I have never called anyone Daddy.

Several years ago, a friend of mine said, “Jorge, I pray all the time, but I don’t feel like I have a connection with God. I don’t think I have a relationship with Him.”

“Have you ever thought about referring to God as ‘Abba’?” I replied.

Later that evening as I prayed, the Holy Spirit brought our conversation to mind. But this time, that question was being asked of me. Unable to take my own advice, I preceded my prayer with “Heavenly Father.”

My momma is a strong Dominican woman, a cancer survivor, and a prayer warrior. She did an amazing job raising three (very close in age) kids on her own, often working two jobs to provide for our family. Growing up in a single-parent home wasn’t strange to me. Many of my friends shared this experience, yet no one ever really talked about it.

As a kid, I would watch the show “Good Times” and think, I know our family is missing James, but Flo is doing such a great job, that even without him, the Evans would be aight.

No, we couldn’t afford the latest gaming system, my fanciest toy was a used bicycle I received as a birthday gift. Sticks were our bats and stones were our balls. Red crates served as basketball hoops and playing and collecting marbles was our favorite past-time. Rice and sardines, spam and fried eggs were easy for my mom to cook up; sugar water was our “soft drink.” And those big blocks of government cheese were the bomb.

Although we were poor, we didn’t lack. We, the Rosarios, were alright. Having an absent father became an afterthought.

Anyone can be a father, but kids need dads

Fast forward to the present. I’m a father to three handsome boys, ages 11, 14, and 15. They are a joy to my soul.

But one thing I’ve realized is that I have no clue how to be a dad. I wake up almost every day and repent for something I did or did not do while parenting the day before. It’s exhausting to think of all the times I’ve had to apologize to my boys for my inadequacies as a father. (Thank God I have the most incredible wife in the world!)

Captivate your kids with God’s Word.

As a young father, I found myself in countless situations where I needed guidance or wisdom from a father figure only to turn to strong women such as my mom. TV dads were amazing, but I couldn’t call them. I couldn’t reference my own father’s advice when my kids approached me about a girl who broke their heart, a fight they got into because their “manhood” was challenged, or any other things they ask me about.

It dawned on me how much my boys need a father. But not just a father—anyone can be a father—my boys need a dad. All those years, I needed a dad.

Forgiveness: the big reconciler

I met my father 11 years ago. Interestingly enough, I call him “Pops.” It’s been a true privilege having him in my life. I love Pops. It was cool to discover our common interests in salsa music and playing dominoes and even our similar views on religion and church.

But it was transformational to see him be vulnerable as he shared his remorse for not being in our lives. I found it natural to identify with him as he talked about his failures and shortcomings, and I let go of any lingering resentment. His willingness to share his brokenness drew me in. Now we have a great relationship, and I even ask him for advice sometimes … which is really cool.

Part of being a dad is showing your kiddos that perfection is not a burden for us to carry. I’ve had many verbal altercations with my boys, often inciting them to anger. I now recognize in those moments I have two options: I can allow my pride or need for respect to build a wall between us, or I can view my mistakes as opportunities to teach them that apologies are barrier breakers, grace is powerful, and forgiveness is redemptive.

Barrier breakers

When we apologize to our children, we teach them to go against their natural prideful instincts. We show them being their authority figure doesn’t hinder us from humbling ourselves, apologizing, and reconciling with them. They get to see us weak and vulnerable, and this results in the walls built on pride and ego to come tumbling down.

Grace is powerful

Our apologies give our children the opportunity to practice grace. Again, this isn’t a natural response to being hurt or offended, so they have to tap into their power source. It’s deeply impactful to see our kids operating in the power of the Spirit and offer grace to their imperfect dad. That grace allows us to come up from under the yoke of perfection and encourages our kids to not idolize us as we continually point to Jesus—the only perfect One (see John 1:14).

Forgiveness is redemptive

When we offer sincere apologies to our children, it makes it easier for them to forgive our offenses. This forgiveness not only destroys the wall of hostility between us, but it redeems a relationship once broken. Forgiveness is a deep well of healing we can endlessly continue to draw from.

I make myself available to my boys daily and it leaves me vulnerable. My encounters with them are often flowered with laughter and fun, but it can also be messy and riddled with mistakes and bad choices. At the end of the day, I remind my kids they are loved and I am here for them.

And every night before bed, my sons say, “Goodnight, Daddy.” I love hearing that word, and to this day, it overwhelms me with joy.

I get this “daddy-ing” thing wrong a lot, and I haven’t earned the right to be called Daddy. I’m learning that my boys call me dad not because I always get it right, but because they know the real me and they feel safe in doing so.

As for my own journey with the word, dad … I wake up every morning and say, “Good morning, Abba. I need you today.”

Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Jorge Rosario serves as a service specialist on staff with FamilyLife. Nothing in the world gives him more joy than being a son of the living God. Jorge is married to his high school sweetheart and most beautiful girl in the world, Rosemarie, and he is the proud father of three works of art, his sons: Angel, Jordan, and Jaiden.