HUNTINGTON - Bert Fulks' book on parenting was finished and four months from publishing when he found his youngest son, Danny, had disappeared from his bed overnight one February morning earlier this year.
The frantic scramble on a frigid Monday spiraled into an eight-day nightmare for him and his wife, Laura, scraping for any hint they could find and following any lead they could glean across the East Coast.
It wrapped up with a happy ending the following Tuesday as the then-16-year-old Danny came home to Huntington on his own - the very night a prayer vigil was to be held for his safe return - and the Fulks house has since normalized back to life as it was.
But some who knew Bert Fulks had written a to-be-published parenting book began to wonder whether the ordeal would hurt its credibility as some indictment of his fathering skills, Fulks recounted in an interview with The Herald-Dispatch on Friday.
If anything, it reinforces the book's foundation that no parent, child or family is perfect, but unwavering trust is the glue that binds those broken pieces.
"I have nothing to offer parents who want to pretend they have it all figured out and don't face heartache and struggle," the elder Fulks said. "This book is for families who face adversity with honesty and courage and hope to come out stronger on the other side."
The 48-year-old Fulks' book, "X-Plan Parenting," draws heavily on his experiences raising three children: 22-year-old Ben, 19-year-old Katie, and Danny, along with his time spent in children's ministry, coaching youth sports and teaching high school in Dublin, Ohio, before he and Laura returned to their native Huntington. The Fulkses now operate South Huntington Animal Hospital off 5th Street Road, with Bert spending much of his time writing.
"X-Plan Parenting" uses stories from the Fulks children's early years as discussion points, many pointing out apparent mistakes and missteps he made as a father, Bert Fulks said, mixed in with a solid dose of biblical tie-ins.
But the overarching theme recognizes that every person, parent or child, has their flaws, and that an honest healing process is what builds a better parent and a stronger kid.
The titular "X-Plan" is a simple protocol Fulks pitches as a rescue plan parents can use when their children are in uncomfortable social situations, whatever that may be. The idea is that a child simply text messages an "X" to their parent, older siblings or other guardian. The parent then comes and picks up the child - no questions asked.
Where traditional parenting protocol may force the child to explain themselves, the unwavering support from a guaranteed pickup, no matter what, builds a deeper level of trust, Fulks stated.
"If a kid knows that you've got their back, that gives them a lot of faith in you," he said. "And the world is constantly trying to damage that relationship."
Still, Fulks stressed the traditional difference between a parent being their child's ally, which he advocates, rather than their friend.
"You sometimes have to love your kid enough to not care if they like you," he continued. "Sometimes we interact as if we're friends, but if you look at your child as if they're your 'friend,' you need some actual friends."
The 320-page "X-Plan Parenting" officially published June 11 through Howard Books, a Christian publishing company owned by Simon & Schuster. It can be purchased at The Red Caboose in Heritage Station in Huntington, Books-A-Million at the Huntington Mall, and will be stocked at all Barnes & Noble locations nationwide. The book is also available through all major online vendors, including Amazon.