Papa Joe Demonstrates the Very Best of Fatherhood


This story really inspires me.

Just a few weeks back, I had the privilege of watching a promotional DVD of a new movie called Unconditional. It’s based on a man named Papa Joe Bradford and his work with fatherless kids, and it’s really something. The more I learn about Papa Joe, the more I’m inspired. Check out these highlights from his life story:

Papa Joe grew up in great poverty and rarely heard from his father. Through his turbulent youth—experiencing many challenges and fighting a deadly kidney disease—he grew a heart for the poor and oppressed.

During his fight with kidney disease, Joe and his wife Denise experienced financial challenges and were forced to move into one ofNashville’s project communities. One morning, they found their neighbor, a little deaf girl, staring through the window of their front door. Denise gave her candy and the girl left, only to return with her brothers and sisters. Denise gave them all candy as well.

In a week’s time about fifty children came to Joe and Denise’s door. But it wasn’t just candy that the children wanted; they needed help in many important ways. With whatever Joe and Denise could obtain, they began to help these children with basic necessities, as well as with school work and emotional needs.

With a background in musical performance and orchestration, Joe and Denise began directing a choir of inner-city children—children like those in their own neighborhood. It was at one of these choir rehearsals, while the other children were eating, that a young girl with a swollen eye approached Joe. She had been hit by her angry, drug-addicted mother and was frightened and in pain.

Joe comforted her and prayed for her, and then the little girl’s sister saw this, came up to Joe and said, “Will you be my daddy?” Before he could answer, another little girl walked up and asked the same question, “Will you be my daddy?”

This continued as child after child surrounded Joe, asking sincerely, “Will you be my daddy?” Joe was deeply moved and embraced them all. That day he became “Papa Joe,” and he and Denise dedicated their lives to help children in need.

This story inspired the movie, which releases next Friday—September 21. You can watch the trailer right here:



I have actually had similar experiences, where teens or young adults have asked me to be their dad. And I know it’s not uncommon for this to happen with men who work with kids in areas where few fathers are around. Isn’t it interesting that even young children have a keen awareness of their need? Sometimes they jump at the opportunity to have a connection with a man who shows even a little bit of interest in their lives. They have a deep yearning for that regular interaction with a father figure.

I encourage you to see this film. Even more than that, I challenge you to reach out. Be a daddy to a child in your sphere of influence who doesn’t know what it’s like to be affirmed and cared about by a grown man. Live out your positive, Championship Fathering conspicuously in your neighborhood, your children’s school, your church, and at your children’s events.

As Papa Joe so powerfully reminds us, good dads encourage other kids. We can make a difference even outside our own families, and there are children all around us who are looking for some of the good things we’ve got.

Consider a boy or girl you already know who has no connection with a dad: a wide-eyed pre-schooler, a sad third-grader, maybe a hardened teenager. Even if you can’t hear them, they are no doubt saying, “Will you be my daddy?”

Action Points for Dads on the Journey

  • Unconditional movieHelp spread the message about the importance of reaching out to fatherless kids. You can start by taking your friends to see Unconditional next weekend.
  • Make a point to be available to kids in your neighborhood who may need a father figure—and engage them. Be interested in what they do, and look for ways to affirm them for their developing character.
  • Get your whole family involved. Ask your children who they know that doesn’t have a dad, and think of ways you can include them in one of your family activities.
  • Be a father figure to many other kids at your child’s school by participating in our WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students) program. (Many of those kids need a positive male influence.) If you didn’t see it, this week WATCH D.O.G.S. was featured on NBC Nightly News. Watch that video here.

What have you seen—or been part of—where men step up as father figures for children? Please join the discussion either below or on our Facebook page.


Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.