Dad to kids: 'Don't make the mistakes I did'

Kevin Griffen, Sr.
Kevin Griffen, Sr., ran around his backyard, making sure the tent was in place, the burgers were on the grill and the sodas were in the cooler.

Griffen and his wife Tiffany were hosting an open house for their eldest son, Kevin Griffen, Jr., who just graduated from Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School. In August, he's off to Wabash College on a full scholarship.

And as Griffen shared with guests, "He actually got full tuition to Purdue and Wabash and he had to turn one down and Purdue said, 'You stole one from us!' as good as he is."

Griffen is understandably proud of his son, but also grateful for the help he received as a young father "living a double life."

Talking to a minister at the party he said, "I don't know if you understand how I feel about that part of my life, you helping my son out...Like I said, I was out there ripping around, running wild and you were a mentor to him, a figure to look up, even now."

When Kevin was born 18 years ago, his dad said he was "up and down the street selling drugs and doing things I shouldn't have been doing. I was in and out of jail, then one day a light bulb went off. Kevin was two or three years old and I was like, 'I gotta do something different. I gotta break this cycle'."

He said his sister's father and his own father were murdered within a block of one another.

"I needed to break the generational curse," he said. "My goal was to make sure my kids would be better off than I was."

Griffen turned to the Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis and began turning his life around. First he joined the military, spending one year in Afghanistan. Then he became an Indianapolis firefighter. For the last year, he's been assigned to Station 33 on North Moller Road.

"My motto is I helped tear up the community," he said. "This is my way of giving back to my community."

While son Kevin graduated with all sorts of awards and honors, it's the lessons learned from his father that resonate most.

Kevin said, "I think one of the things I take from his story is, even though you may go through something, you can always succeed and do better and have a better position in the future."

Griffen said of his three children, "My goal for them is not to make the same mistakes I made. I made those mistakes for all of us, so they don't."

He also said he takes nothing for granted.

"On this Father's Day, I'm grateful to be here, grateful to be on this side of the bars and this side of the ground, and I'm grateful God is still working with me and that I've had the opportunity to change things I've done in the past. And I'm grateful my family is together - my wife and three beautiful kids."

Years later, Griffen is still helping the agency that helped him. He serves on the board of the Fathers and Families Center and volunteers there.

He said of the program, "The one big thing it's taught me is it's not what the program has done for me but what it's done for the kids and that's what we judge success on."

Son Kevin also wants to pay it forward. He plans to become a child psychologist helping children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As Griffen told the minister at the party, "It takes a village and you were part of that village" - a village that has much to be proud of.