My dad has always been Papa to me. Ever since I can remember, my sister and I always called him Papa. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re Italian or not but it’s just how I’ve always known my dad.

A few years ago I participated in a 12 month leadership development experience called “Rogue” where twenty or so young ministry leaders gathered in Estes Park Colorado under the leadership and shepherding of some older, wiser and more seasoned men.

For a few days we were engaged in rhythms of playing together and fighting for space with Jesus. We ate great food, hiked around in the mountains, went fly fishing, shared life, prayed together, cried together and studied the Scriptures together. It was an experience that launched me into twelve months of regularly practicing the rhythm of fighting for balance between work, play and space with Jesus.

This twelve month experience concluded with another trip with the same group of twenty or so dudes. This time we met in San Diego California on Coronado Island located in the Sand Diego Bay Harbor. This was the place that the concept of dropping the anchor of my soul deep into the ocean of my Heavenly Papa’s love was fleshed out in more tangible rhythms.

In this sunny harbor of rhythm setting, a dream sparked in my heart around two burning embers. Two goals you might say. One ember that burned deeply within me was to write a book. Not a theological book that found it’s form in outlines and bullet points but a theological book that found it’s form in story. Maybe that’s what this series of writing is for me. We’ll see how the Wind decides to blow.

The second ember that burned deeply within me was a deep longing to express my love for my Papa and tell him through a written narrative/letter just how much his life with all of it’s imperfections and gospel evidence has affected me as a man, a husband, a father and a minster. So what follows this paragraph is a letter of love for my Papa.


I don’t have a lot of memories from early childhood with you. I remember the pain and confusion of you and Mom’s relationship and divorce. I remember the brokenness of your struggle with alcoholism and the fear associated with other men stepping into your shoes in your absence and I remember the loneliness and bewilderment of the early years without you there. These were the dark years born from the darkness of sin.

But slowly and steadily light began to appear in the midst of those dark years.

I remember coming home from running errands with Mom in town and finding gifts on our porch from you and I remember spending time with you in your apartment downtown. I remember you giving me your sobriety coin after you reached so many years of sobriety.

I remember you never missing any of my Taekwondo tournaments or tests for the next belt and I remember your being present for many of my weekly classes. Your presence was steady and your resolve to be my Papa in tangible and life giving ways was deeply impacting.

I remember you introducing me to my stepmom Marilyn and I’ll never forget how invigorated I was and still am by her love for the Lord and her sweetness towards everyone around her. Your love and commitment to each other and the way you both quietly serve the Lord has been inspiring to me over the years.

I remember the even darker years when I made a mess of my life through drug use, alcohol abuse, sexual sin and a violent lifestyle. You spoke the truth of the gospel to me, you loved me, you came and rescued me when I was a drunken bloody mess and you were at my bedside calling me to trust in Jesus when I nearly died in that motorcycle accident.

You lit an ember of love for the Lord in me and you pointed me to faithful preachers and good books. I listen to preachers on the radio and through podcast still today because you encouraged me to do so early on in my relationship with the Lord.

You walked through the pain of piecing my life and family back together and I remember you saying “This is the last time” when Christy and I remarried. I remember you being there when every one of my children were born and I remember you praying with me through some of the most difficult seasons of raising them.

I remember meeting a man who led the music team and men’s ministry at the church you helped to start when I began following Jesus and he invited me to share my story at a men’s breakfast.

I was super intimidated and I did’t even know what a men’s breakfast was. I remember him telling me a story about praying with a guy on his music team every Sunday for years that the Lord would get ahold of his son. It took me a bit but I soon realized that this man was praying with you for me. I remember telling my story to that room full of what seemed like 200 men and I remember you at the front table and I remember your embrace after I shared.

I remember preaching at a Father and Son event. My first preaching gig after the men’s breakfast. And after I preached you pulled me aside and listed all of the ways you were proud of me and all of the ways you remember hurting me in those dark years and asking for forgiveness. Your humility marked me from that point forward.

You have been to me a Papa who’s imperfections weren’t the last word in my soul. Instead, you’ve been a Papa who’s love and surrendered life to Jesus has been the picture of reconciliation, restoration and renewal that I’ve lived to emulate.

Papa, your steady life of repentance, love for the Lord, dedication to sound doctrine, commitment to your kids and faithfulness to Maralyn has shaped the man, the father, the husband and minister I’ve become.

I thank God for you and I am so grateful for the many ways he has transformed you by his grace and it’s because of his work in and through you that whenever I read the following passage I think of you and my heart wells up with love.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” – Romans 8:15

Abba Father in this text means “Daddy, Daddy”. I call you Papa and I don’t remember ever calling you Daddy but to me… the Spirit of our Heavenly Papa has done such a gracious work through the cross of Christ that when I call you Papa or when I call God Papa… I come into the enduring presence of my Daddy, Daddy.

Papa, thanks for being Papa Daddy to me. I love you so much!


  1. Carl Anthony

    I met your Mom in the 70’s during the “drug culture”. We worked for a company that hung plastic bags with grocery adds and whatever on door knobs in neighborhoods in Omaha. The original “Junk Mail”. Eventually were married and things went downhill from there. Quickly! Remarried a few yrs later , met the Lord and OK for a while. You and Jessie came along and trying not to notice the Elephant in the room, things went south. I remember some of the early days and always had work. But that was all I had. The depression that I experience today I also experienced then, just didn’t know what it was. Thought, “Well that’s just me” I always remember you and Jessie. You at Karate class and Jessie at ballet. I felt as though I was wearing a Heavy Wet coat, no matter where I was. I drank a lot and forgot the God who never forgot Me. I was an emotional wreck and real good at hiding it. It was very difficult to make lasting relationships with anyone. Fear w/ a capital “F”, due to my relationship with my Dad and the wrong decisions I’d made, always a constant companion. Oppressed, confused, hurt, and feeling absolutely worthless, I managed to carry on. I wanted to run but there was nowhere to run to. After attending Christs Place I began to wake up …slowly, but never without my constant companions. I prayed for the Lord to bring someone into my life…and along comes Marilyn. Out of the clear blue sky. She, along with the Lord, helped to turn what I had given up on, around! But now, with the amazing Grandchildren I am blessed with, I can finally breath like I have never experienced. It’s really fantastic to see how Jessie has turned her life around and like the rest of us, we all have a lot of turning left to do. I pray often for the both of you and hope the damage I had such a part in, has not found a place to stay in your lives. God is faithful and His Mercy is overwhelming …In my life and yours and Jesse’s as well .. Love you both. Papa

    • joemarino

      Love you Papa!!

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