Christian father survives family tragedy, shares hope to encourage others in journey

Editor’s Note — The article below ran in the Aug. 4, 2016, issue of The Alabama Baptist (TAB) but it recently won first place in Baptist Communicators Association’s 53rd Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition for feature writing/single article/less than 750 words so we are highlighting it in TAB‘s Top Story section on the website this week.

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Steve Hutton’s family was the “typical cute Southern Baptist yuppie family, even with a real-live white picket fence in the backyard.”

And he and his wife, Joni, raised their two boys — Ben and Michael — to be in church every Sunday and Wednesday.

“Occasionally we’d even sneak up there for visitation on Tuesdays and for basketball on Fridays and Saturdays,” he joked.

But he’s quick to say that none of that kept his oldest son’s life from falling apart.

Ben was a 4.0 GPA student and an exceptional athlete, said Hutton, a PGA professional golfer himself.

“He ran in 27 races his senior year and won all of them,” Hutton said of his son.

But after Ben went to play college football, Hutton and his wife began to notice that things didn’t quite add up with his finances, grades and attitude.

“After investigating and questioning him, we realized that he was involved in drug use, and we didn’t know how far back that went,” he said.

Ben was addicted primarily to Xanax, but he would do anything, anytime, anywhere, Hutton said.

The couple spent the next five years and $250,000 just keeping their son breathing. Ben went in cycles of rehab, recovery and giving life another try, only to spiral out of control again.

‘Helpless feeling’

“Addiction is so complicated, and trying to figure out how to help is so frustrating for families,” Hutton said. “It’s a very helpless feeling for a parent to finally understand that there’s absolutely nothing you can do other than continue to pray and be there when they’re ready to be well. You just want to fix it so badly for your child.”

That was the feeling Hutton was battling when he hugged Ben goodbye at a Teen Challenge facility in Brookings, South Dakota, in May 2014.

“When we drove out of the parking lot, both my wife and I felt like that was the last time we would ever see him alive,” he said. “He didn’t want to live at that point. He’d been trying to stop and falling back into an even deeper addiction and depression.”

But while Ben was in South Dakota, he had an encounter with God that he hadn’t had before, and it changed everything.

“He still struggles daily, but he’s been sober now for a couple of years,” Hutton said. “He has to think consciously about his time and what he’s doing, but he knows who he is and Whose he is. And he has a bright future ahead of him.”

But Hutton says his son’s journey was one that changed him as a father — and it changed the way he related to other fathers.

“My story matches most men’s stories from a pain and suffering standpoint,” he said. “Their story might be different but equally as painful, whether it’s hurt in their marriage, stress on their finances, loss of a job or just confusion from the world.”

And Hutton just wants to reach out to them and tell them they are not alone. That’s why he wrote the book “Pride Aside,” the story of a father’s journey through his son’s addiction. And that’s why he’ll be sharing his story at Man Church at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills, on Aug. 28 (see Man Church gets men involved in ‘every aspect’).

“I can unequivocally say that I have never seen men under as much pressure as they are today,” Hutton said. “There are some things you can do to get through it. God doesn’t want you to live under pressure — He wants you to live a fulfilled life.”

To combat the pressure, men first have to be in God’s Word.

“You can’t hear a word from God if you aren’t in His Word,” Hutton said.

Second, you have to be with those who care about you.

Easily relatable

“That means your church too, and you need to be there and be involved and teachable,” he said.

Danny Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist, has been one of the ones walking alongside the Hutton family for a long time.

“I was Steve and Joni’s pastor in Ruston, Louisiana, in the 1990s, and they were the model family,” he said. “Ben’s struggle is a reminder that no family is immune to the temptations of alcohol and drug addictions.”

Any father who has walked alongside a child struggling with an addiction will easily relate to Hutton’s story, Wood said.

And for those men who are not in this situation, “it is imperative they attend to learn the warning signals of addiction and what to do and what not to do,” he said.

For more information about Hutton’s ministry, visit prideaside.org.