The Leon Wilkes Story©
(Only the name has been changed.)

From the day Leon Wilkes, Jr., was born, he seemed destined not to have an easy life. Though his mother was a loving and hardworking woman, his father, Leon Wilkes, Sr., had never learned the rewards of an honest day’s work. He kept the family in poverty.

One day, when Leon was two years old, his mother went to the hospital to give birth to twin baby girls. While she was in the hospital, Leon’s father abandoned the family, without saying goodbye to anyone. To make matters worse, he took everything he could sell, including the family’s second-hand television set. He sold everything at a pawnshop before he left town.

Mrs. Wilkes came home to a house that was half empty. She was quite upset. But several neighbors brought food and helped her with the children. After a little while, she returned to work at the nearby elementary school, where she was the custodian. She mopped the floors and cleaned the bathrooms and classrooms. Though she had little education, she was determined that her children would learn the value of the education that she saw around her each day.

Eventually, her three children were old enough to attend the school where she worked. She was given permission to let them stay in the library after school until her workday ended. This proved to be fortunate. Without realizing it, the children were having fun, playing educational board games and exploring interesting library books that opened their minds to the wonders of the world. Many evenings, the children helped their mother with her cleaning chores so that she could finish earlier. She then joined them in the library to read and play board games, which the children always seemed to win.

The teachers were delighted that Mrs. Wilkes’s three children were at the tops of their classes. The school took pride in the local newspaper story that told of the custodian’s children and how their after-school confinement to the library exposed them to books and a love of reading while their mother worked.

The Wilkes children’s success continued into high school, where Leon Wilkes, Jr., not only was an A student, but also began showing extraordinary skills in athletics. His name was soon becoming popular in local sports circles.

However, this began to bother him. Leon Wilkes, Jr., carried the name of a father he detested. One day, he asked his mother if he could change his entire name. She understood his pain and agreed.

Leon Wilkes, Jr., graduated from high school and received a scholarship from one of the top universities in the country. Because of his sports skills, he was selected as an All American. After he graduated, he became famous in the world of professional sports, but not under the name of Leon Wilkes, Jr. It was his adopted name that became a household word to sports fans throughout America. Meanwhile, both his sisters enjoyed successful careers, one as a college professor, the other as an attorney in a prominent law firm.

However, Leon Wilkes, Jr., had not escaped the bitter memory of his father. One day he received a surprise letter from the warden of a state prison. His father, Leon Wilkes, Sr., was on death row. The warden was writing on his behalf. He asked the prisoner’s son if he would consider making a brief visit. At first, Leon Wilkes, Jr., couldn’t bear to consider such a thing. He could only remember the hardships that his family had endured. But after discussing the letter with his mother, she encouraged him to show compassion and the heart to forgive.

It was quite difficult, but he finally agreed to visit. Upon his arrival, the warden allowed him a few private minutes in his father’s cell. As he entered, he and his father just stared at each other. After a few awkward words, his father put his hand out for a handshake. Leon Wilkes, Jr., slowly responded. As they held hands, both men, with heavy hearts, began to cry.

His father, with much emotion, softly asked, “Can you forgive me?”

Leon Wilkes, Jr., found it hard to respond. He then remembered his mother’s words of compassion and quietly answered, “Yes, I can forgive you, if you can forgive me.”

His father was surprised by his answer and asked, “What should I forgive you for?”

Leon Wilkes, Jr., replied, “For all the hate I’ve had for you all these years.”

Following such words, both men hugged each other for the first and last time in their lives. Each felt a relief within that they had never felt before.

Forgiving those who cause you pain
Comforts the heart where pain remains.