(Photo: Campbell Public Relations)
It's been several years since Barry Adkins has been able to celebrate a Father's Day with his son, Kevin, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2005 just hours after moving out of his father's home. Though Adkins was initially angry with God following his son's death, during a long journey he came to terms with a statement he had heard many times before: "God is in charge."
Kevin was a "good kid" who rarely got into trouble and was willing to offer a helping hand to those in need, Adkins told The Christian Post. A few weeks after Kevin's high school graduation, Adkins co-signed a loan on a new truck for him, though the young man would not live long enough to make a single payment.
Shortly after purchasing the truck, Kevin told his father he wanted to move out of their home in Gilbert, Ariz., which is just outside of Phoenix. He made plans to move into a rented house where he would have three other roommates.
The night he moved into his new home his roommates threw him a party. After binge drinking, Kevin passed out and some of the other people at the party moved him to his bed and laid him on his side in case he vomited. As a joke, they also shaved his legs and head. A friend checked in on him periodically throughout the night.
When the friend checked on him again around 4 a.m., Kevin's skin appeared blue. The first 9-1-1 call indicated he was having trouble breathing. The second said he wasn't breathing at all. Before he ever made it to the hospital, while Adkins was sleeping at home, Kevin died.
The next morning seemed like a normal Sunday morning, Adkins says, until two police officers and someone else in plain clothing showed up at his home and, once inside, shared the news with him.
"I freely admit that I was not happy with God," said Adkins. "I thought: Why do this to me? But eventually, when you come to accept the fact that He really is in charge – you are not – and that being a Christian doesn't guarantee you that you won't have any adversity, it gives you the tools to deal with adversity and accept the fact that He is in charge."
Kevin, who was just 18 years old when he died, enjoyed the outdoors and had talked about moving to Montana someday, so his family decided it was an appropriate place to take his ashes.
Later on he decided to walk the 1,400 miles from Arizona to his destination in Montana with Kevin's ashes in his backpack, and would stop along the way to share his son's story and warn people, particularly students, about the dangers of alcohol poisoning.
"One of the things that I understood early on was that I didn't want to be a victim," said Adkins. "I didn't want to be considered a victim. The world is full of victims, as you well know, people that are more than happy to take on that role. And I knew that the most that I could hope for was to make something very good come from it."
It was during the long trek, which is the subject of Adkins' book, Kevin's Last Walk: A Father's Final Journey With His Son, that Adkins says he discovered the freedom that comes with understanding that God is in charge.
"Fourteen hundred miles gives you a long time to come to grips with things like that," he said. The humbling experience of losing a child, he says, opened him up to understanding that principle with his heart, not just his mind.
Adkins also says he had to learn a lesson about forgiveness following his son's passing. He found it easy to forgive Kevin, whom he says was "ultimately responsible" for his own death. He also found it "relatively easy" to forgive those who were at the party that night. He struggled to forgive himself, however, wondering if there was something he could have done differently to prevent the tragedy.
"It gets back to faith," he said. "And Jesus forgave us for our sins before we even committed them, and we need to do the same thing. We need to be able to forgive those around us and forgive ourselves."
As Father's Day approaches, Adkins also offered some advice for dads. He talked to his children a great deal about drugs, he says, though he did not talk to them specifically about alcohol as much. He suggests using the media as a teaching tool, because parents can point to examples of celebrities and other "good kids" who have done serious harm because they drank too much.
"The advice that I would give fathers is: You're the head of the household, in a lot of cases, and it's up to you to start that conversation, however you decide to do it," he said.
Adkins continues to spread his message through speaking engagements at schools, churches and other venues, and by promoting his book. According to his website, he has shared his story with more than 75,000 students and parents nationwide.