The other side of Father’s Day

When my mother was a younger girl, her father (my grandfather) was abusing her. From stories I could piece together from various people, it was bad. One such story involved the man literally jumping up and down on top of her in anger as she lay helpless on the floor.

Year later, I saw for myself what a piece of s**t he really was to her mom (my grandmother) and Mom. He denigrated “Dee-Dee” (my grandmother) in front of us….incessantly swearing at her and calling her names. One time grandma was at work (I never saw him work, ever) and “Popeye” pulled into the parking lot of the sweatshop to pick her up. He didn’t slow the truck down and stop – and rather made her run to get into the truck as I watched her trip and struggle to open the door and get in. She was in her 60’s at the time.

When I was a little older, my dad came over with me to Grandma’s house when she was alone. He had an envelope that he handed her with some secrecy and said,

“Evelyn – if you ever want to leave here – you call me. These are two tickets to Florida. I will come, pick you up, drive you to the airport and fly down with you to your sister’s house and drop you off at her door. Anytime – day or night – we go. 

When “Popeye” had cancer years later, and his eye was literally “popping” out from tumors – it was my mom who was taking him to his chemotherapy treatments at Stony brook University Hospital. From the backseat I could hear him calling her a “whore” and a “bitch” as she drove him back to his falling apart house off of Bay Avenue in Patchogue.  I remember thinking if my father ever heard him calling her those things, would Popeye  live to see the next stoplight – and why mom never told dad what took place in these car trips.

In the past 45 years, I’ve seen for myself how horrible dads can be to their families.

I’ve met no fewer than 3 other women who were physically or sexually abused by their own fathers. I suspect a few others have lived through that hell, based on some signs I’ve started picking up on but haven’t admitted as much in public.

One dad I know has a special needs son. After his divorce, he told his ex-wife that their visitation agreement was going to change, because the son was over 18 years old now. The dad had plans to travel and experience the world with his soon to be new-wife. His weekends were his therefore, and if the son wanted to visit, there had to be “sufficient notice” going forward.

I’ve watched no fewer than  5 dads leave their wives for another (usually)  younger woman and leave their young kids behind to deal with the tragedy and abandonment of the divorce. Some intentionally torturing their soon-to-be-ex wives throughout the entirety of the legal process via their lawyers. Some moving halfway across the country to get away from them. All of them hit what I affectionately call the “RESET BUTTON”, and started their cycle of brokenness over and over….again……..and again.

Right now, a man I’ve met or known is Facebook chatting with an old girlfriend online, or making plans to meet somewhere after work…packing the cracks of his marriage with the black powder and fuses of infidelity. I don’t know who specifically – but I’m sure it’s happening.  Someone you know – they’re doing it right now. There is a 100% chance of infidelity in your circle of friends, and it’s usually the “perfect dad” or the guy everyone thought would never do it, that’s doing it.  A dad has decided in his heart to sentence his children to a life of wondering, “Why didn’t you love us?


When I was growing up, I watched every episode of “Little House on the Prairie”, produced by a man named Michael Landon. He starred as the show’s main character, “Charles Ingalls” in the iconic TV series and exemplified everything I thought a father was supposed to be. Every episode I saw was a blueprint to follow in love, sacrifice, and dedication to family. He was everything I wanted to be someday as a dad.

Years later I learned about Landon’s personal life.

He was married no fewer than 3 times. He was the father of 9 children across the 3 different families.  Landon was a heavy smoker, and admittedly an even heavier drinker when not on screen. By all accounts, he was a horrible father in real life. At one point, Landon started sleeping with a much younger makeup artist (Cindy) who would become Landon’s third wife.

Landon’s children dealt with the aftermath of his infidelities in different ways with his son later battling severe alcohol abuse, and his daughter fighting most of her life with the horrors of bulimia as she coped with the loss.

Michael Landon was a piece of s**t father. One thing in public when everyone was looking, and another person entirely when the doors were closed. Just like my grandfather, and so many other fathers out there.


I have met men that are inspirations to me – “on and off screen” that are the real deal. Men I can look to and say, “I want to be like that guy”.  Guys who were and are real life Charles Ingalls-es.  They make me want to be a better dad…..a better husband.  They genuinely walk the walk…and I’ve learned by watching them. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned. Things I hope my own sons will identify with and embody someday:

a. A father is a keel. “Be a keel” I was told by one man. A keel is the part of the boat that sticks down under the water that no one can see. It serves one inglorious purpose – to keep the boat upright as it sails forward. Fathers and Husbands can’t lose their crap in a storm…whether that storm is an argument, or a family difficulty. “Be a keel” means understanding your role and responsibility is to expect and deflect the pressure of those storm waters, and keep the boat upright. I catch myself in moments whispering, “be a keel” to myself, echoing what another father taught me years ago. In those 5 to 10 seconds of reminder, many an argument or inflamed situation has dissolved backwards into peace and calm – and the sailboat continued on, upright.

b. A father can never love his wife, or his kids, the way they were meant to be loved.  A man I love and respect taught me this before I was married to my wife Karen. He turned straight at me in counselling – in front of her – and told me, “You can never love your wife the way she needs to be loved“. (What?) “Only God can love her completely and fully.” I remember now in very critical moments that they will be disappointed with me – and my job is to apologize to them, ask their forgiveness –  and direct them to Christ as the only person who can meet that deepest need in them. He also reminded me that only God can love me the way I was designed to be loved – and not to seek that fulfillment from my wife and kids. I’m here to serve my wife and kids on behalf of Christ, and be Jesus to them in the overflow of His love for me. These are hard words for men that come from imperfect families growing up as many fathers look for a validation in their wives and kids that only God can ever / was ever supposed to give them.

c. Two different fathers have bought taught me the same invaluable third lesson – keep talking to your children. Never stop communicating with them. Make time to always be talking to them…asking them questions, and getting them to vocalize what is happening in their heads. I think ultimately this boils back down to time investment as well. You can’t talk to your kids if you’re not actually physically there to talk to them. Both of these dads have raised beautiful, successful and independent daughters, and I admire what they’ve accomplished. Their daughters are the kinds of women I want my daughter to be someday, and so I’ve paid attention to how they’ve spoken to them and the kinds of things they say to them, when they are talking. The words we use matter…and can be life giving, or life altering.


Here are some of the words I use, or try to use now in my own family:

a. “I love you“. Dads can’t say this enough times. Dads need to say this when they least feel like saying it. If you’re a dad and you think you say it enough times…if you’re trying to count in your head right now how many times you’ve said it to your kids today, or this week – you didn’t say it enough times. Every time you tell your kids, “I love you”, you’re placing a deposit in the bank accounts of their souls. The pile of self-worth grows larger and larger and larger. Soon they are swimming in the knowledge of your love for them like Scrooge McDuck swimming through a pile of freshly minted gold coins.

b. “I’m proud of you.”  The blessing of a father is a hallmark moment for a son or daughter. I’ve met and befriended men who are to this day – years after the loss of their dad, looking for someone….anyone, to tell them they are proud of them. My own father before he died had such a moment with me. He sat me down and told me that he had made more mistakes with me than he could count….that as a dad, he had failed as often or more than he had succeeded – but it was critical to him that I understand how proud of me he was…who I had become and was becoming. I can point to this single event and moment in my life as the turning point for me as a man.

c. “I’m sorry. Would you forgive me?”  These are the hardest words for a husband or father to utter. They epitomize failure….embody the realization that we aren’t what was needed in the moment. Saying “I’m sorry”, to one of your kids or your wife though – is critical to the health and success of your family. In vocalizing the words, “I’m sorry” a dad admits to having made a mistake – admits to have experienced a learning moment. These words are proverbial “jackhammers” to our worst enemies as dads – our pride. Most fathers teach their sons to “demand respect” from their wives and kids, the exact opposite of what’s needed.


Much of life, fatherhood included, is the story of knowledge acquired too late: if only I’d known then what I know now, how much smarter, abler, stronger, I would have been. But nothing really prepares you for kids, for the swells of emotion that roll through your chest like the rumble of boulders tumbling downhill, nor for the all-enveloping labor of it, the sheer mulish endurance you need for the six or seven hundred discrete tasks that have to be done each and every day. Such a small person! Not much bigger than a loaf of bread at first, yet it takes so much to keep the whole enterprise going. Logistics, skills, materiel; the only way we really learn is by figuring it out as we go along, and even then it changes on us every day, so we’re always improvising, which is a fancy way of saying that we’re doing things we technically don’t know how to do.”  – Ben Fountain


In the end – when my eyes close one last time and my heart beats no more, I want to know that I was a good dad, and a loving husband. When my name is mentioned somewhere, I don’t want to be remembered for being funny, or smart, or a business owner. I want them to say, “He met his wife when he was 19 and she was 17, and he loved her right up until he was gone“, or, “Have you met his kids? He was so proud of them and loved them more than anything…they were his life“.

Every day is a struggle. A realization that I wasn’t given the tools I need and am learning as I go most times. These “swells of emotion” that are rolling through my chest “like the rumble of boulders tumbling downhill” ever present.

But I have resolved to never be a Popeye…

… never be a Michael Landon.

To be more like Christ and a little like Charles Ingalls.



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