Growing Up Without a Dad

It was a cool October day and it seemed as though the world was standing in silence all around me. I knew that this time would one day come, but didn’t dream that death would attack my calendar so hurriedly. As I walked up the steps of the Poling-St. Clair Funeral Home, I prepared myself to look into the face of my father one last time.


Father or Dad—they are polarizing words. They mean something different to each of us. If you grew up without one, (like I did,) you may have a mixed-bag of emotions associated with the thoughts, questions, lack of memories or maybe as I was on that brisk Fall day—you’ve come to a place where you are numb to it all.

Mom and dad were divorced when I was in the third grade and although I did have a father for some of my formative years, he never really was present. Dad was an alcoholic and in his early days spent much of his focus on himself. I found out not too long ago that much of this came from a psychiatric disorder that manifested itself in depression, anxiety and disassociation. I experienced paternal alienation as a child but it never troubled me much until I reached middle school.

I was a sad and angry young man who kept much of the pain to myself. I would cry myself to sleep, not wanting to bother my mother with my feelings for she had been going through enough herself. I didn’t share the struggles with others. I was taught that “big boys don’t cry” and felt like no one else would care.

At his funeral, I wept and I prayed that one day in Heaven I might for the first time get to know the man I never really knew on earth. Throughout life, I slowly began working through my thoughts and hurts. I had forgiven my dad. I came to realize that hurt people—hurt other people and that everyone’s story matters—even his. I tried to stay in contact with him and let him know that I loved him, even when those words were hard to muster.

We all deal with our losses in different ways and I will never understand what you have been through. Each of our stories is different. But, I do believe there are a few words of encouragement that might help you along your “no dad” journey.

Through it all, I learned several lessons along the way.

1 – You are allowed to be broken.

We often receive mixed signals and messed-up masculinity messages. Some of us have been told to “man up,” “just deal with it,” or “move on.” Every once in a while, we need someone to remind us that we are allowed to be broken. It is okay to weep, to dig in, and feel deeply. Sorrow and brokenness (not dealt with) often leads to bitterness and exemplifies itself in anger. I like to remind myself that to get ahead in life, I need to embrace the brokenness. My fatherlessness does not need to define the rest of my story.

2 – You don’t have to stay down.

Not everyone deals with it all in the same way, but I do know this: when life knocks you down, you need not stay down for a long time. As a teenager, I made the decision on my own that I couldn’t let not having a father hold me back. I wanted badly to be a great daddy one day and so I did something about it. At 16 years old, I began reading and purchasing books on how to be a good father. I was not going to let my circumstances dictate my outcome. We can’t lead forward by staying down.

3 – You can break the cycle.

I’ve said it before and maybe you have too: “I will never be like my father. No way!” And then that day comes and we catch ourselves saying the same thing, reacting the same way, or staying uninvolved. It may all happen because of fear, trying too hard, not asking for help and keeping it all inside, or just ignoring it all together. Whatever the situation may be, we must break the cycle. Our wives and children, our jobs and our communities, our nation and world need men who lead, love and mentor by example. It will take work, but we can and must change. We will never be perfect but we can grow one step closer.

4 – You are creating the next chapter.

Once you determine to not stay down, ask for help and get real, and start to break the cycle, you will realize that fatherhood or mentoring can and is one of the most rewarding features of our life narrative. Being a man who determines to lead and make a difference affects the chapter stories being lived and written by others as well.


When I made the decision to move forward and try my best to be a present father, I had no idea that it would entail stepping in and becoming a husband and immediate father of four. I didn’t know I would get to adopt these precious children and be blessed later with a son of our own. I’m glad I tried to be what I never experienced. Being a dad has brought to me a deeper joy than I could have ever fathomed. I grew up without a dad, but I couldn’t let it hold me back. There’s a generation of children that need us and we can’t let them down!


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