“Where are you going?” Rob Kenney’s brother asked him, standing in the kitchen of their 1970s home in Bellevue, Washington. Barely a teenager at 14, Rob had no idea where one goes when a father tells his eight children he doesn’t want them anymore.
The older siblings took the younger ones in, which meant Rob’s 23-year-old, newlywed brother took 14-year-old Rob into his 8-by-35-foot mobile home. They lived in close quarters, and Rob now sympathizes with his brother, who instantly became responsible for a moody teenager.
Rob’s life didn’t start out this dysfunctional. His mother, a Kansas native and one of 12 kids with a close, extended family, planned on raising her own, large family close to her homeland. But when she married Rob’s father, he forced their departure from the plains for New Orleans and then Washington. Coping with the stress of raising eight children thousands of miles from anyone she knew, Rob’s mother turned to alcohol.
“By the time I got to be 10, 11, 12, you could definitely tell there was some dysfunction going on,” Rob said. “We used to have even boxes in our downstairs because my mom never really unpacked. I think my mom … wanted to get back to Kansas. I think that really took a toll on her.”
While Rob’s father worked in a neighboring city, the marriage deteriorated. Rob’s father became calloused towards his family, eventually falling in love with another woman.
The custody battle raged on after the divorce, and Rob’s father filed a restraining order against his mother.
“He got custody of us, but he didn’t really want us,” Rob said. “I think he was kind of done by that time.”
The kids lived on their own for weeks at a time. Their father loaded them up with groceries then left town for a week of work. The breaking point took place just before that day in the kitchen when Rob’s dad told his older siblings he didn’t want them anymore.
“He said, ‘You know, I’m done having kids. … You’re going to have to figure out where these kids are going because otherwise I’m putting them in foster homes,’” Rob said.
When Rob still lived with his mother, every time he did something wrong, she told Rob he got a black mark on some kind of celestial permanent record. When he did something right, a black mark erased from his record. It was her own version of Catholicism, and Rob’s first exposure to faith.
Rob started seeking God and wondering about the truth behind this tally system after he got married and hit a rough patch.
“About the time my wife got pregnant with my daughter, I had lost my job, my wife was going off to work, and she was pregnant, and … all my plans had kind of failed,” Rob said. “I thought I had it together, and boy, everything just started falling apart. I cried out to God and said, ‘Lord, if You solve this, if You get me out of the mess I’ve made for myself, I’ll search You out and try to understand whatever I can about You.’ And dang it if He didn’t come through. He called my bluff.”
Rob began reading the Bible for himself, quickly realizing God never tracked his mistakes on a cosmic blackboard.
“I can know that I’m going to Heaven because of what He did,” Rob said. “Jesus is the hero of the story.”
Upon realizing God forgave him of his sins, Rob forgave his father. Rob’s brother reached out to their father and organized a fishing trip. In his 80s, his father asked for forgiveness on a boat with his son.
“He made it a point of trying to talk to each one of us individually,” Rob said. “… I know how much God has forgiven me. How can I hold something against somebody else?”
His father died after that boating trip, but the air was clear between the father and son.
Rob’s mother died in 1986 at age 59. Sadly, they didn’t reconcile before her death.
Paying It Forward
Rob and his wife of 29 years raised two children who now live as successful, well-adjusted adults. His daughter, Kristine, 27, earned a handful of degrees and certifications toward helping her work with kids. His son, Kyle, works as a software engineer.
“My goal in my life was to raise good adults,” Rob said. “I never wanted to be wealthy. I never wanted to be necessarily successful. My goal in life was to raise good adults — not good children but good adults — because I had a fractured childhood.”
Once he accomplished that goal in his 50s, Rob realized he still possessed a lot of wisdom, learning and insight — useful tools for the younger generation. Rob always wanted to make a series of videos detailing important lessons not taught in high school — lessons like ironing a shirt. His family encouraged him in this video endeavor, but he never found the time.
Until he stopped making excuses.
“I had lots of excuses, but while we’re in quarantine, I ran out of excuses,” Rob said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
Rob wanted to leave a legacy, particularly for those who struggle with a broken family or absent parent. So far, the videos cover topics like checking the oil, checking your tire pressure, and ironing a dress shirt.
“I want it to be about everyday tasks, but I also would like to pass along some of the wisdom I’ve learned along the way to encourage people,” Rob said. “… I thought I was just going to be showing people how to do stuff, but it’s kind of resonating on a whole different level.”