A pair of winter boots is surrounded by candles that represent some of the sixteen people who died homeless in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the past year (OSV News photo/Sam Lucero).

In September 2021, I reported Dad missing. He’d been off the radar before, but this time when I asked around, we realized it had been four months since anyone had seen any sign of him. The VA didn’t know any more than we did. So I went to the police.

At that point, Dad had been homeless for three years. Mom hung on for as long as she could—she’d stayed married to him for over half a century—but eventually his mind deteriorated so much she had to flee. All his meds (for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental-health issues) had rendered him unable to walk, and his subsequent reduction of them left him mobile but scary. I told Mom she needed to get out of there, and finally she did—and for once, she didn’t go back. But that left Dad at the house, winging it. Eventually he took off to live in an RV, and then he lost that, and then he had a car, and then he lost that. Out on the streets he’d connect with some people but freak others out. Shopkeepers said he couldn’t come in anymore, and when he did, they called the police. He got tossed in jail periodically for disorderly conduct and whatnot.

And that’s how I found him. It took the local police department just a day to track him down. It turned out he was in jail in his old hometown in Indiana. He’d been there sleeping in a park and was startled awake by someone walking past. Seeing the guy had a gun, Dad showed the man his knife. The guy, who had an open-carry permit, called the cops. Dad got arrested with pot and paraphernalia in his possession (illegal in Indiana) and spent two years in jail before finally facing a judge. Much of that time was spent waiting for an open spot at the state mental-health hospital so they could “restore him to competence”—to clear his head so he could stand trial for the crime he committed when it was not clear.

It did not escape my notice (my mind is sensitive to miserable irony) that the jail where Dad spent most of those two years was on the former site of the factory where his mom used to work. It’s just off the road our family used to drive between our house in the country and my grandparents’ house in Lafayette. Dad had been so intent on getting out of Indiana forty years before—the powers-that-be would never let him succeed there, he said—and now he’d walked voluntarily into the old trap. When I asked why he went there, he said he’d been curious. 

In September 2021, I reported Dad missing.

So, I found Dad. And actually, amazingly, right now, he’s doing pretty well. Granted, he lives in a motel room. But nice people from a local health-care facility bring him his meds, wash his clothes, and take him to the grocery store. They’re also helping him look for an assisted-living situation.

That’s how it always seems to go. It almost pisses me off. My dad did not deserve that war or his PTSD, and our family didn’t deserve their consequences. Sometimes I think I should be filing a missing-person report on our Father in heaven, who stands by while wars happen and families are broken, while we humans perfect ways of killing one another. I have two children myself. I wouldn’t just stand there while they tore each other apart; I’d intervene. But God lets so much happen. He looks like a worse father than I am, but surely that can’t be the case. And then, just when I’m totally fed up with God, I encounter some sign of his grace and mercy—like the recent improvement in my dad’s situation—that restores my faith.

Faith is something I have in common with my dad. I don’t know anyone who loves Jesus more than he does. He told me he wouldn’t have survived the war or jail without the Lord. Once, when Dad was still on the streets, I heard from someone that he showed up at the Easter Vigil. How did he even know when it was? It brings to mind the time, way back when I was kid, when I was playing with Grandma’s chalkboard. After I drew a peace sign, Dad took the chalk from my hand. He drew a Chi-Rho (☧). “This too,” he said, “is a peace sign.” 

Published in the March 2024 issue: View Contents

Timothy P. Schilling writes from Utrecht, the Netherlands. This reflection opens his memoir, Lonesome Road, which will be published by Wipf and Stock.

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