Encouragement · Healing · Letters from the Heart

Dear Dad

Letters from the Heart Blog Series

Today’s letter unveils a story I’ve had the privilege of watching over the years. It was written by the man who sees all my meltdowns, mess-ups, and smells my morning breath. Eww. This is part of my husband’s story that takes a peek behind the curtain of his public life. He graciously and reluctantly, agreed to write a letter for this series. I’m not sure he actually felt the freedom to say no, but maybe that is another letter to be written. Honestly, I’m so glad he put in the work and created this letter to his father. Though I did not have the opportunity to meet him, I’ve been gifted with sweet extensions of who he must have been. 

Every writer who has contributed to this series has said the same thing; writing the letter took a lot of guts and energy, but it was a cathartic experience. Is there a letter you need to write? I encourage you to take a step toward doing the hard thing. There’s something for you in the middle of the discomfort. Reach for it, friend. 


Dear Dad,

My wife, Alyssa, asked me if I would write you a letter for her current blog series. At first, I thought it was a great idea; I could use a little self-psychotherapy, but the inspiration for what to say never seemed to materialize. A few weeks later, she gently prodded about how my letter was coming or if I still wished to participate. Again, I responded “absolutely”-though I still had no idea what to say.

A few days later, I was in a small-town Dairy Queen where local obituary notices are reverently posted at the check-out. What immediately drew my eye was the birthday of one person; he shared your exact day and year, yet he lived 27 years and just shy of three months beyond you. Just like that, a theme for my letter was born. I imagined it was your obituary notice and wondered what our relationship might have been if we had been gifted more time together. Oh, to be able to erase the frantic phone call I received when the only life I had ever known turned outside in.

Let me first address the elephant in the room. It was something completely out of your control, but nevertheless your absence at fifty-three and me just twenty-five was too soon. I mean, if you had been in your late sixties or early seventies, perhaps it could have been easier to rationalize. At the time, it seemed so sudden and without warning. Now, with my over 50 vision, I see the signs were beginning to show long before then. It was my awareness quotient that was lacking. Well, it has been a long process for me to be able to say this, but I have become so much better in that regard since you left.

I will not rehash the difficult details from the past, mainly the catastrophic storms we had weathered in the 14 or so years before your death. It is no exaggeration to say, however, we were not prepared for the tsunami wave that would come crashing back on our shores when you left us that March morning, least not me. To this day, while all your children are still living, many of us are still bailing out water and drying out our spaces.

I won’t make excuses or attempt to make sense of the choices you made that had an adverse effect on me, but as a husband and father myself now, I have a better appreciation of how you may have been struggling. Did you ever have anyone to unload on when you were not sure you had what was required to carry on and finish what you started? I never took the opportunity to ask you questions like that when you were around, and I regret it now. The weight of the responsibility you carried for us must have been unbearable at times, but the endeavor was worthwhile. In fact, if given the chance to begin my life again, I would not seek to change anything but my own awareness, attitude, and actions.

I do have one memory of you, shortly before your death, that sometimes haunts me. You arrived home late from work, and it was the “kid’s” (all young adults) turn to do the dishes. In our clever plan to avoid putting food away and washing dirty dishes, we left it all out and told you dinner was on the stove. You knew instantly what that meant though, and the look on your face said it all. When you said, “Please don’t leave dinner out for me anymore,” I felt so convicted, yet said nothing. I am so sorry for that, dad.

There are many good memories of my time with you and mom after your remarriage. I wish I could say it was wisdom on my part to spend so much “quality” time with you, but I can be completely transparent now. I was simply an awkward 20 something with no friends my age and no place to be, but I truly did enjoy spending time with you, and I have no regrets now. We certainly shared a sense of humor and many laughs together, but I wish we had gone below the surface and tackled tough conversations. Not having that experience has been a detriment in my relationship with my wife and children, but I am beginning to make inroads in my effort to provide them with the things I longed for with you. How I wish we had experienced a deeper connection, and on occasion, I still mourn what might have been.

Dad, I KNOW you would have loved my Alyssa and our three children. Nathan, who shares your birthday exactly 60 years later, was my instrument for instantly endearing Alyssa to mom when I broke it to her that I had just met the single mother of my dreams. I knew she would be my wife after our first “official” date. In hindsight, mom felt an immediate love for Alyssa and the inheritance she represented when they first met. Maddy, our only girl, you would have treated like a princess. Then, there is Andrew. Man dad, he has so many of your characteristics, and some of the faces he makes can stop me dead in my tracks because they resemble you.

I wish you could have known them. I wish they could have known you.

Dad, the magnitude of this thought just brought on a wave of emotion I was not expecting; clearly I had dammed up 27 years worth of them along with their value in tears and both were abruptly released, almost all over the handwritten version of this letter, my first draft. I only wish I hadn’t been sitting in such a public space, but I digress.

Thank you for the sacrifices of your time and labor for my benefit. Thank you for using every tool you had to instruct and guide me. I appreciate how you sought to encourage me in the way you knew how; I can see now your attempts to build confidence into your “runt” of a son who was floundering. I wish I could say it had all been enough and that my journey to 52 was smooth, but it would be nether realistic nor desirable really.

As I have endeavored to be the best husband and father to my own gift, I call my family, I have been reviewing and revising what I believe is the recipe for a life well lived. I’ve had to throw out a few ingredients and get back to some basics, but by my calculations, it is best made up of equal parts will, circumstance, and providence. Our response to them {collectively} will either compliment or exacerbate how well they blend. The binding, of course, is faith. Contentment, during the mixing process, is the activating agent or the yeast, if you will, that sets it. Finally, trusting the Creator to set the correct temperature for us is the final [and most important] element.

Dad, if I had been able to spend an additional 27+ years with you, I would like to think I would have encouraged you to learn a few car maintenance tasks with me. I would have enjoyed teaching you with what I believe was part of my gifting, being mechanically inclined and working with my hands. We might have developed a deeper connection through it, and I could have used this time to learn more about the events in your life that molded you into the man you became. Dad, I have struggled with my own insecurities about being “qualified” as a man and in looking back, I can see that you must have experienced the same feeling of inadequacy.

You were enough dad, and you were qualified to be a good husband and father. It would have been nice to be able to call you to blow off a little steam or receive your similar assurances when the enemy was whispering doubts to me about my own qualifications. Then, I would have known it wasn’t just me.

Lastly, dad, I would like to know if on your last day with us you knew. March 6, 1992 is still so vivid to me. I can still see the virtual “fog” in our living room and feel that “something” in the air I could not make sense of in the moment. I was standing at the top of the stairs, and you were heading to your room for what would be your last nap on this side of heaven. You looked at me, silently inviting me downstairs, and I responded intuitively by walking into an embrace that seemed to go on forever. When you released me, you looked me square in my eyes and said, “I love you son!”

This was the last time I would see you. Only two short hours later, I received that frantic call from my brother. Instantly, I knew you were gone. I did sense your nearness in the days and weeks that followed. I believe you even visited me in a dream to show me that your scars from past surgeries were gone. I want you to know you left an indelible mark, and while I can still hear your infectious laugh in my head, it does not make me miss you any less.

Dad, I believe that our Father was there to receive you that day, and one day I too will see you again. I look forward to it and the day you get to meet my wife and our children. While I am anxious for that day, I still hope it is a long way down the road.


John's Dad
Manuel Alfonso De Los Santos October 26, 1938-March 6, 1992






John De Los Santos is a fervent believer, son, husband to Alyssa, father, brother, and friend. His passions are hospitality and vintage cars. His mainstay for supporting his family is working for the largest grower/processor of pecans in the world, owned by one of the most generous families he knows. He specifically chose this profile picture, because his father, who was a jeweler, would “cringe” every time he saw him after he had worked in the yard or on his car – especially if there was dirt under his fingernails – plus, it makes his teeth look whiter!


9 thoughts on “Dear Dad

  1. That was incredibly beautiful.. although I am crying right now ;-)….your words have touched my heart and it also brings a smile to my face. So glad you shared with us. Thanks Alyssa. Happy Father’s Day John!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Grieving someone who is gone way to soon is something I share. It’s so very hard. What a beautiful letter and tribute. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your heart and intimate conversation with your dad, John. You are a loving son to honor and grieve for your father for all the things he was and wasn’t in this way. There is no doubt in my mind that he sees you and is incredibly proud of the man (and son and father and all these roles you fulfill) you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John… thank you. Thanks for being raw and for sharing those words and memories. Wow. Such a beautiful and redemptive perspective. I’m so thankful for your heart and the way you articulated all of that…. and how you’ve allowed your experiences to shape you into a man that loves God and your family so well! So much goodness. Mucho love!

    Liked by 1 person

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