The Unconditional Love of a Father

by COL Joseph G. Terry Jr., USA (Ret.)

My father loved me unconditionally. He never told me he did. Rather he demonstrated his love moment by moment, loving me in the same manner God loves me. Unconditionally.


I'm not sure when I figured out that my Dad loved me unconditionally but it was early in my life. He took me on some of my first walks, often telling me how I would reach my hand up to him, especially when we came to a street, and say "hand-a-me."

Dad was big and strong. He could look very serious quickly but I mostly remember his wonderful smile—he could wrinkle and move his forehead as he laughed. He liked baseball—was marvelously coordinated and could easily swing a bat or throw a ball. I learned to love baseball in part because it pleased Dad. 

At some point in my life, Dad told me he "would love me no matter what" I did. It took me a while to process his statement because his love didn't seem at all dependent on what I did or didn't do. 

Then one day it hit me, if my Dad would love me no matter what, then I am free to ask him for anything I wanted and I could do anything in his presence-good or bad-and he would still love me. What a deal!

So at my first response to my father's unconditional love was to take advantage of it, selfishly rooted in my "me first" sin nature, which changed when I yielded to the Lord's call and became His child.

The Holy Spirit within began prompting me to consider ways to respond to my father's love. I already knew some things that made him happy, such as getting all "superiors" on my report card. Or announcing at the supper table that I'd gone three-for-four and hit a long triple with two men on base in a ballgame! 

I also knew the things that made him mad—teasing my younger sisters or talking back, especially to my mother.

At some point in my life, Dad told me he "would love me no matter what" I did. It took me a while to process his statement because his love didn't seem at all dependent on what I did or didn't do. 

So I figured the best way to respond to my father's love was to please him, and to please him I needed to know him. Not just his rules, but who Dad was in his heart, mind, and spirit.

I began a lifelong commitment to knowing him better so that I might love him more—all in response to the fact that he first loved me. 

In getting to know him, I discovered Dad's love was broad and deep. He gave me the freedom to be myself. But he was always more interested that I model his character rather than his skills. Dad was always extra nice to service people—waitresses, trash collectors, bus drivers-without pretense, quickly connecting with everyone he met.

I could go on but you get the picture—I gained so much from my Dad's unconditional love and in loving him in return. I wasn't perfect in my response, but remained committed to pleasing Dad until God called him home about six years ago. I enjoyed every moment spent with him.

Here's the takeaway: God loves each one of us unconditionally. And He desires that we respond to His love—by loving Him back, seeking to please Him in all we do. But we cannot do that in our own strength. We must yield to Him unconditionally, done only by His grace and in response to His call.

Ours is a conditional world. I benefited greatly from my Dad's unconditional love—and even more so from our heavenly Father's unconditional love. My response to loving them back, they who first loved me, was to dedicate my life to loving God, my sweet wife, my kids, and all others. Unconditionally.


Pressing on in the exhortation of Philippians 3:13-14, Joe is a West Point graduate who married his wife, Barbara, the same day forty-four years ago. They have "ten great kids"-two sons, daughters-in-law, and six grandchildren. A retired colonel, Joe has worked for the Red Cross headquarters and SAIC in Homeland Defense. He is also a church elder and trustee, leads a home group, and is a part-time seminary student working towards a second Master's degree.