A Father’s Letter of Apology to His Boys (For Father’s Day)

Father's Day Keychain

Dear Boys,

Today, I arrived at my office door, my mind spinning with countless concerns—house repairs and my therapy clients and blog comments and how to convince your mother I was right about something completely inconsequential. I found myself lost in the crowd of my various identities—homeowner, psychologist, writer, vindicated husband.

But then I found my office keys and the keychain you made me for Father’s Day and the three big, brightly-colored letters you inscribed upon it:

D-A-D.

I got ambushed by my most important identity—Father. And I realized for an entire morning, like so many mornings before it, I had gotten distracted from my most sacred role by all of my perfectionism and sense of duty and fear of rejection and desire for affirmation.

And something inside of me cracked.

I think it was my ego—the voice inside telling me if I want to be good enough I have to look perfect, take care of everyone, win everybody over, and be right all the time.

Boys, I want to apologize for my fierce but fragile ego.

Boys, I want to apologize for all of the ways I let my ego prevent me from being the kind of father of which you are completely worthy:

I’m sorry for every time you’ve needed an embrace and I gave you something less because affection requires time and presence and vulnerability.

I’m sorry for every time the projects in my life have been more important than the people in my world.

I’m sorry for every time I’ve demanded respect, instead of earning it.

I’m sorry for every time I’ve said, “No,” simply because I can.

I’m sorry for every time I’ve told you to be humble and then turned around and acted like losing was the end of the world.

And I’m sorry for every time I didn’t say, “I’m sorry,” because they are, I’m learning, two of the most important words a father can say.

But mostly, Boys, I’m sorry for all the times I have communicated in subtle and not so subtle ways that your worth is conditional upon my approval or my mood or the consent of my fragile ego.

Boys, don’t let anyone—including me—convince you that your worth is rooted in anything so transient as another person’s opinion of you.

Your worth is conditional upon nothing.

You came into the world with infinite value and you will leave it in the same way, regardless of what you do or don’t do in this life. I know this seems too good to be true—in fact, many people will tell you it is a recipe for entitlement and narcissism—but if you can learn to trust it, you will be free.

Free from the game of ego inflation in which so many of us are constantly embroiled.

Free to live what is written on your souls, rather than what other people have written upon you with their own brokenness and wounds.

Free to love yourself—and therefore others, as well—without condition and without limit in a world that places every kind of condition upon love and belonging.

Free to create beauty and abundance in a world that seems to be threatened by both.

Free to become portals of grace in a world that thrives on shame and condemnation.

Boys, instead of placing conditions of worth upon you, I want to become a reflection of your worth—I want to mirror the awesome beauty I see in both of you, so you can begin to see it in yourselves.

In the end, Boys, I hope you can spend your lives knowing who you are, instead of constantly proving who you are.

With deep admiration for who you are, all the time, wherever you go, whatever you do,

Dad

———

After my last letter, an interviewer asked me what words I would have for my boys. My first thought was, “Just two words: I’m sorry.” Because those two words have the power to undermine the ego game in which boys and men are so often encouraged to compete.

So, I wrote this for my boys—because I want them to be free of the game.

And I wrote it for the men who have had the courage to sit in my office, to feel broken, to let their egos die, and to discover who they really are.

And I wrote it as a permission slip to a world of fathers who have an opportunity to fundamentally change the way our world works, by freeing the next generation from the game we play, one father and one son at a time.

———

Comments: You can share your thoughts or reactions at the bottom of this post.                

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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “On Being Human at the Table for Everyone.”

Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Colleen Shields

    Awesome. Humility is attractive; being authentic, refreshing and beautiful. It’s the only/best way to be in a separatist world in order to reconnect in the great big family of man.

    • drkellyflanagan

      “in order to reconnect in our great big family of man.” I think you may like next week’s post, Colleen!

      • Colleen Shields

        I look forward to that

  • MofE

    This kind of made me think of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QXZcs48MrQ

    • drkellyflanagan

      Love Bob Schneider but hadn’t come across this song. Thank you for this!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Listening to this song a lot the last couple of days. Thanks again!

  • Christina Stopka Rinnert

    Lovely. I’m sharing this with my son and daughter because they need to know this is true, even if I am not their dad but only their single mom who tries to be both mom and dad to them.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Right on, Christina, kids need to hear this from both parents. By the way, I’m in awe of single mothers. You have so much guts. Blessings to you as you raise your children.

  • Lama Tassabihji

    Amazingly said!!

  • Jennifer Newell

    This is a message for all our children because we are human and we fall short of being the parents we want to be. It is not a dad thing it can also be a mom thing too. So saying I am sorry seems to be a good thing when we realize the projects in our life or work in our life have been more important than the people in our hearts.

  • Peter

    I think you’re absolutely right. In raising our kids I say and do so many stupid things, but I’ve learned I can overcome a lot of the ensuing problems if I just swallow my pride and humble myself with a simple apology. It’s very hard.

    • drkellyflanagan

      It is hard, Peter. Writing this letter has made it easier for me. I’ve noticed myself saying it more easily over the last day and the most amazing thing has been happening…they are saying it more, too! Blessings to you as you practice those words!

  • Mikael Meir

    Really beautiful blogpost Kelly. Open, honest, vulnerable – and so real. I saw myself in so much of it – went right to my heart. Thank you for sharing.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Mikael, and thank you for sharing such encouraging words. Blessings!

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  • skeeziix

    This post reminds me of my fiance who is a humble man. So often he hides from his feelings feeling ashamed for having them, and being able to cry like a human being. We teaching our young boys that we are imperfect and that they aren’t going to be perfect all the time, that “I am sorry” is ok+FEELING is ok. Being a man is being able to be humbled by your feelings not denying them, all too often ego gets in the way.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  • Haseena Patel

    Wow! This is beautiful beyond words! I wish every single parent (not only fathers) would consider writing their children such a letter. It would certainly reduce the emotional scars that we generally have – the ones that never really heal, and we just learn to live with them. Having said that, I must admit you’ve made a valid point in one of your blogs (How a Chocolate Chip Bagel Almost Ruined My Marriage) about “not looking up for approval or affirmation” – so if we live by that, we shouldn’t have those kinds of scars! Nevertheless, your touching letter will make a difference in so many lives. You’re an amazing dad, and your kids are blessed to have you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Haseena. Writing these letters is always a challenge to actually live them out better. I had plenty of chances to apologize over the last week. Took advantage of most of them! : )

  • MadeD

    I’m from the Dominican Republic, and recently discovered this blog, have been addicted to your post since then. You definitely know how to put feelings into words, task that is mostly difficult to all of us. Thanks for sharing!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m glad you found us, and I’m glad you’re hooked on the posts. : ) Thanks for letting me know, and you are very welcome!

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