NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Dennis Mansfield had all answers. The God-fearing man knew how to parent. He was in control of everything. He was the voice of Idaho's religious right. He was arrogant. He was selective in choosing his friends . he was political.
Today, Dennis Mansfield is a broken man, "loved by unloved people," and he's poured out his heart in a very personal book entitled "Beautiful Nate."
"I've learned I don't have all the answers. . My past bravado in posing and pretending may have looked good, but it was not good."
The Dennis Mansfield known as a lobbyist and a politician is a different man today.
He met the Idaho Press-Tribune for hot chocolate at the Flying M in Nampa recently to talk about his book.
Mansfield has relived his son's March 11, 2009, death again and again . as he wrote it, as he read it in a recording studio for the audio version and yet again as he talks about the book that was released March 4.
But it's not just a story about his 27-year-old son, Nathan Dennis Mansfield. It's about someone who is reading it and his or her own vulnerabilities.
The 57-year-old man drops all the pretenses that he once lived by, sharing his vulnerability to tell a story of family love, a life lost and Heaven's promises.
Rewind to the year 1991, when Mansfield moved his family to Boise.
"Everything my wife and I touched while joining and working in association with Focus on the Family seemed to flourish," he writes.
He had become the spokesman for the religious right, heading the strong lobbying group known as the Idaho Family Forum, the state version of national groups like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition.
"I became the voice of the religious right in Idaho. Propositions were written that I supported that limited the special rights afforded to homosexuals," Mansfield writes in his book.
His children "watched their dad become either a great champion or an incredibility evil man, depending on who was voicing which opinion."
Mansfield was part of Helen Chenoweth's "kitchen cabinet" in her successful bid for Congress and after her six-year service in D.C., Mansfield ran for the job.
In the field of a half-dozen candidates, the race focused on Butch Otter and Mansfield. Five days before the primary, a reporter asked about a drug paraphernalia charge his oldest son, Nate, faced.
The candidate didn't know about the charge.
"We had to deal with the political fallout of the Focus on the Family guy losing all control of his family."
Nate, the oldest of three children, became a heroin addict, spending four birthdays in jail and prison for a host of drug-related crimes.
The father writes about his fear-based parenting style — a practice based on strict rules and the "fear of what others think of us as parents ."
Today, Mansfield urges parents to let children make mistakes because that's how they learn.
As his own son battled drugs, Mansfield and his wife, Susan, reached out to drug addicts and inmates.
At that same time, the Mansfield family learned to let Nate find his way, and he did, connecting with a woman who eventually became his fiancée.
Susan and Dennis visited Nate and Ginny in 2008 and saw how their "beautiful boy" had become a man.
A few months later, Mansfield spent an unplanned four-day visit with his son on a trip to Branson, Mo.
Their last meeting was over hot chocolate.
"Nate knew I'm a hot chocolate lover, and this was to be his final gift to me."
In what is the most heart-wrenching chapter of the book, Mansfield recounts the final conversation he had with his son on March 9, 2009.
They were on the phone for 90 minutes. Nate was angry that Mansfield had talked about the "prodigal son" and the "prideful older brother" at a local church.
"It's my story, Dad, not yours!"
Equally as forceful, Mansfield told his son: "It's not just your story, Nate. Your life took all of us down into the pit."
The 45-minute angry and intense conversation led to the last 45 minutes focused on their mutual love and respect.
Nate's last words were the same as the father's last words: "I love you."
Two days later, Nate died in his sleep of adverse drug reactions — two drugs in trace amounts interacting with each other, causing his death. It was not an overdose, Mansfield writes.
Four years later, with an insightful book about his parenting skills, his own arrogance and lessons learned, Mansfield says he still feels that obvious deep sadness over the loss of his son, but there are no regrets.
"I couldn't have asked for a greater gift from God," Mansfield says, adding, but "if there's one deep regret, it is that I can't see Nate grow older."
Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.