30 Days to a Better Man Day 14: Write a Letter to Your Father

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 13, 2009 · 18 comments

in 30 Days to a Better Man

The Old Man. Pops. Dad. Daddy. Father. Papa. By whichever named we call him, no matter whether he was a good dad or a horrible one, no man looms larger in a man’s life than his father. For better or worse, his influence is inescapable. He is our model for manhood. Thus few things elicit stronger feelings in a man than his father. It’s the reason why Cormac McCarthy’s The Road resonates so deeply with us and the reason we get teary eyed when we watch movies like Big Fish.

Every boy wants a perfect father. He wants the man who acts as protector when things go bump in the night, who teaches him out to break in a baseball glove and how to shave, who gives him advice on women, and who becomes a friend and confidant later in life.

Of course, every dad is human and lives up to our dreams of perfection to varying degrees. He may fall so short of the father we hoped for that we ache in disappointment for what might have been. Or he may be so close to the ideal that we still fear that we may never live up to the example he set. Either way, our relationship with our father shaped us as no other, and our feelings about that relationship run deep, whether we can even acknowledge them or not.

The feelings that exist between father and son are rarely expressed. Many of us still think about that one time our father said, “Son, I’m proud of you.” And many dads still cherish the time their sons said, “Thank you, Dad.”

Most of have never taken the time to really thank our dads for everything they’ve done for us and shown us or had the courage to acknowledge how much they’ve hurt us. Yet if we don’t understand how we feel about our dads, we can’t understand how they shaped us, and we can’t understand ourselves and why we turned out the way we did. So today we’re going to write a letter to our first models of manhood: our fathers.

Today’s Task: Write Your Father a Letter

Whether or not you had/have a good relationship with your dad, today you’re going to write him a letter. Even if he’s passed on or you don’t know where he is. Sending the letter is optional; writing it is not. The purpose of this exercise is for you to get out and write down your feelings about your dad.

If You Have a Good Relationship with Your Father….

If you have/had a good relationship with your dad, then the purpose of today’s letter is to let your old man know how much you appreciate him. Here are some recommendations on how to structure the letter:

  • Something awesome Kate did for her dad when he turned 50 was to come up with a list of 50 of her favorite memories of her dad, type it on quality paper, and then frame it. You don’t have to make something fancy like that, but you might want to write your dad and tell him you’ve been thinking about all the good times you’ve had together and make him a list of your favorite father/son memories. It shows him that all that hard work he put into raising you was not forgotten, and that you still remember that time he stayed up all night assembling your bike after you went to bed on Christmas Eve.
  • Another option is to frame the letter by outlining all of the things you feel like your dad taught you. Tell him how you’ve been reflecting on the kind of man you’ve become. Tell him the specific ways in which he influenced you, the things that he taught you, and the examples he showed you. Let him know how he helped you become the man you are today.

If You Don’t Have a Good Relationship with Your Father….

A lot of men don’t have the kind of relationships with their fathers that they wish they had. Whether you and the old man are estranged, he’s passed on, or you just don’t get along, your relationship has probably affected your life in many ways. The purpose of today’s letter is to help you get out and understand some of the feelings you have about you father.

But it’s not designed to be an exercise where you whine about how your life is messed up all because of your old man. Think about and write down examples of where you really needed your father and he wasn’t there and the times you really missed him. But at the end of the letter, put a positive spin on things. Tell your dad how you learned how not to be a man from him, and how he made you work harder to turn out differently. For inspiration, see this guy:

This letter is obviously something you might not want to send. But it’s still important to really think about how you feel about your dad instead of letting it fester inside.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt @ Rational Imperative June 13, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Speaking personally, I know what a profound effect having a father can have on what kind of man you are. Even though my father was certainly not ideal, he still was definitely a pivotal figure in my life. This series has been great so far, keep up the good work.

2 Bob Iger June 14, 2009 at 1:53 am

I’m not on speaking terms with my father. I certainly don’t fancy meeting him in the foreseeable future. I guess the “If You Don’t Have a Good Relationship with Your Father….” header applies to me.

Then again, that paragraph says that I shouldn’t let the feelings about my father fester inside. I never allowed that to happen on the first place. I think my father used to be the most talked-about figure in my family, even though my parents were seperated. I don’t have issues right now stemming from the relationship with my father. I guess I could write a letter to my mother instead.

3 Mark June 14, 2009 at 8:05 am

This is a good one. My relationship with my own dad has been strained since I was a kid. He was never a horrible person, just… not a good example. Not that he didn’t try – and that’s always the big difference I like to bring up when people start assuming he was just some jerk. It’s funny that this pops up today, because for a little while, now, I’ve been forming the idea for a book about how I learned to become a man in SPITE of my dad. Like you said, I saw what I didn’t want to be (as well as 1-2 things I did, I have to be honest), and I’ve fought for most of my life to change those things in myself. Instead of the letter… maybe it’s about time I start writing that book :)

I like that this one is in the middle, too. I realized years ago that a guy’s relationship with his dad really is one of the central factors that alters who he is and how he looks at the world, so I’m glad to see it here.

4 Johnathon June 14, 2009 at 8:49 am

I can personally say that my father aren’t necessarily as far as not speaking to each other, but he disagrees strongly with my engagement and it has put a huge damper on our communication. I try to talk to him and patch things up, every once in awhile I try to talk about the wedding to no avail, but with his blatant disregard of my fiancé and her family its very hard to speak to him anymore, especially since her side has been so accepting to me. Different religions, really different types of the same religion, if you’re curious.

I want to think that a letter could help, but I’m not completely sold. Any other suggestions?

5 Alejandro June 14, 2009 at 11:30 am

I’m still close to my father, so no formal letter is necessary. Like most men, though, we communicate more through actions than spoken or even written words. But, this is a great idea for those men who’ve had strained relationships with their fathers. If no communication exists, or for those men who don’t even know who their fathers are, they can try to be the type of father they never had. I don’t give a damn what these ultra liberal feminist types (including some “enlightened” men) say! Men always have and always will serve a role in the lives of their children.

6 Tony June 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Here is a poem that profoundly changed my life the first time i heard it in spoken word. It was used in the movie Smoke Signals, which speaks volumes about Father/Son relationships. I hope you enjoy.


forgiving our fathers
by dick lourie

maybe in a dream: he’s in your power
you twist his arm but you’re not sure it was
he that stole your money you feel calmer
and you decide to let him go free

or he’s the one (as in a dream of mine)
I must pull from the water but I never
knew it or wouldn’t have done it until
I saw the street-theater play so close up
I was moved to actions I’d never before taken

maybe for leaving us too often or
forever when we were little maybe
for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous because there seemed
never to be any rage there at all

for marrying or not marrying our mothers
for divorcing or not divorcing our mothers
and shall we forgive them for their excesses
of warmth or coldness shall we forgive them

for pushing or leaning for shutting doors
for speaking only through layers of cloth
or never speaking or never being silent

in our age or in theirs or in their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it -
if we forgive our fathers what is left

7 jeremy July 16, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Thank you for this. Reading this has helped me to think about my relationships with my fathers in a way that I usually avoid at all costs.

8 Joe Proctor November 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm

I started the 30 days program about 45 days ago. I got stuck on this one.
*scratch that*
I avoided this one for weeks.

Hopefully I can finish it tonight. Thanks, ‘Knock Knock’ video.

9 Kevin December 14, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Let me briefly share my experience with my father and writing him a letter. I was in my mid-30′s and my parents were going thru a very rough time in their marriage and were seperated. Since I was any early teen, my father and I had always had a very strained relationship. So I wrote a letter to each of my parents telling them how much I loved them and how I wanted to have a relationship with them individually (rather than the mother/father unit). I mailed my letters out to my parents. My mother called me the minute she got hers, but my father – he never responded. I was heartbroken.

I was upset, hurt and angry at my father for a long time. After a while I came to the conclusion that his non-response (not even a f*#k you) wasn’t about me. Although he would never be the ideal father, that should not prevent me from being the best son that I know how to be. So I call him on his birthday because that is what a good son does. I send him a birthday card and gift because that is what a good son does. I send him a father’s day card because that is what a good son does. When I talk to him on the phone I talk about subjects that interests him, because that is what a good son does.

It is not about me having the father that I want or the kind of relationship that I would like to have with my father – it is about me being the kind I man that I can live with and that includes me striving to be the best son that I can be regardless of whether my father deserves it or not. After my father passes away, I don’t want any regrets on my behalf of what I could have done differently. I guess I should look at all of my relationships this way and be the best that I can be.

10 Carl Golden January 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Much like Kate did, for our father’s 75th birthday, the five of us kids came up with 75 memories that we had of Dad, and we put them all in a letter and sent it to him. We know that he really appreciated all that he wrote…..but better yet, each of us got a copy of that letter, and the memories that it brought back for all of us was great! All of us had forgotten some those incidents or stories, and to have all those memories come back to life was awesome.

11 Son April 29, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Thank you for suggesting this. Really needed this.

12 Benjamin May 2, 2010 at 10:55 am

This is a good article, but what about the son who has been clearly told, “Stay away from me. You are a piece of trash.” by his father. That is what my father did in 2004. The rest of my relatives were in agreement with him, so I only have myself. I wrote him a letter telling him that I forgive him which only led to more verbal abuse. Sometimes there are instances when letters like this are useless and/or only create more pain. For me to move on, I had to forgive and forget (everything about him). That has been a viable solution.

13 Joe May 13, 2010 at 5:23 am

I finally did it. Only took 6 months and some personal growth.


14 Luis June 15, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I got home late last night to find a letter from my Father, in the letter my father starts out by saying that it has been years since we last communicated, he then asked me to lend him $500. for a business he is starting up. I would rather have never recieved a letter than this letter, I am confused and wondering how to reply, I mean I don’t hate him, nor wish him bad, I just can’t believe that asking me for money is his best shot at connecting with his son. Any suggestions

15 DavidVlad October 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm

The original video no longer plays – does anyone have a link?

Although, a google search revealed two great DefJam poetry contributions



16 Kade Carroll February 24, 2014 at 9:08 am

This was quite the coincidence for me. A couple of weeks ago I had gotten in touch with my aunt and asked her and my mother to meet for lunch to talk about my dad. He passed away when I was just 6 months old, and in my 32 years I never really asked about him, but I began to become curious about what type of man he was and how differently I might have turned out if I had known him. We decided to meet yesterday because it was the one day we all had free. The night before we met I checked out this site to see what my task for the following day would be and low and behold, it’s to write a letter to my father! Quite the coincidence in deed. After I got home from talking with my aunt I was able to write a pretty lengthy letter and became pretty emotional while writing it. This has been my favorite part of the challenge so far. Keep ‘em coming!

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