Dear Dad: ‘Why Weren’t You There?’

To mark Father’s Day on Sunday, The Beat Within, a San Francisco-based prison writing workshop, asked inmates of juvenile detention facilities to “write the letter you always wanted (or maybe never wanted) to write” to their Dads. Here’s a first sampling of the letters they produced.

To mark Father’s Day on Sunday, The Beat Within, a San Francisco-based prison writing workshop asked inmates of juvenile detention centers to “write the letter you always wanted (or maybe never wanted) to write” to their Dads. Here’s a first sampling of the letters they produced.

Dear Dad

Throughout the last year I’ve been back and forth between being free and being locked up. I know you weren’t there when I was a child, but you made an effort to be there in my later years. You proved to me that you’re a good man and changed, now it’s my turn to prove to you that I’m not another juvenile statistic and I can change.

I regret a lot of things in my past, I’ve made a lot of mistakes that affected other people not just myself, and I wish every day that to take them back. I was so caught up in the hustle life that I’d do anything to come up on money and the drugs, they owned me. I thought that this was the life to live and if you weren’t in the game then you were a nobody; little did I know I was just running from the truth about myself.

Being here, locked up in these cells sounds bad, but it might just be the best place for me. It’s giving me time to think about what I want in life and time to get closer to myself. I’ve got 10-plus years to spend in these cells for a crime that ruined my life but I’ve learned to not regret these things. There are things I can’t change, things that I should move on from. It’s only up from here Pops, the hustle game never leaves you but I’m hustling for a better life this time. ‘Till I hear from you again, love you.

-Mason, Portland Oregon


Dear Dad

Why weren’t you there? Ever! That’s all I want to know, what was the reason that you did not want to take care of YOUR OWN child, the human being you created.

I’m definitely not happy with your decision because as a real father, you should be able to take care of your child! You missed out on the most important parts of my life, you missed out on my birth, my elementary, middle & high school days, man you really are a disappointment.

To me, to my sister, and my mother you don’t even deserve to be called my father. You don’t deserve that title…Ever! I wonder if you ever even think about picking up that phone and decide to even say “Hello”…anyways, you lost my respect.

-Alex, Portland Oregon

Dear Dad

I often wish you would just accept me for me, for who I am (instead of) trying to change me. You always said, or at least claimed, “I’m here to teach you, show you what’s needed” but you always belittled me. You always spoke above me and never listened. You heard me but failed to understand my words. When I asked for help you would come to my aid—but only helped when it helped you. You never came to help me just to help me.

When I took the extra step to try helping our so badly damaged relationship you heard me but you never fixed a thing. If I asked you for something, it felt like I asked God to forgive Satan. Asking you for something was never easy. I always had to ask someone else for what I needed. You always took my kindness for granted so I stopped showing it to everyone. I’m sorry; you claim I love you but I truly don’t. I respect you for taking me in—but love? No.

-Thomas, Portland Oregon

 Dear Dad,

The role my father has played in the past had me a little down, but the role he plays now has me excited. My dad does his hardest to get me out of the situation I’m in. He gives up every dime he has to spare to get me a lawyer. Getting a lawyer cost a lot. Even though he didn’t have a job he got loans from family members just for me.

He put himself into debt just to see a better future. Once I’ve started praying and you know he always pray he got himself a job. That shows how GOD played a role in both of our lives. He showed me how to be a man once I’ve entered this situation. Now I believe my dad is a real father figure in my life. In the past I did not have that, but now (and) in the future I know and believe he is.

-Tyrone, Rivarde Juvenile Detention Center, Harvey, LA

 Dear Daddy

I was just very depressed about the fact that you always say you love me and you’ll never leave me, but you left me sooner than ever and that’s crazy. My momma had to play the role of a father and a mother, but I forgive you for that ‘cause you taught me from your mistakes what kind of a father not to be.

-Brandon, Rivarde Juvenile Detention Center, Harvey, LA

Hey Dad

It’s your son.  I haven’t seen you in a long time. How are you doing? Me? I’m doing just fine.

Have you ever felt so alone in your own home? It’s crazy how time flies. You should see me and sister now; we’re so big and grown. I’m trying to do better for mom and start doing right, but my thoughts tend to get the best of me ‘cause you were never there to tuck us in at night.  I used to always whine and fuss, but I can’t really be mad because the meth took you away from us.

-Alec, Roswell New Mexico

 Dear Dad

You are my strength but also my weakness. You don’t understand how much you mean to me but also how much you destroyed me.

I wish you would have been there when things went down, but you weren’t and I forgive you, not just for that but also the things that you have done to me. I love you Dad and I know that it is awkward saying that but I truly do and I hope that you are sober. That shhh kills me on the inside that you are a drug addict even though you deny it. We all know Dad, and it;s time to heal from all the shhh that you have been through and it’s time for you to grow up. I don’t know what else to say but have a good life and I hope you become sober.

-A, Los Angeles

Dear Dad

First off, I have a lot of questions to ask. I also have a lot to tell you. Why did you act that way? You messed up as a father. How do you expect me to forgive you, when all you did was cause confusion in my life?

I know you are probably thinking that “damn, I really messed up.” But if you aren’t, you really should be thinking that because you did. I know everybody isn’t perfect, but you don’t even put in the effort to try. It’s like you don’t even care. For me, to be the oldest out of six kids and me being still young is sad on your half. Mom blames every negative thing I do on you. But you only get one dad, right.

-Arilana,  Los Angeles

 Dear Dad,

I wish I could say I miss you, but I don’t. I don’t miss any of those drunken nights when you would act a fool and take your anger out on me or Mom. I don’t miss the sleepless nights when I would stay up waiting for you to come home just so you would talk to me. Even if it was so simple as, “Go get me a beer.”

-Christian, Santa Clara

Dear Father

It’s your son, Drew. I’m writing you this letter because I need to get a lot of things off my chest.    You’ve taught me so much, like where I’m from, how to steal, how to hit a blunt and even roll a joint all at a very young age. Don’t get me wrong though, you’ve taught me some good things too, as in how to fight, do a push-up the right way, and walk like a man with my head up, shoulders back and chest out.

Dad, I understand that most of your life has been thrown away because of YA and prison, but that doesn’t mean to throw my life away. I remember when I was staying with you and I had school. I was going to go, but you would always tell me, “Why you gonna go to school? Chill, have a beer with me.” Yeah, that sounds cool, but that also shows that you don’t care about my life. Why? Why would you never care about what I would do? I can smoke with you, drink with you, chill with females with you, yeah that’s tight, but I would rather have a father that shows me the ropes the right way.

You’ve always told me, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” I go by that every day. I care for you and love you, so care for me and love me back. Be a man of your word for once.

Your son,

-Andrew, Santa Clara

 What is a Dad?

I have a biological father, but I would never think of him as a Dad. He says all the right things to my PO or to the police. Things that a Dad should say, like “I care for my son” or “I hope my son does well,” but I don’t ever get a call or even see him when I’m on the outs. Shhh…when I’m locked up, he doesn’t even have the nerve to answer a call. So, like I said, what is a Dad?

-M, Santa Clara

 Dear Dad

I love you. I wish you were here to see me right now. My life is going so downhill and if you were here I wouldn’t be in this bad position. You kept me on track, or at least I listened to you so I wouldn’t have been hard-headed and ended up where I am now.

I just wish you could call me right now and talk to me and tell me “you always got excuses Angelique.” I need to hear your voice, the sounds in my head aren’t enough. I need you physically Dad. Come to me in my dreams so I could know you are protecting me every day like you did when you were alive in this world.

-Angelique, San Francisco

Dear Dad,

Thank you for always being there for me through everything. Whether it was only smashing pumpkins or if it was stealing your car at night. Thank you for having the patience with me and never giving up.

Thank you for always coming to pick me up when I was in trouble. Whether it was yours or Mom’s week, three in the morning or far away. Thank you for staying quiet in the car ride home.

Thank you for always giving me talks and motivating me to get my life together. Thank you for coming to all my court dates and never letting me go to a group home.

Thank you for always giving me a warm house to come home too.

I remember the days I was riding the lawn mower on your lap to mow. From playing catch to coming to my softball games and the best one yet being respectful and patient.  I love you Dad and thank you for everything you have done.

-Alexis, Santa Clara

Dear Dad

What’s up? How you been? I know it’s tough doing a sixteen-year sentence, especially in federal prison. I miss you like crazy, even though I talk to you almost every day. I know you’re probably disappointed in me for being in here. But I’ll explain everything to you when I get out, and you call. You know I’ve been in here for only a week and it’s hard to get through this. I don’t know how you’ve done it for nine years, and still, you’ve got more time to knock down?

I’m proud of you for fighting and staying tough. You’re gonna be home real soon. When you’re home, I’ll make you proud, too. I promise.

You always told me to stick with basketball and school and when I told you I dropped 20 points against Monroe, you got all excited. Then when I told you I had a 3.0 GPA in school, you told me, “That’s good. Keep it up,” and you were all happy for me.

But I can’t wait for you to come home so we can just spend all week together somewhere far away from here. Just stay focused and keep maintaining and you’ll be home soon, Pops. I love you. Keep your head! One thing you always told me.

Sincerely, your son…

-Josh, Alameda

Letter to My “Dad”

You are worthless! I don’t like you for nothing. Didn’t even take care of me, left my mother and brothers by ourselves with no support and remorse. You’re a piece of shhh. I’m doing better than you ever will. So screw you and don’t even say that you know me.

Now I got my stepdad, actually he’s my real dad ‘cause he looks out for me no matter what my situation, as well as my mother.

-Ricardo, Santa Cruz

Dear Dad,

I’ll keep this short and simple. You were a great friend, and a terrible father.

You gave me dope, but no love.

Instead of goals and morals, you taught me criminal instincts. You deserted me more times than I can remember, and left me to serve a prison sentence. Even though I still suffer from our relationship, I forgive you. You are my father, and I will always love you, but I am a man now and will go a different route than the example you set for me. Still, though, I thank you for all that I learned from our experiences.

-Your son, James, The Odyssey House, New Orleans Louisiana

 Dear Dad            

It has been a long time coming. I finally had the guts to write it. Dad, I ain’t scared of you no more! From your mental abuse to the physical abuse, I ain’t scared.

Can you see I am still your baby girl? Even though you called me a mistake, because being born ruined your dreams. Dad, all I wanted was your love. To hear you say you love me and really mean it. Or to at least spend some time with you. That’s all I wanted when I was a child. But not all hopes and dreams come true. At least you have a second chance of being a father, and I’m proud of you for not drinking anymore. I can see you’re happy.

Even though I’m the black sheep of the family, I want to make you proud, the way I am of you. I vow to never disappoint you again.

-Nellida, The Odyssey House, New Orleans Louisiana

 Dear Dad

It’s been several years since we’ve seen each other. I remember you always called me your “mini-me” because I looked and acted just like you. I also remember you telling me to do as you said, not as you did. After the divorce, I didn’t see much of you, nor heard from you. Not even on most of my birthdays. My life has been a mess since that divorce.

Slowly you went from smoking weed to drinking to doing pills to dropping out of school and doing harder and harder drugs with the old spoon and rig. It wasn’t until I wound up in jail that I decided to get back in touch with you. When I told you about how my life had went spiraling down and all the things I’ve done, you told me that I had been doing the same things you did. I was blindly following in your footsteps. I guess some of us are doomed to become our parents.

-Love,Your Son, The Odyssey House, New Orleans Louisiana

 Dear Dad

 It’s OK you walked out on me when I was younger. You left me and my mom and brother for my Auntie.

But I have no love for you and don’t care for you at all.

-Madalynn, Bernalillo County New Mexico

 Dear Dad

It’s been three years that I haven’t seen you. We had fun times together when I was young. Where are you? I miss you. I love it when we would play soccer together. My sisters miss you. Why did you leave me? I hope you come back. You could teach me a lot of things.

-Lil A, Marin

 Readers’ comments are welcome.