled at how that’s the very thing Christ did for each of us—taking the punishment that was rightfully ours onto Himself.
Fred shows no bitterness toward his stepfather. “I really loved my step-father,” he said, “I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t love me.”
Fred is no longer Fat Fred. He has gained tremendous victories through Christ…victories over drugs and alcohol and bitterness and resentment and he is learning to seek approval from the only One who matters.
“Now my soul has rest,” Fred says. “The love of Christ Jesus has filled the holes in my soul and my life belongs to Him.”
Fred fills up a room with his height, his booming laugh, and his kindness. When he tells his story—the story written by the hand of the Father—the tenderness in his heart is more than evident. He knows how to give love and receive it and he is the Daddy to his daughter that he so wanted for himself.
Fred is currently an intern at BBM but one day wants to own his own food truck. “Fat Fred” is no longer around because Fred Richardson is truly a gentle giant of a man.