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.

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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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.