How God Showed Actor Dick Van Patten that Fatherhood was the Most Important Role
By John Tuttle, Contributing Writer
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Though perhaps not widely known by name, Dick Van Patten (1928-2015) sports a stellar acting career.
With the love and support of Patten’s paternal grandmother, he got an early start in the show business. After many stage performances, Van Patten’s first on-screen appearance came with a recurring role in the TV show MAMA.
Further on in his acting career, Van Patten made appearances on numerous popular series like RAWHIDE, WONDER WOMAN, and THE LOVE BOAT.
Patten also starred in well-known Mel Brooks comedies such as SPACEBALLS and ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS.
However, Patten’s success in Hollywood made the actor less present for his family.
The summer of 1963 was an era of change and uncertainty in the Van Patten household. But through the grace of God, it was the summer that turned his life around.
Van Patten was distraught with his state of unemployment, and his uneasiness took a toll on those around him.
The children didn’t receive his full attention, and he was stuck in a gloomy mood about his fruitless job search.
His wife Pat, clearly detecting her husband’s stress, calmly approached him one day with the simple recommendation of prayer. At first, he was a bit defensive. Years later, he recalled what was said in their conversation:
“Pray? Don’t you think I do?”
“I mean,” she said quietly, “let’s pray together. Let’s pray specifically. You know you’ve always said you’ve never prayed without receiving an answer.”
With a sigh of consent, Van Patten took his wife’s hand. They walked over to a window and prayed. But it did nothing to build his confidence or contentment. The faithful action felt devoid of any comfort.
As time went on, his wife approached him to ask if she could begin a job hunt independently, mainly through auditioning for various dancing roles. Once again, reluctantly, he consented to the idea.
After his wife landed a job before he did, Van Patten grew more insecure about his shortcomings. However, God opened the door for Van Patten to take on a new role, father to his three sons.
Van Patten wasn’t doing what he had hoped for when he prayed about finding work. But, unexpectedly, his prayers had been answered.
“I’d been so self-absorbed lately—so wrapped up in worry about my career. Perhaps—I felt a twinge of guilt at the idea—perhaps, there was more to being a good father than simply being a good provider,” Van Patten recalled. “Could it be that God was trying to tell me that my sons might need and benefit from the same kind of love and attention that Grandma had given me?”
As Van Patten began to spend more time as a father to his children, the actor realized the importance of family.
“Surrounded by my happily chattering boys, I felt my heart melting. How precious my sons were…how short was our time together…how much I loved them!” he recalled. “For the first time, I fully appreciated that, next to God, my family had to be the most important thing in my life—even more important than my career. And with that realization, a great imbalance was corrected in my heart. The weight of worry about getting work had lifted; God, I knew, would take care of that in His own time.”
“I was also beginning to understand a little better how God works,” he added. “By keeping me home for the summer, He had shown me how to appreciate and love my family in a new way that otherwise would have been impossible.”
Van Patten, who once was so thoroughly absorbed in his acting career, came to find comfort in the God-given role of being a family man. Concerning the relationship between fathers and sons, he took the Bible to heart. Writing in 1980, he says rather touchingly:
Thousands of years ago, it was written, “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6). I’m convinced that even in this rapidly changing world, the family can work…