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I was sitting at home in my favorite chair when I met Elizabeth for the first time twenty-one years ago. She was a five-day-old foster kid who needed a place to live. I became her diaper changer, her caregiver. It was not love at first sight. Three months later I became her dad. I remember the moment.

It’s early in the morning, and she’s lying on my stomach. She’s been crying and I’ve been singing to her. (Which, I realize now may have been why she was crying.) She looks up at me then, straight in my eyes, and the most surprising moment of my life happens.


Oh my God, I thought, looking down at her. I love this child with all my heart.


I realize in that moment what she needs is a dad, not a diaper changer. And I promise her I will be. I promise her a safe home, a safe neighborhood, and good schools. I promise I will stand by her forever and love her with all my heart. Every parent knows this kind of love: one that endures the ups and downs, one that stays.

I didn't know it at the time, but The Every Sunday Project started that morning. 


Two years later Rachel came home, Elizabeth’s sister, another foster kid. I fell in love with her in the same way, in a moment of time, and I made her the same promises.

Bob Belknap, Elizabeth and Rachel

Elizabeth and Rachel, the loves of my life. 


What Does She Need From Me?

Falling in love with Elizabeth was the single biggest surprise of my life. I didn't see it coming and I wasn't prepared. I promised her I would be her dad, but what now? What does a good dad do? 


I started asking adult women a simple question: What's your best memory of your dad? For one, it was cutting the grass on her dad’s lap on the riding mower. For another, it was dad racing across the airport to find a left behind doll. Another said it was her dad saying he would stand up for her if she got picked on at school. One dad took his daughter to breakfast every Thursday of high school when classes started late. I've heard dozens of great memories like these from women who had great dads. 

What will my daughters remember when they look back on their lives? What stories will they tell, and what role did I play in them? If someone asks them to name their best memory with their dad, what will they say? Will they talk about the things we did together, or the kind of man I was? Will they say they felt safe, loved, and cared for? Or something else? How did our time together shape the women they became? I’ve been wondering about questions like these since Elizabeth was born.


I didn’t get it all right: This isn't a story about being a perfect dad. It’s a story about what I learned raising two daughters for 21 years now. There were good times and hard times.

The Hardest Time

It’s October 19, 2018, 6:32 am, and I'm downstairs making breakfast for Elizabeth. She’s 17 and it’s a school day. She should be downstairs, so I call her name. No answer. Thinking she overslept, I go to her room. Not in her bed. I turn to my right and see something I’ll never forget.


She’s lying on the bathroom floor, bloody wrists, not moving. One of those moments when you see something, but it doesn't seem real. I remember thinking, before I touched her, before I knew if she was dead or alive, that life would never be the same again. 


I drove her to the hospital myself that morning. Thankfully, the cuts were superficial, and the medication she took wasn’t harmful. A week later, I drove her to a therapeutic boarding school in Utah—Discovery Ranch for Girls—where she lived for nine months. The day I left her there was one of the hardest days of my life.


I visited her for the first time two months later. It was Christmas Eve and I put a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in our hotel room. Rachel was with us. I was proud of that tree, but they both made fun of it.


At lunch that day, Elizabeth turned to me and said: “Dad, it wasn’t your fault.”

She said there were so many times she wanted to die, but she didn’t because of me. She chose to keep living for me, not for herself. I always told her my job was to keep her safe. But I didn’t that morning when she hurt so much she couldn’t bear it anymore.


500 Snapchat friends, but no one to talk to at 3am, not even Dad. I’m sleeping 40 feet away, but I didn’t know. The age of isolation.




I once asked Donna, Frank Dearborn’s daughter, to tell me about her dad. Because her book is filled with stories of adventures she took with him—climbing peaks in Vermont, backpacking trips, hiking trips, and more, I expected her to tell me about that. But she didn’t. Not exactly.


Instead, she talked about who Frank was as a man and the gifts he gave her. She talked about how he lived his life. She said he was a great man who infused her with confidence. He was a leader that inspired people, she said, a “master of empowering us and our choices.”

Father and Daughter_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited.jpg


Tom Matlack created a movement called the Good Man Project in 2009. He said, “My personal definition of being a good man means trying to make more good decisions on a daily basis than bad. It means showing up for my wife and kids even when it’s not easy. It means trying to help someone else out of generosity rather than greed. It means telling the deepest truth I am capable of. And it means forgiving myself when I fail. Because I still fail. If I make more good decisions than bad on any given day, that is a victory. And I sleep well.”



The Every Sunday Project is inspired by the life of an inspirational man and father, Frank Dearborn, and the relationship he created with his daughter Donna. When Donna left for college, Frank told her he would write her a letter, every Sunday. He asked her to write back and for 32 years they did. A letter every Sunday.


One day, Frank had a stroke and could no longer write, walk or express his thoughts. Donna visited him in the nursing home and told him stories to cheer him up. Stories about her adventures growing up with him in the outdoors. She began to write them down, and those stories became a book: “Every Sunday: A Father and Daughter’s Enduring Connection.”

teen in crisis

We have a crisis in our teen community.


Elizabeth had an older friend and gymnastics teammate who committed suicide in high school. A beautiful girl, successful in school, great athlete. Nobody saw it coming. She would have been 23 this year. 


The suffering in the teen community is outrageous. The suffering in the wake of a teen suicide is even more outrageous. Elizabeth hasn't been the same kid since.

The Every Sunday Project

I’m not an expert. I’m just a guy who wants to help. That’s why I started “The Every Sunday Project.” 


It’s a simple project that grew out of a simple question: What if every girl got the dad she deserves? If the world were filled with extraordinary father-daughter relationships, what would that world look like? I’d like you to join this conversation.


I’m not saying men are the heroes or saviors in this crisis. I am saying that when a good man shows up in his daughter’s life, it makes a big difference. Why is that? 


Because her dad is the first man a little girl falls in love with. I’ve seen that look. I’ve felt the weight of that responsibility. You become a model for what a man is in the world. For her. And too many of our daughters are growing up without one. By some estimates, 20 million children, more than one in four, are growing up with no father at home. Millions more have a dad who is home but not present in their lives.

Girls without a dad have a greater risk of eating disorders, obesity, depression, and low self-worth. They are more susceptible to addiction. They are more likely to struggle in relationships with men. They are at greater risk of teen pregnancy. They are at greater risk of teen suicide. The studies are completely clear: Dads matter, and not just to their daughters. Right now, more girls are graduating college than boys, more boys are dropping out of high school than girls, more men are drug and alcohol addicted, and more men are in prison than women. And while girls are twice as likely to think about suicide, boys are four times as likely to actually do it. 

The suffering in our teen community needs to stop, and dads - you're needed more than ever. Help by joining The Every Sunday Project: Create an extraordinary relationship with your daughter!


My desire to do something came from watching the crisis in the teen community unfold, in front of my own eyes. But the inspiration came from the life of Frank Dearborn and a book his daughter wrote about their relationship: Every Sunday: A Father and Daughter's Enduring Connection.  It's the story of a father's incredible devotion to his daughter, and how much it meant to her life. No doubt, Donna got the dad she deserved. 

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