My father’s Father

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My father’s Father

Father Dave’s new video series takes viewers on a pilgrimage to the heart of the Father.

Winter 2024 | Lisa Ferguson

In This Article

Creating a beautifully produced, meaningful documentary series is a challenge even if you can devote all your time to it. But if creating videos is only one of many things you do, the road from concept to completion becomes much more difficult.

For Father Dave Pivonka, TOR ’89, that proved especially true of his newest documentary series, My father’s Father. The six-episode series released in January by 10th Hour Productions completes the trinity of series that began with the wildly popular The Wild Goose (2016) on the Holy Spirit followed by Metanoia (2020) on Jesus Christ.

Scene from the making of My father’s Father. Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, and Dan Johnson confer

Father Dave and Dan Johnson ’07, director of the series, first discussed themes for My father’s Father in 2019. It would focus on the Father as a God who loves us as his sons and daughters. It would address the growing issue of fatherlessness and the ongoing tragedy of the priest abuse scandal and how these can impact our perception of our heavenly Father. They thought of interviewing Father Dave’s dad and his brothers as part of it. All good ideas.

But then, Father Dave became president of Franciscan University of Steubenville in May 2019. COVID shut down the world in early 2020. Sadly, on November 6, 2020, Father Dave’s older brother Mark died, followed by his father, Dr. Bob Pivonka, on December 20, 2021.

While these events slowed down the production, Father Dave says they also made this series the most personal for him.

“When we went home to Durango, Colorado, to film, my emotions were still pretty raw. It had only been a few months since my dad passed away and a little over a year after Mark’s death,” he says. “It was difficult revisiting such familiar places without them. I hope my vulnerability as I spoke about my relationship with them and with God the Father will allow viewers to open up more to the Father.”

Even the series’ title has a personal meaning for Father Dave.

“In the last conversation I had with my dad before he passed away, we were talking about the life of faith, and he said, ‘And Jesus is going to present me to the Father, right?’ My dad understood following Jesus, but he also knew Jesus presents us to the Father. That’s so fundamental to our faith; My father’s Father just seemed fitting for the title,” Father Dave says.

Dan says those personal connections and vulnerability also help make My father’s Father “the best” of their three series.

“It’s more intimate than the epic feel of our previous series. And because of that, it’s going to require more prayer and reflection from the viewer, and I think it will bring about more healing in the viewers’ lives.”

Even 4PM Media production crew members Nick Staresenic ’16, Grace Galligan ’19, and Matthew Seal ’15, who have listened to hours upon hours of interviews, felt moved during the filming, Dan says.

“At one point during the interview with podcaster John Edwards, I turned around and everybody on the crew was crying as he shared about his dad and his conversion. It’s a story that can resonate with anyone.”

While previous series took the crew to Niagara Falls, the Sea of Galilee, and beyond, My father’s Father goes into the homes and hearts of Father Dave’s family and friends. Among them, alumni Mark ’05 and Katie (Lockwood ’05) Hartfiel, Dave VanVickle ’06, Heather Khym, and Chris Stefanick ’98, and Franciscan faculty Dr. John Bergsma and Dr. Matthew Brueninger share their stories and expertise on camera. Father Dave’s relationship with each person becomes part of the story, as together they explore those all-important relationships with both our heavenly Father as well as our earthly fathers.

One thing Dan knew heading into production is that it is often easier for Christians to have a relationship with Jesus than with the Father, because “we can read his words in Scriptures and relate to his suffering,” but “the relationship with God the Father is foundational to knowing our identity.”

How foundational?

Father Dave points to Romans 8:15, “You received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” and to St. John Paul II’s eloquent analogy, “The whole of the Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature, and in particular for the ‘prodigal son,’ we discover anew each day” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, No. 49).

Both, he says, highlight “the need deep within us for the love of the Father. When we don’t know his love, we experience a profound void.”

He says, “Other world religions and cultures may recognize God as creator or master, but Jesus reveals God as Father. The Christian revelation of God as Father is fundamental to our faith.”

While the series focuses on God as our Father, one episode delves into how our relationships with our dads can impact our relationship with the Father—for good or for ill.

Though Father Dave had a “wonderful” relationship with his dad, he’s “cognizant that’s not everybody’s story.”

Father Dave says, “We interviewed several people who didn’t have great dads and talked about their struggles to see God as a Father who loves them.”

Of those conversations, Dan says the one with Franciscan University psychology professor Dr. Matthew Breuninger stands out to him. A licensed clinical psychologist, Breuninger approached the topic from a professional viewpoint but also spoke about his own father giving him up and then being adopted by his stepfather.

“It was like stepping into this discovery of God the Father in the midst of their personal experiences—how our relationships with one another and with God affect who we are as sons and daughters,” Dan says.

Yet Father Dave says he and Dan agree this series is not “a guilt trip for dads who didn’t father their children well. It’s never too late for fathers to find healing and repair relationships with their kids. And that goes for mothers and kids as well.”

In fact, Father Dave also suggests children may need to look at their role in difficult relationships, not only at their dad’s imperfections.

“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how their fathers weren’t great fathers. Rarely does anyone say, ‘I could have been a better son or a better daughter.’ So, we take an episode to reflect on what it means to be a child, a son or daughter,” he says.

The series contain both practical and spiritual wisdom, and a study guide provides additional resources for those seeking help to restore relationships with God the Father and their own fathers and mothers.

In some cases, healing those relationships may seem out of our reach. But in the interview with Father Jacques Philippe, Dan says the well-known French spiritual writer introduced a light, optimistic note as he discussed the crisis of fatherhood.

“He says, and sort of chuckles, ‘He’s a good Father who wants happy sons and daughters. He wants to give us all the graces and the joys of life and eternity with him as his children. So, we don’t have to be afraid,’” Dan relates.

“That was such a great moment in the midst of a heavy sense of needing to repair the image of the Father, and Father Jacques Philippe says, ‘This is no big deal for God. He’s the Creator of the universe.’”


To watch My father’s Father for free, go to wildgoose.tv or Franciscan University’s faithandreason.com/father.

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