The Greatest Man I Never Knew

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The ties to family don’t seem to be as important to people as they used to; but whether we recognize it or not we all need the love of a father.
Father & Son

While living in Texas back in the mid 1990s’s I was moved to send my Dad a copy of  a Reba McEntire album for Father’s Day.  At the time I had been doing some soul searching and I heard her song, The Greatest Man I Never Knew.  The lyrics stuck a chord in me. (I am not a huge country music fan – but like I said – at the time I was living in Texas…what can I say.)

I realized that Dad and I had what I would call an “administrative” relationship.  We could talk about how to buy a house or fix a toilet or how I was doing in school.  But we never talked about anything that really mattered. It saddened me that we didn’t have a heart to heart connection. I had a lot of anger and disappointment about my childhood.  I felt abandoned.  But something deep inside me had to believe he did the best he could as a parent with what he had been given.  Regardless, we didn’t have a real relationship.  The truth was I didn’t think he loved me, or maybe he didn’t even like me.

So I sent him the album and a week or so later I got a phone call.  The conversation started generically but then he said he had received the album and listened to it.  He said he couldn’t understand all the words of the song but then he said,

“Are you under the impression that I didn’t love you?”  I was caught off guard, not sure I was ready for the conversation I hoped for.

I paused and then said, “Well, Dad…you never said it.”  It was quiet and then I could hear him choking up on the line.

Then he said with tears, “Debra, for all the times I never said it – I love you, I love you, and I love you!”

We were both crying and I told him I loved him too.

Over the years and with much effort our relationship has grown.

Dad and me on King's River in Alaska

My Dad and I recently talked about the above exchange and he shared with me that when I told him I didn’t think he loved me he was “blown away!”  He said out of all the kids he said I had so much opportunity. (There’s eleven of us and I’m the baby.) I realized then that he showed me love by doing his best to provide me with opportunity. I agreed that was probably true. But I told him that what I need most of all is to know that my father loves me; not because I am successful, self sufficient, smart or pretty but simply because I am his! He looked at me with tears in his eyes and with a nod – I knew he did.

Unlike the person in Reba’s song I had this wonderful conversation with my father while he was living.  Not everyone has this opportunity, and sadly some fathers aren’t open to it. But we all still need it – what we need to know without a shadow of a doubt is that we are loved.

The quality of our relationships help define our lives.

I know, for me, having these moments with my father changed my life and how I saw myself. This connection also began a change in how I saw my heavenly father. It’s common for us to ascribe to God the personality and characteristics of one or both of our parents but most often this does not give us an accurate view of who He really is.

No matter how many times I heard that God loved me I didn’t really start believing it until after this encounter with my dad, when I started to believe, I mean really believe that I was lovable. And until my identity was really shaken (a story I’ll share in another post) the knowledge of the love of God remained foggy and uncertain.

Now I am thrilled to know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made,* that even if I do nothing or write nothing (or am just plain rotten) I am lovable.  And nothing – not my mistakes, my present, nor my future can ever change that.*  God loves.  God loves me. God loves you.  Ask Him to reveal to you how He loves you and how amazing you are – He will and you will never be the same!

His is the Father’s love that changes everything!

I would encourage every reader to search their heart about the quality of their relationship with their dads and, if possible, reach out to develop a deeper relationship. It was a scary and vulnerable risk of pain and disappointment for me to reach out to my dad. A risk I learned was worth taking.  But even if the outcome had not been so positive the risk would have been worth it because I would have acted in honesty from the heart. Love never fails.*


*Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.” (NIV)

*Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present, nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can ever separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)

*I Corinthians 13:4-8a “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (NIV)

Your responses are welcome and your “Likes” and “Shares” are appreciated.  Please write a reply below.


9 thoughts on “The Greatest Man I Never Knew

    fwinslow said:
    January 18, 2012 at 7:43 am

    wow Debra. I am in tears. What a powerful story…you have a gift for telling stories and drawing people into a deeper thought process of reflection as a result. Thanks for sharing. It definitely hit home on multiple levels for me.

      DebraBell responded:
      January 18, 2012 at 7:56 am

      OH! Thank you so much!

    Michelle said:
    January 18, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Theres one way to ball my eyes out!!!
    Love the post 🙂

    […] The Greatest Man I Never Knew ( […]

    David Zetter said:
    January 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm


    I am enjoying your writing. Thanks for sharing.

    Roxanna Buck said:
    January 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for sharing this info about yourself; I too walked thru a loveless relationship with my dad. My dad passed away in July, 2011; after his death I realized that he loved me the only way he knew love, sadly. I am so blessed to know the never ending love of God; with Christ I can do all things and that means love my family on a different level than I knew love from my parents.

      DebraBell responded:
      January 31, 2012 at 3:13 pm

      Roxanna, Thanks for sharing. I am so grateful for the love of our Heavenly Father without which I wouldn’t have known there was love greater than what I had known here on Earth. Now, His love helps me ‘grow’ love in the relationships I thought didn’t have any. He is SO Good!

    Brande said:
    February 11, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Debra, I first want to tell you what a beautiful picture that is of you and your dad. I remember all the fun times we had living on Sheridan way together…As a young girl, hanging out at your house I always felt and saw the love your family had (and still has) for each other. Your story brought tears to my eyes, your writing is amazing and I really enjoy reading your blog. This is my first blog to read:) Thank you for sharing your life experiences with us. Brande

      Debra Bell responded:
      February 11, 2012 at 9:35 am

      Brande, I love that you saw so much love in our family. Welcome to the blog world – thanks for coming and reading! ~Debra

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