The Father I Never Knew I Would Have
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“The Father I Never Knew I Would Have,” Ensign, March 2020

The Father I Never Knew I Would Have

After my father walked out, where would I turn?

Young girl with bike

Photo illustrations by David Stoker

I’ll never forget the morning my father left. Just a few months after my sister was born, he decided fatherhood was too heavy a burden to bear. He said it was only temporary, but the tone of his voice and the way he wouldn’t look me in the eyes showed that he was walking out the front door—out of my life—for good, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

But I held out hope. On my sixth birthday, he called and said he was coming to see me. I was ecstatic, so I asked my mom to curl my hair, I put on the new outfit my grandparents had bought me, I strapped on my kneepads and helmet, and I sat outside waiting for him. My mom had just gotten me my first bike without training wheels, and I couldn’t wait for him to teach me how to ride it.

After a few hours of waiting, I got out my old bike and practiced going around the block. Before I knew it, the sun crept back behind the mountains, and my mom called me inside. The look in her eyes said it all: he wasn’t coming today. He wasn’t coming ever again.

From that day forward, I dreaded Father’s Day more than going to the dentist. Every year, I listened as my friends and family paid tribute to their fathers, and I couldn’t help but feel cheated. No matter how many years passed, Father’s Day felt like salt on my wounded heart.

My father’s absence had a profound effect on the way I viewed myself. Throughout my life, I often wondered if I was the reason he left, and I doubted my worth. Time and time again, I’d ask myself, If he doesn’t love me, who will?

For years these feelings ate away at me; every time I’d see what seemed to be a perfect family at church or school, I’d remember how broken mine was. And although I was born into the Church, my mom became inactive soon after I was baptized, so by the time I was able to really understand the statement “I am a child of God,” it was too late. I felt I would never belong, no matter how desperately I wanted to.

Heavenly Father, Are You Really There?

When I was 18, my boyfriend (now husband) began learning about the Church, and I hesitantly started attending the local ward with him. On one of our first Sundays, the bishop announced the schedule for the Primary program, and my heart swelled as I watched the children shuffle to the front of the chapel. In less than a minute, they were lined up and delivered the first lines of “A Child’s Prayer”:

Heavenly Father, are you really there?

And do you hear and answer ev’ry child’s prayer?

As they sang, each word pierced my heart. For a moment, I felt like I was the only one in the congregation, like the words were written just for me. They continued:

Pray, he is there;

Speak, he is list’ning.

You are his child;

His love now surrounds you.1

Tears streamed down my face. Instinctively, I pushed against what I was feeling—a longing for my father, a longing for a father. The walls I’d built around my heart for years were strong, but that song quickly broke them down. By the time the program was finished, I knew what I needed to do.

Seeking a Witness of His Love

Prayer

When I got home that night, I awkwardly knelt in prayer for the first time in years and poured out my heart to Heavenly Father. Between my tears and trembling voice, I finally built up enough courage and asked, “Heavenly Father, am I really your daughter?”

Almost immediately, warmth flooded my body, and I heard these words in my mind: “Of course you are. Nothing will ever change that.”

Finding Strength in my Divine Identity

In the months that followed, I began taking the missionary lessons with my boyfriend and decided to come back to the Church. As I wrestled with tough questions and tried to change, old feelings and doubts resurfaced. Sometimes I’d wonder, Why am I even trying?

In those moments, remembering His answer gave me the confidence and strength I needed to push forward. For the first time in my life, I knew that I was a daughter of God. Nothing could take that away from me—not even the persistent feeling that I would never belong.

Slowly but surely, I learned to turn to Heavenly Father and put my trust in Him. Through the healing power of the Savior’s Atonement, I took the first step on the journey of repentance and forgiveness and, in doing so, made room in my heart for the Father I always wanted but never knew I would have. I thought it was impossible, but His love and patience showed me that I could forgive my earthly father who left me all those years ago.

It has been five years since the day I walked into that chapel and heard the angelic children’s chorus sing “A Child’s Prayer.” In that time, Heavenly Father has shown me who I am and who He knows I can become one day at a time.

If I could go back, I would tell that young, confused little girl circling the block on her bike that it isn’t her fault. Her father used his agency to leave, and while she will undoubtedly feel the pain of his absence, she must never forget whose child she is.

While she may skip the daddy-daughter dances at school and ask the ward missionaries for priesthood blessings, her Father in Heaven will always be there. He will watch over her as she teaches herself to ride a bike, and He will stretch out His hand to help her up every time she falls.

He promises, “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88).

No matter where she goes, no matter what choices she makes, He will always be there waiting for her to grab His hand again and will be ready to welcome her back home. He created her, He loves her, and He knows her by name.

She is a daughter of God.