MOORHEAD — Devlyn Brooks is used to wearing a lot of hats: reporter, editor, dad and step dad, but as he juggles work and blended family, he's also taking on a new challenge — attending seminary to become a pastor.
The 46-year-old Crookston, Minn., native, who has called Moorhead home for 13 years, has worked in the newspaper industry for 25 years as a reporter, editor and manager. Two years ago, he became president of Forum Communication's Modulist, a cutting-edge media services company that provides a self-service content publishing tool to media companies nationwide.
He and wife Shelley Brooks are parents to Garrett Brooks, 22; Carter Brooks, 17; Ava Heitman, 15; and Siriana Heitman, 12. As one of nine children himself, and now dad to four, he knows a thing or two about family. He calls parenting "the greatest and most thankless role you’ll ever have. But it’s also the single greatest way you’ll ever impact the world for the better."
Tell me about yourself growing up. What did you like to do? What kept you busy?
I was a pretty nerdy, bookish growing up. Being shy and introverted led me to love libraries and books, and I spent a lot of time creating stories that somehow never got written down on paper. Later in high school, after a fortuitous growth spurt, I became pretty good at sports. And so much of my high school years were spent busy in athletics.
What did you learn about parenting from your own parents?
Being the youngest of nine children, I learned that you really truly never run out of love for your children. Even after nine, you love every one of the same! My mom was a saint, and without even knowing it, she provided me a model of parenting that would serve the world well nowadays. She gave everyone of us unconditional love before it was ever a trendy catch phrase. It never mattered how deep the trouble was that one of us found ourselves in, our mother was there to pick us up, brush off the dirt and give us a loving push forward. Also, without even knowing it, my mother taught us that serving others was the highest calling you can perform in life. And finally, she created a very large family of some 70-plus immediate family members who know that the two most important priorities in life are faith and family. And if you were with one of her kids, you were family.
How, when and where did you meet Shelley?
Shelley and I first met in college more than 25 years ago. I was roommates with her brother, and she came to stay with us one summer because Bemidji State was offering a particular class she needed for her degree. About 20 years later, after both becoming divorced and single parents, we reconnected via a simple message on Facebook. We met for coffee at then Moxie Java (now Third Drop) in Moorhead, and four months later I took her back to Moxie Java to propose. Hilariously, even though I was down on one knee, and Shelley was crying with joy, not one person in the coffee shop ever noticed. There was a group of ladies right next to us carrying on a Bible study, and a handful of other patrons filling up other tables, and there was a barista behind the counter. And not one person witnessed the proposal scene going on in the middle of the floor!
Do people ever bring up the Brady Bunch when they find out about yours and Shelley's story? She brought her two girls and you brought your two boys into the family.
Yes, we hear that pretty often when people first learn of our story. And the best part is to this day, I don’t think one of our kids understands that pop culture reference.
What are the challenges and rewards of being dad to a blended family?
The immediate reward, of course, is that overnight I got to be a parent of two more beautiful kids, which brings so much joy to my life. I love being with my kids and seeing how they are growing into such unique individuals. And in my case, I finally got to learn what it was like to be a dad to girls, which was a whole new ball game for me. It was like getting to start parenting all over again, which was great for me because being a dad is the greatest profession in the world. No offense to the moms, of course!
It’s no secret that blending a family is challenging. When you are blending two families who bring their own histories, including all of the joys and brokenness and the good and the bad, it is remarkably challenging. Spouses are challenged because you juggle different parenting styles that were never agreed upon prior to having children. And the kiddos are challenged because it means they encounter different family dynamics.
For instance, in our situation, one oldest and one youngest both became middle kids, and our oldest became the oldest of four instead of two. And our youngest became the youngest of four instead of two. All of these things seem immaterial before the second wedding, but loom large when you get into the daily living of being a blended family.
And then you have the challenges of each of the sets of kids being with their other parents too. You learn to try to do the best you can of setting up the expectations for your new normal in your expanded family, while trying to respect the families of the kids’ other biological parents. And you learn very quickly that grace and forgiveness and love are very important because there are a million ways that modern life tries to break those strands of love that you’ve worked so hard to create.
We are eight years into this process, and I marvel every day at how our four kids have managed to grow together and learn to support each other. Like every family, we have teenagers that get on each other’s nerves, but honestly our kids almost all of the time get along now. And that’s not something I could have said in the early years.
So, here’s a shout out to all of those families — blended or otherwise — who keep working at it because the great news is that while love and trust takes time to build, the outcome eight years later is life changing! I wake up every morning knowing how blessed that I am to be a dad of four awesome kids! Don’t give up in the hard times. They will serve you well along the way!
You raised two boys before you became dad to two girls. Any surprises about being a girl dad?
Oh boy, was I ever in for a learning curve! I didn’t grow up in a house with sisters because they were older and had already left when I came along, and I had only raised the two boys. So along — surprise! — came the nail polish and glitter and pink and tiaras and dresses and hair-braiding. I’ve gotten to go to butterfly balls and watch Barbie movies and have my toenails painted. I’ve gotten to take the girls on outings that I never would have taken the boys. I’ve gotten to help mend broken hearts for reasons that would have never happened to the boys. And I’ve gotten to learn about what Shelley meant when the girls were still in elementary school, and she said, “Just wait. Middle school is coming.” … Yeah, brace yourselves for that one, dads.
After 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter, editor and manager, and now working for Forum Communications' Modulist in self-service publishing you're taking on a big new career change, right?
While I was in my mid-20s I briefly flirted with the idea of going to seminary, but with two young boys and just starting out in my newspaper career, it didn’t feel like I could manage going back to school at the time. But five years ago (about 20 years later) I experienced one of those crystalizing moments that made it very apparent to Shelley and me that the door was open for me to go to seminary and pursue my goal of becoming an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). I’ve been fortunate that Shelley has supported this endeavor because going back to get your master’s while trying to be a husband, father, working full-time and helping to lead a church is not easy for anyone in the family. Frankly, I wouldn’t have made it through without the support of Shelley and the kids because our kids have literally grown up while I’ve been in seminary. It just wouldn’t have been possible without them all believing in the calling too.
And I am extremely grateful for the support from my work family as well. Everyone from the Marcil family who owns Forum Communications, to the supervisors I’ve had through the years and my colleagues around me have cheered me on and shared kind words at some of the moments in this journey when I’ve needed it most. I am very lucky to have an employer who sees my desire to fulfill a call to my faith as a benefit versus competition with day-to-day responsibilities. Because the journey has absolutely improved me as a person, as a supervisor and a member of the community.
And now that I am about eight months from graduation and having served Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minn., for the past three years now, I can’t imagine life being different. I love being a pastor, and I am absolutely humbled by how the congregation allows me into their lives in their most joyous and most challenging times of their lives, and by the front row opportunities I’ve had to watch the Spirit move in this world. After living an early life filled with tragedy, pain and suffering, the past five years in seminary and at Faith Lutheran have filled me with childlike joy over the wonder of life and creation again.
What is your best advice to a new dad?
First off, know this: This will be the greatest adventure life will ever take you on. There will be times you have completely no idea what you are doing, and others where you wonder how it will ever get any better. But the great news is that it somehow magically always gets better. Mysteriously, after every bend in the journey — when they become toddlers, when they first go off to school, when they become teenagers, when they bring their first girlfriend/boyfriend home, when they go to college and even when they are pursuing their own lives — the journey gets better. There have been many times when I thought to myself, “Man, it can’t get better than this.” … And then it does. So enjoy it all. Soak it in. But don’t blink, because then it’s gone, and you wish you could do it all over again.
And second, practically speaking:
- Say, “I love you” every chance you get. … No, every single chance.
- Confirm your children’s self-worth every single day.
- Love your spouse in a way that makes your children want to love their spouse.
- Model your expectations because these intelligent mini-people easily see through our fake words.
- Teach your kids to fix things, whether it’s their own boredom or a car or a computer. Kids that know how to fix, know how to learn and that will serve them for life.