No, not you. You don’t really know.
Yes, you. I can see the blood flow.
Maybe true? In every way human.
A Scarred Trinity.
Dear 22 Year Old Nathan,
This is the last letter I’ll be writing you regarding your daughter. If you only take one to heart; make it this one.
When Acacia is about two, you’ll have coffee with an older man whose adult children are doing well and so he as a deserved reputation as being a pretty good dad. You will pull out a notepad and pen to show him how serious you are to get down his nuggets of information – imagining at least a page of notes.
But he is only going to say one thing:
“She will be like you.”
This will be disappointing at the time. You were hoping for steps to take. Techniques to implement. You will be tempted to write this off as too simple.
But, listen, he is right.
He understands something about character formation which you will be slow to understand but eventually find to be 100% true.
Since you are a bit of an academic snob at this point in your life I’ll rephrase it a few ways as accommodations to your pride.
- The medium is the message.
- Values are caught, not taught.
- The buffered self is an illusion.
- Who you are when no one is around is the most contagious part of you.
Maybe those will help. But only if you admit the real reason you are adverse to what he is saying.
The real reason you are resistant is not the simplicity of what he is saying. It’s because there are parts of you which you’d hate to pass on to your little girl. You imagine it is easier to be a good parent than a healthy person. As if those were two different things.
But take heart, as you grow in grace and maturity thanks to the relentless work of the Spirit in you, screwing her up will become less worrisome to you because there is less of you to worry about. Although, you will never have the sense you are anywhere near done; you will still be able to delight in how far you have come.
As well, the heart of God is so heavily slanted in your favour. He delights to mute the failures of the parents and increase the volume of their successes (Exodus 20:5-6). You wont abuse this promise, but you will take comfort from it.
She will be like you.
So worry less about intentional parenting and focus on becoming the kind of person you dream about her being.
Thanks to everyone who read these. Special thanks to those who expressed appreciation in person or who forwarded them along on social media.
Nicely done dads.
Dear 25 year old Nathan,
Regarding your daugther: Teach her to laugh at herself.
Think of the most difficult people in your life. Notice how they can’t laugh at themselves?
They are all easily offended.
They almost cherish being offended.
That escalatated fast.
This is a very lonely way to live your life; since it scares people away.
This is a very unhappy way to live your life; what could be a primary source of mirth is off limits when you can’t laugh at yourself.
How did they get there?
Unforgiveness settles in and creates a certain kind of person. It isn’t just about victim and aggressor. It eventually poisons everything. Unforgiveness ensures wounds never scar. I say scar because forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, but it does mean healing. Scars are the trophies you get for forgiving.
Open wounds seriously compromise quality of life. To say the least, you can’t laugh at yourself if you are bleeding to death.
So teach her to forgive.
Which means doing it yourself.
You are currently pretty easily offended (no offense). It’s rooted in unforgiveness. And you know who. The good news is you will forgive. And now, most of the time, you don’t take yourself too seriously.
It’s so good you sorted this out.
If you didn’t , you’d be missing out on one of the most enjoyable things in your relationship with Acacia right now. She loves “giving her old dad the business”. But about 80% of the stuff she will tease you about is stuff you’d get huffy and defensive about if someone teased you about it now.
That’s just one of the unexpected rewards you’ll find on the other side of forgiveness.
So forgive young man, as the Lord forgives you.
She’ll watch you and figure it out.
Dear 25 year old Nathan
Regarding your daughter: think twice about validating her feelings.
This sounds terrible, I know.
It evokes images of a shirtless dad in overalls on a dust swept farm. He is burying Ol’ Rover with a broken shovel and growling “Don’t you cry now!” to a sobbing little girl wearing one shoe. I don’t mean be like him.
What I mean is you will live in a weird cultural moment where validating feelings is not only the highest parenting value it is also the most misunderstood one. You could be caught up in this if you don’t think carefully.
Let me try to clear it up for you so you don’t mistake validating her feelings for:
- assuring her every emotion she has is appropriate
- dropping everything to pay attention to her when she acts up
- the absence of consequences
- not making her do things she doesn’t feel like doing
That’s not validating feelings. That is intentionally doing things which stunt her emotional development in the name of being a good dad. Think again.
Validating feelings means teaching her which feelings are valid, when those feelings are valid, and even how to validly express those feelings.
This has nothing to do suppression or denial. It has to do with nurture. It has to do with the wise cultivation of maturity. It is simply understanding there are many feelings she will get and not all of them will be valid.
- she doesn’t feel like getting potty trained
- she doesn’t feel like eating her veggies
- she doesn’t feel like going to church
- she doesn’t feel like studying
- she doesn’t feel like being polite
- she doesn’t feel like forgiving
- she doesn’t feel like saving money
- she doesn’t feel like being kind to the unpopular kid
- she doesn’t feel like working on her marriage
- she doesn’t feel like being patient with your grandkids
In fact, one of the most important gifts you can give her is to train her to learn to happily do the things which are best; regardless of how she may feel about it.
This gift doesn’t stifle her – it empowers her.
Now, I know you well enough to know you seriously doubt your own ability to model healthy emotional responses. That’s why I wrote you this earlier.
Dear 25 year old Nathan,
Regarding your daughter.
You are not going to be as rich as you think.
This scarcity of funds combined with your selfishness is going to make it easy for you to say “no” to providing things which are best for your daughter.
You will be prove to be a tremendously convincing lawyer when it comes to defending selfishness. It will feel like there is not a jury in the world which wouldn’t be moved by your passionate reasoning. Thankfully, Judge Tamara doesn’t usually fall for it and she dispenses a swift and uniquely convincing brand of justice. You will become increasingly thankful for this as the years go by.
Nevertheless, you do “win” a few cases along the way. You will be truly outstanding in the case of “New TV vs. Figure Skating Lessons”. Your genius move there is to reframe it “Quality Family Time vs. Insane Figure Skating Tiger Moms”.
You will be at your rhetorical best during “Me Time vs. Pulling Your Own Weight Around the House”. There wont be a dry eye among the jurors as you explain how stressful your day job as youth pastor to two dozen students is and how essential your ‘me time’ has become for sustaining your stellar performance thus far as both pastor and husband. This one was eventually settled out of court.
But nowhere will your defense skills be more on display then in the case of:
“Choosing a School for Acacia: The Holy Spirit vs. A Selfish Jerk”
You see, one school is free. One will cost you $300 a month.
Your selfishness is especially magnified in this case because you, yourself, graduated from a private Christian school, and personally know the value of spending most of your childhood waking hours in a God saturated environment. You know what having teachers who prayed for you means. You know what it is to feel noticed every single day. You know what it is like to have good reflexes shaped early.
Yet you don’t necessarily want to make the financial sacrifice which allows your daughter to have it as good as you did. That’s basically a textbook definition of a terrible parent. But you are blind to that as you fill notepads with columns listing the things $300 a month might buy you – a night at the movies, new skates, increased savings (this will create an eye roll from Tamara), and a bigger TV.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit wins on this one. Because you can’t fool yourself entirely. You know what Ms. Nelson, Mrs. Gross, Mr. Mweemba, Mr. Sawatzky, Mrs Britton, Ms. Schroeder, and Mr. Elford poured into you. So many good things in your life came because of your school experiences. It is this “because of” instead of “despite of” which gets through. So you decide you’ll try it, at least for kindergarten.
Eleven years and 30k later you will realize it is one of the best decisions you ever made. If you knew then what you know now, you’d have paid twice and much and not even blinked.
You see, some days it will seem like Acacia is as much a product of her teachers as she is you and her mom. Thank God that influence has been aimed in the right direction.
What I am saying you poor, selfish, cheap son of a gun is what will at the time feel like a heroically sacrificial act of selfless parenting will turn out to be one of the greatest personal investments you ever made paying dividends every single day.
Dear 25 year old Nathan,
Regarding your daughter.
It’s a simple thing, but put some thought into what nickname you give her.
Say for example, you start calling her “Lil’ Poopsy” based on her startling ability to fill diapers with the rough equivalent of her body weight on an hourly basis. This isn’t a bad nickname for a baby. But at some point it will have to be chucked out the window for the sake of her self esteem.
If you do insist on hanging onto something she finds embarrassing just because you think it is funny; you’ll deserve what you get – a daughter who doesn’t feel safe in your company and thus doesn’t seek out your company.
But “Lil Poopsy” doesn’t deserve it. She deserves to feel safe around her father.
The dad who intentionally embarrasses cannot be the same dad who is offers refuge and reassurance.
Thankfully, 25 year old Nathan, you wont be this dumb. Acacia will have dozens of nicknames which were age appropriate but haven’t been said out loud for years. This is because you’ve known too many women over years who have said “I HATE WHEN MY DAD CALLS ME THAT!” and they generally didn’t want much to do with their old man. You put two and two together.
So nicknames wont be a negative thing for you, but why settle for not embarrassing when you could aim so much higher?
I’m not suggesting calling her “Destiny” or “Empress”; the content of the word isn’t the crucial thing. The idea is less about choosing a name infused with deep meaning and more about choosing something sustainable. If you land on something she can hang onto for a lifetime, the cumulative infusing of depth it acquires means eventually just saying it will carry weight.
When she is 16 and you call her by same pet name you did when she was 2; something precious happens. Every time you say it aloud it floats through the air from your heart to hers carrying 14 years worth of tears, laughter, hugs, silly games, bad jokes, dance recitals, messy rooms, busy bathrooms, tea parties, fooling around on the piano, low budget movies, bunnies, and prayers.
This one might seem like a simple thing. That’s good. You should just embrace simple.
Simple. But trust me, it isn’t small.
Name her well.