I stood in front of the Father’s Day card display at our local Wal-mart crying. Having stopped to pick up some items on my way to a work meeting, I came across a random mid-isle display.

Realizing the event was drawing near I started picking up the cards one by one and reading the standard “You’ve always been there for me” verses only to put them back. With each returned card a knot was building in my stomach that eventually found release in tears.

My emotions followed me into the work meeting and eventually I had to go home.

That was over 15 years ago and thankfully I’ve experienced a lot of inner healing since then but Father’s Day card selection remains a complicated affair.

I’m sure it is for everyone at some level but for me it is because I have had 3 Dads in my life. 3 wonderful, unique men who have shared different phases of my life and impacted me in very important ways.

The joke in our household is that I can’t simply say, “My Dad called” or “My Dad…” in reminiscing stories to my husband. He reminds me that he needs further clarification.

“Which one?”

So I typically follow with one of these three descriptions which are not meant to be disrespectful but somehow feel that way and it wounds me a little to have to say it.

It’s either my Birth Dad, Pastor Dad, or my Dad who died. I can’t simply use first names because two of them share the same one.

I warned you. This is complicated.

Birth Dad

My Birth Dad is a man my mom met when she ran away from home as a teen. They partied and moved in together and at 17 my mom found herself pregnant with me.


My arrival happened at a critical time in my parent’s lives. Faced with the realities of motherhood, my mom cleaned up her life and embraced the faith she so strongly advocates to this day.


My Birth Dad started acting erratically which lead to the demise of their relationship.

Later it was a combination of his attempts to reunite with my mother and a subsequent attempt to take me away during one of our visits that ended his visits with me entirely.

When I asked her about it occasionally throughout my childhood, my mom speculated that the drugs they had experimented with may have brought on some mental illness in him.

This was the era before unmarried child custody rights, legislated child support and visitation. My mom, scared that allowing visitation might lead to me being taken from her, simply disappeared with me.

New Step-Dad

It was just the two of us until I was 6 years old when my mother met and married my next Dad.

He grew up on a farm and lead a wild life that landed him in jail for a season.

Jailhouse Conversion

My mom had a number of friends who converted to faith and one of them had to serve a sentence for crimes committed previously. He shared a cell and his faith with my Step-Dad-to-be and eventually introduced my mom to him.

Real Family

That was when my life started to resemble the traditional family unit for the first time. I was in love. In love with my new Dad, our first real home (goodbye shabby rental apartments) and the promise of actual siblings. He also came with family. I got a new set of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It was a dream.

He was a great Dad. An amazing, handsome, charismatic man. He loved me and embraced me as his own.

Dad Play

He played with me albeit maybe a bit too roughly as he was accustomed to roughhousing with his 4 brothers so sometimes our play sessions ended with me crying.

He threw me into the air, bit my toes, gave me rides, challenged me to blindly fall into his arms, and lots of other fun games. He showered me with lots of attention and love.

He did all the things that Dads are supposed to do. Best of all, he sang and played guitar. He told stories and laughed.

Looking Back

It was easy at that age to forget that I had a different Dad. I asked my mom if I was ever going to see my “other Dad” again and she asked me if I wanted to.

Everything I wanted was in that townhouse in another city and I couldn’t imagine leaving to see a man who felt like a stranger to me.

I remember telling my mom that I was okay and didn’t need to see him. There was talk about me being adopted by my new Dad.

Honeymoon Over

The “honeymoon” phase passed as in all relationships.

First off, I was a mess. 6 years of single-parenting by a young, working mom had left me with a lot of bad habits.

I wet the bed. This was in the era before they realized it wasn’t a behavioural issue.

I refused to brush my teeth. I had my first dental visit after the age of 7 and I had 8 cavities.

I was crossing all the moral behaviours that kids typically cross and have to be trained not to. Lying, stealing, disobedience, bad language, playing with other people’s belongings without permission…

I also had innocent issues that needed shoring up. Bad table manners, no, bad manners in general. Forgetfulness. Social issues.


The result was, in short, I needed a lot of discipline.

My parents wanted to do it right so I was always sent up to my room until they cooled down and then explained what I did wrong before giving a prescribed number of spanks. (The real kind that hurt)

I hated this routine and it was a huge deterrent but I always managed somehow to find new ways to mess up or just kept mindlessly repeating bad behaviour.

I knew I was loved but this intense scrutiny and training was not what I had in mind when I got my new Dad. I had mixed emotions about him and a deep shame about myself and all the bad things about me that needed fixing.

As an adult I realize that family transitions can be difficult for everyone.

I’m grateful that he took the time to care about the human being I would grow into and that I didn’t go into adulthood with all those bad habits.


It got even more interesting when my two sisters arrived.

They were perfect, beautiful baby girls who never knew what it was like to play alone in a basement apartment hoping that one day they would get a Daddy.

They weren’t any fun at all as I had imagined. Instead, they were a lot of work between giving bottles and diaper folding.

I noticed the natural shift of attention from me to them and my immature self did not enjoy that change. With 7 and 10 years difference between us, my role was not playmate so much as caretaker.


I retreated to books. I read voraciously and I was good at it. Although I still remember my new Dad explaining to me that you’re only supposed to read one book at a time when he found me switching around between multiple novels.

Thanks Dad!

Growing Up

Our lives continued and changed. I grew up and needed less discipline over the years. Our family moved and my parents took on new roles as ministers.

Their job took a lot of their time but they always made room in their schedules for special family moments and trips.

My Dad took me places, encouraged me to sing with him even though I kept messing up our performances, drove me to work and picked me up.

He would make fries or grilled cheese on Saturdays and offer me some of his creations.

Learning to Drive

When I turned 16 he drove me to the DMV to get my “365”. That’s what we called our learner’s permit which was valid for 1 year.

They asked for ID so I showed them my passport and my Dad produced my birth certificate. I’ll never forget my shock when they rejected them saying the names didn’t match.

Confused I looked at the names on my ID and I saw a last name I had never seen before on my birth certificate.

Through tear-filled eyes I came to realize that I had never been adopted as I had assumed. I don’t even know how I was ever issued a passport. I had never used my real last name ever, just taken my mother’s maiden name (which I found on a ceramic birth plate) and later, my mom’s married name.

Legal Name Change

That DMV meltdown and the hold on my ability to get my drivers license stirred my Dad to look into what could be done.

Adoption was a long, tedious venture and it was deemed that the most expedient way to fix the name issue was to do a legal name change.

Two weeks before I received the official name change in the mail, my Step-father, who had guided me through just over a decade of life development, passed away suddenly in an automobile accident.

Special Man

I’m forever grateful to him for loving me and taking me as his own. It couldn’t have been easy and he had his own troubles but his commitment to God, our family and helping other people was never in question.

When he died over 1000 people came to his funeral. Even co-workers at my Burger King job who had only met him in passing attended to pay their respects.

Anyone who knew him, knows he was a very special man.

Pastor Dad

A couple years later my mom married my next Dad. He’s the one I refer to as Pastor even though my deceased Step-Dad had also been one.

Overlapping Stories

I actually had a connection with my Pastor Dad before we ever met.

As ministers my parents had crossed paths with him a few times and a few sets of his teaching cassette tapes made it into our home. I loved his “tell it like it is” zealous preaching style.

In his sermons he mentioned his wife so I had no idea at the time that he would go through a difficult divorce, that my current Dad would pass away and that he would become a father to me in my adult years.

Red Shoes

I met him for the first time in the funeral receiving line of my newly deceased Dad. He was wearing bright red shoes, big glasses and talked a little louder than everyone else.

I remember feeling a little star-struck when I made the name association and wondered at how kind he was to drive from 4 hours away to pay his respects.


I was away at Bible school in Dallas, Texas when my mom called to announce that they had started dating and had decided to marry. Our family was leaving our church and city to join him in his.

Even though I liked this Pastor, this progression took me by surprise and I wasn’t sure I liked it. My whole life was changing again.

My reaction to this was to meet and get engaged to a guy I was crushing on in Bible School so I could get married and not have to deal with my mom’s next life chapter.

Still, I stood in their wedding and spent a summer earning enough money to pay for another semester of Bible School so I had to face the changes.

Brady Bunch

My mom and Pastor Dad made us a real-live Brady bunch. Widow with 3 girls marries divorcee with 3 boys. We could’ve had our very own reality show. It was craziness!

Bonding Over Nachos

Despite that, Pastor Dad and I really hit it off. He spent a lot of time reading the bible and was very loving.

I think he liked my work ethic right off the bat. I took a waitressing job at Chi-Chi’s for the summer working every shift I could get.

Every night I would deposit my tips in the bank and come home to give him a takeout container of Mexican fare and show him my growing bank balance.

I appreciated him waiting up for me and affirming my hard work.

Home Again

I went back to bible school but faced the tragic loss of my fiancé (another story) so after Bible school I ended up living back at home until I got married four years later.

Pastor Dad became a real part of my life driving me to work and supporting me when I had to return to high school to get my GED (yet another story).

He not only paid for a good part of my wedding but he walked me down the isle AND performed the marriage ceremony for my husband & me.

Adult Mentor

In my mind, marriage was an end of needing one’s Dad but I have learned over the years that it is not. Pastor Dad has been there for me through the ups and downs of marriage and parenting.

He listened with compassion when my first pet died within a couple months from an incurable disease and when I found out my son was special needs. He counselled my husband and I when we were having difficulties or had important decisions to make.

Working Relationship

Most recently we had an opportunity to work together for 10 years as I administrated an organization he is the president of.

We understand each other’s working styles and he has mentored me in so many ways…especially in managing and spending money.

He is a great man with many accomplishments and yet he is quick with a smile and greets people he’s only met once by name.

He is one of the most affirming, generous men I have ever met. It is easy to love him. I am blessed to have him as a father.


One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to acknowledge that I no longer desire to live and work at his pace. He has a drive and work ethic that rivals many men half his age.

As much as a part of me connects with him in efficient productivity, a significant shift in my life has given necessity to a competing part of me that needs space and freedom to be creative as a full-time writer.

I know this decision was difficult for him because of the way I assisted him in the past but he has been supportive and encouraging despite the disruption to his life.

I hope I will continue to make him proud even in my new venture as a writer and blogging entrepreneur.

Birth Dad

Throughout my growing up years, I half expected a man to show up and announce to me that he is my real father.

Every once in a while I would wonder where he was and if he had married and had a family.


It wasn’t until my own son was born that I began to grieve the biological father-daughter relationship I had never had.

My marriage had made me a part-time step mom myself. I couldn’t deny the primal connection to my newborn son was beyond the intensity of love I felt for my husband’s son who visited us on occasion.

The years of being step-parented to that point flashed in front of me. I felt both a sense of loss and appreciation for the men who had embraced me as their daughter even if biology didn’t make that connection effortless.

Family Health

New motherhood also made me realize that I knew little about my paternal lineage and health.

Suddenly it was imperative to know who my birth father was so I could learn more about myself and what was contributing to my own children’s genetics.

How could I have not realized how important this was?

Finding My Birth Dad

I was shy about asking my mom about finding my real father but she was supportive and was able to put me in touch with his relatives in less than an hour. Benefit of knowing where they live and having a fairly unique last name.

I was a bit unprepared for the truth.

My Birth Dad’s Family

My father was alive, unmarried and had no other children. He indeed had become mentally ill as my mom had suspected.

He was happy to hear that I had made contact with the family but for his own reasons, was unwilling to meet me right away.

New Family

It was amazing that I got to meet my grandma and my aunts, uncles and some cousins.

To go into a strangers home and see baby photos of one’s self and to meet people who emulated parts of my own characteristics and mannerisms was strangely cathartic.

As though I had been raised by swans only to meet my family of ducks and realize my differences made sense in this pond.

On Hold

There was a family wedding around that time but it was decided I shouldn’t go because it would take attention away from the event and potentially upset my Birth Dad.

That dynamic made the new connection bitter-sweet. In the end, I had only a letter from him saying he wasn’t ready to meet me but that he was glad I was well. I still have that letter.

Meeting My Birth Dad

After my daughter was born, he was ready to meet me for the first time.

We picked him up and went to a landmark restaurant nearby. It was awkwardly quiet. He rearranged his silverware and I chatted at him while managing my children. Shawn witnessed it all.

All too soon and yet not soon enough, we dropped him off and drove 4hrs home. I was so conflicted in my emotions.

I don’t know what I expected but I hadn’t found it. I wondered if reaching out had been a mistake.

Dad Struggles

I realized later that he faced his own struggles. In his mind I was still the little girl who had disappeared so this grown up, mother version of me was confusing to him.

He was also keenly aware of his mental illness and how it had impacted his life so he felt like he had nothing to offer me.

Relationship Grows

I kept in very loose contact at the start but I can say that in the 21 years since we met we have forged a unique, yet enduring relationship.

We talk on the phone sometimes once a week and sometimes once a month depending on what’s going on in my life. I do most of the talking so our conversation is pretty short.

My Birth Dad says he loves me when we say goodbye. Sometimes he initiates the calls. He sends me a gift on my Birthday and at Christmas. I know he cares as much as he can.

Gift Dilemma

He went through a season starting just before a Christmas where he sent me a generous sum of money that I didn’t feel good about accepting.

His disability income is modest and I was concerned about what he was giving up to gift it to me. On the other hand, would it hurt and insult him if I returned it?

In the end I opted to buy our family Christmas presents which we unwrapped in front of a video camera, explaining what each gift was and how thankful we were to him for giving it to us. I put the recording on DVD and mailed it to him as a thank you.

A relative who watches out for his well-being was initially upset by the situation but they contacted me later to say that he had played the video for them and the pride he exuded at being able to lavish us with such a great Christmas changed their perspective.

Eventually I had him come visit and I reassured him that he didn’t owe me anything and that we were okay financially. We wanted him to keep his money and take care of himself.


When my Birth Dad turned 65, he contacted me with a desire to move to my city.

Initially I was excited at the idea of him living nearby so I could supplement his care and visit him more regularly.

Quickly though, I found out that the process of moving him would be detrimental to his life.

He had spent years on housing wait-lists to get the single occupancy bachelor apartment that he currently enjoys.

He was well cared for by the CAMH organization in his city. A move to my city which is well known for lack of resources, would start him on the bottom rung.

Wait-lists. Shared accommodations. Unsurity how the move would affect his illness.

In the end I had to tell him that it wasn’t in his best interest to move closer to me and that I couldn’t help him.


He rejected me for the first time and I was devastated. He wouldn’t stay on the phone with me. He was aloof. All the relational equity we had built up was gone.

I didn’t know what to do with this new reality so I reached out to my aunt and his social worker.

They explained that this new rejection was part of his psychosis. He thought I was an imposter posing as his daughter. He was rejecting the imposter, not me.

Asking For Help

I ended up in counselling for relatives of the mentally ill and started taking a class at our local CAMH.

It was hard to identify with the stories of the other family’s who literally live with a loved one who is acting out in their illness.

I realized I had much to be grateful for and yet I was still bereft at my own situation.

Reality Reminder

The CAMH leader graciously listened to me and advised that I simply call my Birth Dad as often as I can.

She explained that the intense drugs they give the mentally ill, make it very hard for them to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

By calling him and regularly reminding him that I am his daughter and I love him was enough…and it would help him tremendously.

I took that advise and called as much as I could. I released myself from the expectation of travelling to see him in person unless I could afford to which was difficult in those time-starved days.

Relational Healing

Over time, he came back to me and we got a semblance of our former relationship back.

I’m realizing how fragile life is and I’m not sure how much longer I will have him in my life.

He is polite, soft-spoken and ever concerned about my well-being.

He isn’t online but if he was, I know he would read my writing and encourage me. He’s a man of few words and he’s never said a harsh one to me.

I’m so grateful that I got to know him even if it was in my adult years.

Happy Father’s Day!

As a parent of grown children myself, I realize that despite the crazy messiness of having 3 Dads, I am blessed beyond measure.

Some never have even one to call their own. I love all of them. Each one of them taught me lessons and changed me for the better.

Happy Father’s day to my Birth Dad, Pastor Dad and to my Dad who died.

I love you.


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Melissa Cassidy 

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