A Dad’s Letter to His Kids (About the Perfect Father’s Day Gift)

Dear Little Ones,

The Kohl’s catalogue arrived in the mail again.

Another Father’s Day, another 20% off coupon, and another volume of masculine-looking gifts: lots of sports stuff, grilling stuff, and gadgety stuff. But I’m not writing to tell you about the gift I want you to give me.

I’m writing to tell you about the gifts you’ve already given me.

Father's Day gift

Photo Credit: Bigstock (altanaka)

You’ve helped me give up control.

From the moment I found out you were in your momma’s belly, the most important thing in my life was also the thing over which I had the least control. For thirteen years now—through birth and growth and temper tantrums and increasing independence—I’ve had to learn how to be caring without being controlling. As you know, I’m still learning, but the lesson is one of the most valuable gifts a man can receive.

You’ve made me face my fear of death.

Each of you has flirted with death in one way or another, not because you’ve been impulsive or impetuous, but simply because you’ve been alive. It goes with the territory. But living afraid of death is a kind of death itself—it kills spontaneity and passion and joy. So, in order to fully embrace your life, I’ve had to embrace the possibility of your death. Over and over again. Along the way, I’ve found a little peace with my own mortality. In other words, you’ve already given me a gift most people don’t receive until very late in life, if at all.

You’ve reminded me how to play.

Once upon a time, I was a kid, too. I played Legos and Lincoln Logs and had my own imaginary friends. But somewhere along the way, fun got buried beneath the weight of my responsibilities. Yet, watching you has awakened something inside of me—I think it’s the little boy who still longs to come out and play. Thank you for reminding him how. I know he’s still pretty rusty, but he’s limbering up by the day.

You are the reason I like myself again.

The things we reject in ourselves are the things we reject in others—and there is so much of me in each of you. I have been critical of you, because I have been critical of me. A few years ago, I realized that if I was going to love you well, I would first have to love myself well. So, as you’ve grown, in order to protect you from my wounds, I’ve chosen to face them. In the process, I’ve done a little healing. I’m starting to like myself a little more. Thank you for giving me back to me.

You’ve shown me the secret ingredient in love.

At first, I thought my job was to create perfect moments for you. I’d try to make everything just right, but my frantic efforts would leave you frustrated and frayed. Over time, I’ve realized, you don’t want me to be perfect; you just want me to be present. To be here. Now. Paying attention. Seeing you.

That has radically rearranged my priorities about life and my practice of life. And, with practice, I’m slowly starting to get it. Recently, as I was watching you run wild, for a moment I was overcome by a deep sense of peace and of love. It turns out, they are the same thing, because they share the same secret ingredient: not wanting to be anywhere else. I hope that’s a gift to you, but I know it’s a gift to me.

So, Little Ones, put the catalogue down. You’ve made my life more uncertain, more complicated, more stressful, and sometimes more painful. But you’ve also made my entire life a catalogue of Father’s Day gifts.

Instead of spending money, let’s just spend the day together.

Not wanting to be anywhere else.

Love,

Dad

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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.

  • Shannon

    well well said, your LUCKY LUCKY kiddos! (and you too)

    • Thank you, Shannon. I am, indeed, lucky to have three such wonderful teachers. 🙂

  • Mike Gates

    Happy Wednesday. Sounds like they gave life to you. Or maybe just forced you to start living it? Having kids is awesome.
    The part you called out about lack of control – so true. If we can get honest about it it’s no big deal.

    • Yep, exactly, Mike. There whole lives are like a big megaphone blaring, “Remember, this is what it’s like to live! That control thing is overrated, but this play thing, well, it’s the bomb.”

  • Karen Eisele

    Wow. I am not a dad but what you expressed could be true for moms as well. It is all so true. I don’t live through my children or grandchild I live because they taught me how to live and enjoy my own life. I didn’t sacrifice myself raising a family I reinvented myself and found the sacred bond of belonging to each other. Your words, as always, are powerful. We are blessed and privileged that you share them with us.

    • I imagine it is true for moms, too, Karen! “They taught me how to enjoy my own life.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

  • Anon

    This was absolutely beautiful! I am sharing with all the dads I know!

  • Ann Alicia

    Beautiful <3 and exceptionally well written. Thank you for sharing, such a pleasure to read your posts.

  • Lawrence Farwell

    As a father who has struggled with demons in my own life I could not have said it any more eloquently my children are gown with families of their own but to get that phone call asking for the advice they have come to trust I am not ashamed to say that the tears sometimes fall in the love of my own cycle of growth and peace I have found in the legacy I have started in the ability to stop and listen, ty for the knowledge that I am not alone in the realization that I can still learn from them

  • Debbie

    I wish there were more Dad’s like you. Unfortunately, my son didn’the have that with his Dad. Now, at age 32, he has severe depression and low self esteem. Your posts just show how much you love your children; keep them coming. Possibly you could post your thoughts on how to handle depression in an adult child.

  • JC

    Being a dad is the best and worst thing to happen to me. The best because of how much love is in my life; the worst because of how little I feel when trying to comprehend if I deserve so much love.

    I recall the first time I held my first child, feeling the weight of the universe upon me, wanting to be all I could be and knowing I wouldn’t cut it. I know the the best gift to me is the opportunity to be with and learn from my children together with my wife.