The Importance of Being Dad


A complete stranger sent me an email yesterday. In it she told me the story of how she was disowned by her father. She shared her grief and her pain, as well as her fears of how her father’s rejection might impact her daughter. She wrote to me because she had just read the blog post I wrote in 2014 about being disowned by my dad and felt I was someone who would understand her story.

I get similar emails several times a year from people who in desperation decide to search the internet for answers on dealing with the pain and sorrow of parental rejection. My post “The Day my Dad Disowned Me” is somehow at the top of the page when people enter “disowned by my father” on Google, and as a result over 13000 people have read the post. It still gets 300 hits a month 4 years after it was published.

Last month I received an email from a nurse in Los Angeles, asking me if I could call her about her struggles with her father’s rejection. She said she was looking for guidance and advice, but when I called her it was clear that she was looking more for validation and support. She needed someone to tell her she was okay.

With each message received I ask myself, “Why are people writing me, someone they have never met?” Is it that the post resonates with their own experience or does the fact that I am a doctor causes them to trust my expertise?Whatever the reason, the messages continue to come. Each one reminds me of the importance of fatherhood. Dads have the power to encourage and heal, as well as the power to tear down and destroy. This power does not seem to fade over time, as the messages I receive are from people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Many are dealing with the pain of being disowned years earlier.

This is a sobering reality, one every father needs to take seriously throughout their life. My children are now adults but my call to fatherhood has not gone away. It is evolving and changing, and I often struggle to understand what it means to be a dad of grown ups, but there is one thing of which I a certain. Being a dad will always be important. I need to love my kids, be there for them, and encourage them.

As I get older I am adding another task. It is my goal to encourage other men to step up to the plate and to excel at fatherhood. It is one of the main reasons I lead two men’s groups. If we are to solve the fatherhood crisis in our nation it must begin with dads encouraging dads. As so many emails have taught me, the cost of failure is simply too high.

  • Bart

Fatherless on Father's Day

I have not seen my father since 1993. He is still alive and he could see me if he wanted to, he just doesn’t want to.  In his mind I am not worth it. I failed to perform as desired, I did not meet his expectations so in his mind he was absolved of all parental responsibilities. He was done with me.

He was not always disgusted with me. There were a few occasions when he actually was proud of me and showed it. At my medical school graduation ceremony, after receiving my diploma I turned to the audience and saw my father standing on his chair pumping his fist in the air. It meant so much to me to see that I had finally gained his approval and made him happy. It didn’t last. Disownment was just 30 months away.

In the 22 years since I last saw my dad I have asked myself how it is that a father could disown a child. It is hard to imagine what is required to justify such an act. It makes sense if a child is a monster (I would not have faulted Osama Bin Laden’s dad for not making the trip to the compound in Pakistan!) but for a true father it should be almost impossible to let go.

My kids have reached adulthood and letting go is quite difficult for me. My son is 25 and has been married for three years but he is still my boy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and want to hear about his life. It takes effort to not call him. My daughter still lives at home and wonders when the questions will stop. I ask her about every aspect of her life and look for any opportunity to spend time with her. They are my kids and I am their dad. It is what I do.

When I think about what it means to be a dad, this is the thing that seems most important. A dad is always there, whenever needed and often times when he isn’t. A true dad is an emotional rock his children can stand on, a shelter where refuge can be found in the storms of life and a fixed point of reference to show the way when vision is cloudy. A dad is a dad 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It is what he does.

While I never had this from my father I did not live my whole life without it. My father-in-law lived it for me for 23 years. He was a quiet man who seldom spoke his affection, but he had the “always there” part of being a dad mastered. For him it was unconditional. He was there financially to bail his kids out, even when they had been foolish with their money. He fixed our cars when the accidents were our fault. There are no words to describe the comfort I felt simply knowing that if things went bad, “Pops” would be there for me, or the anxiety that I feel now that he is gone. He did what every father is supposed to do. He was a model of the love our Heavenly Father has for us.

I take great comfort in knowing that God’s love for us is not dependent on our behavior, it is dependent on His character. He is always there, always loving, always forgiving and always merciful. He is our rock, our hiding Place, our refuge, our defender, and our comforter. He is our one true Father who will never leave us or forsake us.

He is the Father to the Fatherless. He is father to me.

-          Bart

Happy Father’s day. Feel free to share stories about your dad in the comments. If you are interested in hearing me speak, you can check out the sermons page for audio links or visit me on vimeo, A new message that includes a great story of a father’s love was just uploaded. Click on the message, “A life lived well”

My previous post on being disowned by my father is available here