12/11/2012 10:46 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

The Greatest Man I Never Knew: An Open Letter to My 'Dad'

Dear Dad,

I was never taught what it means to be a man. My biological father hooked up with my birth mother in a mental institution. Less than a year later he disappeared into the blue yonder. The only things he left me were life and a lot of questions. I did not stop long to ponder why he left.

I would fantasize that perhaps he was a king or a powerful leader some place on Earth and soon he would be back. Only the hard truth was that the person who gave me life would never return. The older I became the less interested I was in knowing the man.

Most of my foster fathers I experienced in a blur. Most were deadbeats who lived off of the same state welfare system I was dependent on while I was in foster care.

My own biological grandfather hated his daughter so much that he wanted nothing to do with her kids. I do not remember meeting my grandfather until I was a teenager. His son, my biological uncle, hated me too. It confused me that the hatred they shared for my biological mother included her babies. They abandoned me to the mercy of the foster care system.

Then there was my adopted father "Fork" who taught me a little of what love was about. He died before I could completely know him. The other night I was remembering the first time I had gained enough courage to ask him if I could take our fishing boat out on the lake.

"You are asking me to put your life in my hands," Fork said. His soft grey eyes filled my mind with mystery. He always had a way of putting my requests into greater perspective. What had those eyes seen? My father, adopted or not, was all-knowing. It was as if his eyes could capture everything. Even the things I hid away. Then Fork was killed. I was 14.

Life happened and I traveled the world. I never really knew how a man was supposed to act. Rather I knew how a man should not act.

Then you came along. I was sitting across from you during a very tense moment. I met you at the worst time of my life. I had made a lot of mistakes and I was in trouble. Instead of sitting in Judgment, you offered your help. For years I would call you, having no one else to turn to, and you taught me patience. When everyone had turned their back on me, you were there. You basically saved my life. No one else in your situation would have bothered with me.

Other men in my life had taught me that walking away from responsibilities is to be expected. You have taught me that honor, love, persistence, patience and commitment are some of the traits that make a man a man. Standing up for those in need, the importance of education and integrity are a few of the things you have taught me. I now know that the sky is the limit as far as my future is concerned, and that is because you believed in me.

You took the role of a father and that has helped me more than words can tell. You are twice the man that most of those who were obligated to me are, and my life is richer for knowing you. You are my king, my leader, and someone who I am very proud to call my own.

So thank you, for the hundreds of hours you spent on the phone when I was sure the world was ending, and you hate talking on the phone. For all of the good advice that I usually took, for always understanding me even when I didn't understand myself, for being proud of me when I saw no reason for your pride.

Thank you for bringing me into your family, for always being there to help me out of the many messes I made for myself. Even thank you for yelling at me, because it meant that you cared. Thank you for being my Dad.