In the early 1970s, Larry Sykes was a state amateur boxing champ. He went on to become one of the Toledo area's most visible financial officers, a Fifth Third Bank vice president.
He's served on the governing boards of Toledo Area Metroparks, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, Toledo Public Schools, and Lucas County Children Services - all while harboring a lot of bitterness.
Mr. Sykes choked up on several occasions Tuesday while serving as a panelist at the second annual Lucas County Children Services Fatherhood Summit in downtown Toledo.
"I'm a community baby," he told about 100 people at the event. "Everyone in the community raised me."
Mr. Sykes said he grew up in a rough part of Toledo, never knowing his father.
He told the audience his mother, who was single, "gave me away."
"People say I'm a success," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you, I was blessed. Had it not been for other folks looking out for me, Larry would have been dead or in jail or on drugs or maybe robbing one of you now."
The statistics show the odds were stacked against him.
Seventy-one percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, according to the event's keynote speaker, Pastor Raymond E. Lloyd, Jr., a consultant from Springfield, Ohio.
Ninety percent of those in prison grew up without a father, Mr. Lloyd said.
The summit was a two-hour celebration of fatherhood, one that drew attention to the value of male role models in the household. Some viewed it as the warm-up for an Oct. 16 event at the University of Toledo, a conference called Boys to Men.
It also is in its second year. Last year's Boys to Men conference at UT drew 800 people.
This year's is expected to be at least as large, said the Rev. Janice Carson, a UT assistant professor of social work who said she has taught about fatherlessness for 20 years and has authored a book on the subject.
Mr. Sykes will be the UT event's keynote speaker, she said.
Mr. Sykes told the audience he didn't know who his father was until he was 35.
He said an aunt told him his father wanted to meet him, something Mr. Sykes said he initially wasn't interested in doing. During the question-and-answer period, Ms. Carson - who was not a panelist - revealed Mr. Sykes recently had a change of heart and met his biological father, which Mr. Sykes immediately confirmed in a soft, tender voice.
"I had to forgive him for me to move ahead," he said, nearly coming to tears, "because that anger and hate will destroy you."
He said fathers who abandon children have no idea how hurtful that is to their impressionable children.
Mr. Sykes spoke lovingly of his family, including a son he said is now 6 feet, 10 inches tall and with size 18 feet.
"There's nothing greater than reaching down and lifting up a child," he said.
Toledo lawyer Paul Geller was on the panel with Mr. Sykes and Mr. Lloyd. "Fathers, all I can tell you is care, care, care. Never accept defeat. Walk in love. Make people know you have love in your heart and the good Lord will take care of you, because the truth always wins," Mr. Geller said.
Mr. Lloyd is an uncle of musician-actor John Legend, who last year filed an entry on his blog paying tribute to Mr. Lloyd's father, Bishop Raymond E. Lloyd, Sr., who passed away in 2009 at age 88 after years as pastor of El Bethel Temple in Springfield.
Mr. Legend said the late pastor "made a great impact on me and hundreds of others in my community."
"He was a steadfast, principled man who raised six children with a strong sense of morality, discipline, and humility - values they passed on to his dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren," Mr. Legend wrote.
The younger Mr. Lloyd, the church's senior pastor, said many of society's problems can be traced back to men who have refused to marry the women they have impregnated while also abandoning their offspring.
"We are actually in an epidemic. The epidemic is, 'Where are the dads?'•" Mr. Lloyd said.
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