Dear Daughter, You Don’t Need to Act Like a Man to Become a Strong Woman

Dear Little One,

Last week, we arrived at the theater early and, before a movie about beauty and beasts, we saw a preview for a movie about men and machines. We came for a story about love and we got a preview about war. I’m okay with that—it’s the world we live in and I’m used to it.

What I’m not okay with is the young girl we saw in the preview.

feminism

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She looked directly into the camera, covered in sweat and dirt, and she said, “Some kids used to tease me…they’d say, ‘You run like a girl, you throw like a girl, you fight like a girl.’ Fight like a girl? Yeah, I fight like a girl. Don’t you?” Then, for the rest of the preview, she exuberantly participated in the blowing up and destruction of everything.

I felt like that little girl had punched me in the gut, too.

Because I looked over at you—seven-years-old, eyes wide behind 3-D glasses, already wondering what it means to be a girl—watching the not-so-subtle message that to be a strong girl, you have to fight like the most violent of men.

Little One, as your father, I want you to know, this was not a message about how to become a strong woman; it was a message about how to become an extinct woman. This was the message of a war-riddled and violence-obsessed hyper-masculine culture, hell-bent on victory, knowing that the only way to have victory over your womanhood is to erase it.

After all, what is the most effective way to eliminate the other? It’s to make them exactly like you.

Don’t fall for it.  

We have enough ego-driven, angry, aggressive, and violent men on this planet. We don’t need you to become one too, just so you can prove to those very same men that you are a “strong girl.”

No, Little One, the way to become a strong girl is to resist your assimilation into the worst elements of masculinity. The way to be a strong girl is to grow into the best and strongest parts of your femininity.

To be a strong woman, you don’t have to push others down; you simply refuse to be pushed around yourself.

To be a strong woman, you don’t have to relish aggression; you simply resist it.

To be a strong woman, you don’t have to use violence; you just need to use your voice, steadfastly, resolutely, and unceasingly.

But most importantly, you don’t become a strong woman by acting like a man; you become a strong woman by acting like yourself. 

At the center of you is your soul, your heart, your truest self. It is the least tangible part of you, yet the most indestructible part of you. It is the least violent part of you, yet the part of you from which you will fight most resiliently.

You don’t have to be like a man, you only have to be like you.

You won’t become your truest, strongest you by struggling violently against others. You will become your truest, strongest you by struggling to love the world in the very specific, very unique, perhaps ordinary, but always beautiful way that only you can love it.

Little One, if we all loved the world with that kind of beauty, the beasts wouldn’t stand a chance.

Peace to you,

Daddy

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Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Dear Little Ones, You Are Good Enough (No Matter What)

The following letter to my children—and to the little one in each of us—is an exclusive excerpt from my new book Loveable, which will be released on Tuesday, March 21…

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Dear Little Ones,

I’m sitting in a parking lot as I write this. On one side of the parking lot is a playground where kids are laughing and playing. On the other side of the parking lot is a transitional living unit for troubled youth, where kids are hurting and struggling.

On one side, the dream of every parent.

On the other side, the fear of every parent.

I’ve often wondered why the county would put this facility next to a park. But as I sit here today, the message seems clear: the line between our brightest dreams and our darkest fears is a fine one, isn’t it? Finer than the width of this parking lot.

Little Ones, what you do matters. Each and every choice has a creative potential as powerful as the Force that hung the stars and spun the planets. So the fearful part of me wants to give you one more lecture about the importance of your choices. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I want to tell you about who you are, regardless of the choices you make.

Regardless of which side of the street you end up on, I want you to know: your core is untarnished, your center is unaltered, your heart is unblemished, your spark is still burning, and your original identity is uncorrupted. Little Ones, regardless of your choices, I want you to know you are worthy.

You are enough.

On the day you bring home your first A and on the day you bring home your first F. On the day you make the game-winning shot and on the day you get cut from the team. On the day you sit at the cool-kids table and on the day you eat lunch with your loneliness. On the day you get a standing ovation and on the day you freeze up and forget your lines . . .

You are enough.

On the day you resist peer pressure and on the day you give in. On the day you enter college and on the day you enter rehab. On the day you get your first promotion and on the day you get your first pink slip. On the day you run a triathlon and on the day of your diagnosis . . .

You are enough.

On the day you were born you were enough, and on the day you die you will be enough, regardless of what comes in between.

Little Ones, I’m not saying you’re free from consequences. But I am telling you this: while many poor choices do have a consequence, most poor choices are already a consequence—the consequence of doubting our worthiness. The task of our lives is simply to rest into the truth of our worthiness and to walk the path of who we already are.

So, Little Ones, when you’ve lost your way and you wish you could do something impossible like rewind time, remember this: there is one thing that is always possible—it is always possible to return to the center of who you are. You will find there the truth of your worthiness whispered upon the tongue of grace and it will, quite simply, never steer you wrong.

To my Beloved,

Daddy

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Dear Little One, Release Your Shame (A Letter from a Father to a Child)

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Dear Little One,

You have not been perfect. Far from it.

Do you remember the time you crept downstairs while everyone was sleeping and snuck the Kool-Aid from the refrigerator? Do you remember how, when you got caught, you lied and said you didn’t do it? You’ve punished yourself for that transgression for long enough. You are forgiven. Release your shame.

You are not the poor decisions you sometimes make.

Do you remember the time you accidentally brought home someone else’s homework, feared getting into trouble for making a mistake, and stuffed the homework beneath our house, where you thought no one would find it? You’ve lived in fear long enough. Release your shame.

You are not the things you do when you are most afraid.

Do you remember the bullies on the playground? You were trying to figure out how to become a man, and with every bruise, you doubted more and more if you could become one. The bruises on your skin became bruises on your heart. Your skin has healed—it is time now for your heart to heal, too. Release your shame.

You are not defined by the bruises you’ve picked up along the way.

Do you remember when you became the bully? Do you remember how you teased that poor, sad, lonely kid on the playground? You’ve wounded people. This is true. But the shame you’ve felt about it is a wound that festers, infecting you and everyone around you. Release your shame.

You are not the desperate things you’ve done in order to belong.

Do you remember all the subtle ways you’ve arrogantly looked down upon your peers? I get it. You think you’re fighting for a spot in a very tiny winner’s circle. You’ve fallen into the same trap as the rest of us. You are forgiven. Release your arrogance, which is really just another guise for your shame.

You are not the games you’ve played and won, or lost.  

Little One, I pray you will release your shame, because the truth is, you are me. Though I’ve written many letters to my own children, this is a letter to you, the child I once was, the little one who still exists somewhere within me. In fact, I think all those letters to my kids have also been a letter to you—the scared, ashamed, confused, and desperate little kid I was and, in some ways, still am.

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A Guide to Getting the Love You Never Knew You Wanted

We all want to be loved unconditionally, yet most of the love we give is conditional. Which means we’re all trying to get the love we think we want by giving the kind of love nobody really wants. But what if there is a third kind of love—one we deeply desire but don’t even know we want?

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It’s a Sunday night at the end of a busy weekend and shoehorning the kids back into a school week has been even more cumbersome than usual. We’re finally moving toward bedtime books, when I walk into the basement and see kid-sized, mud-colored footprints all over the carpet.

So, I decide to love my kids conditionally.

While pretending to love them unconditionally.

Without a raised voice or a complaint, I get down on my knees to clean the carpet—the selfless servant loving his family. Except with every spray of the stain remover, I heave a big-heavy sigh. Big enough and loud enough to be heard from my boys’ bedroom. Then, while the spray soaks in, I continue tucking them into bed. But I make sure my shoulders are slumped. I groan with fatigue. I sprinkle in a lot more sighing.

This is my favorite form of unconditional love:

While loving someone, let them know in subtle—and mostly deniable—ways how much that love is costing you. Indirectly communicate that they are a burden to you. Show them how hard they make your life. Of course, you aren’t actually expecting anything in return—you simply want them to feel as distraught as you do about the hard work of caring for them. If they don’t appear to be getting it, you might be disguising it too well. Sigh harder.

If sighing harder still doesn’t work, you might want to experiment with several other thinly-disguised forms of conditional love:

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How to Talk with Family About Politics This Holiday Season

What do you get when you mix family, the holidays, and politics? Gratitude and goodwill toward all, right? Well, actually…

election

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A number of years ago—when marijuana was still illegal everywhere—I stumbled into a particularly heated marijuana debate between two acquaintances. They weren’t a couple of half-baked high school kids raging against The Man; they were two highly educated professionals. One man was aggressively in favor of legalizing marijuana, the other man violently opposed to it.

They asked for my opinion.

I remember feeling a sense of dread, like I was wading into dangerous waters, with hungry things swimming beneath the murky surface. The debate did not go well.

They rarely do, do they?

Today, we find ourselves at the end of a season of unproductive debates, and at the beginning of a new season. We have important problems to solve and differing opinions about how to do so. Differences between people create tension, tension leads to conflict, and conflict usually results in gridlock at best and violence at worst. But it doesn’t have to.

In fact, sometimes, conflict can be the beginning of authentic community…

The marijuana debate had ended and I was in the car on the way home with my wife when I finally got a glimpse beneath the surface of the ideological waters I’d been swimming in. She explained that the legalization advocate had recently watched his father die a slow and painful death from cancer, while marijuana was the only thing that relieved his father’s suffering.

The man’s grief had given rise to his opinions.

In contrast, the marijuana opponent had been raised in a family torn apart by drug addiction. His brother had gone through repeated treatments and relapses and it had devastated the entire family. His pain, too, had given rise to his opinions. There was something floating beneath the surface of that contentious debate:

Stories.

The stories of two hurting people. Stories of fear and pain and anguish and loss. Stories that formed their ideas and opinions and beliefs. Stories that gave birth to natural conclusions about the way the world works best. It turns out, a person’s ideas are never simply their ideas. Opinions and beliefs are never born in a vacuum; they are always the logical result of our experiences.

Every opinion is a story in disguise.

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A Father’s Letter to His Little Ones (In the Wee Hours of the Election)

Dear Little Ones,

You are already asleep in your beds. It’s late, and I’m going to bed. It’s been a long election day.

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When this day began, I woke up, and I walked to the corner coffee shop in the dim, predawn light, down streets already aglow with Christmas lights. Ordinarily, I would have been cynical about the early start to the holiday season. This morning, I was grateful for the reminder that there is light in the world and, soon, we will be celebrating it. I arrived at the coffee shop. It was more crowded than normal. Almost certainly, these were voters who had awoken earlier than usual. But for a moment, just one blessed moment, I didn’t see voters. I didn’t see politics; I saw people. Just human beings, trying to wake up to yet another day, trying in some more profound way to wake up to this one life. They weren’t, at that moment, casting votes; they were just breathing. Eating. Drinking.

Little Ones, we have far more in common than in conflict, and we would know this if, instead of seeing fear and anger and ideology, we could see beneath the surface: our beating hearts, the blood pulsing through our veins, lungs filling and emptying, joints aging and aching. This morning, for one peaceful moment, I saw all these people this way, and in that moment, the lights on the trees outside weren’t the only lights I could see in the world.

It is late, and I’m going to bed, and it’s not clear how this whole disgraceful American season is going to end. I don’t know who will be the leader of our land. I don’t know how that leader will influence the laws of our land. These are things we cannot control. But as I turn in, I can tell you what we can control: the law of our family’s land—the law of this land inside our four walls.

We will love everyone who crosses our path.

Those who are most in need, are those who are most in need of us.

Fear is fired. It doesn’t get to call the shots for us.

Anger is okay. But not when it harms, only when it redeems.

Arrogance is natural, but we will call upon something supernatural within us to put it down.

Grace is a way of seeing. It is Love seeing the beauty at the center of everything. We will see to the center.

All those things your kindergarten teacher told you to do? Be kind. Share. Include. Create……Do them. Be laughed at for doing them all the way into adulthood. Keep doing them.

Remember, each of you play an indispensable role in this family of ours. Remember, everyone plays an indispensable role in this great big family of ours called humanity.

Little Ones, like those lights on the trees of the street, and like those lights in the people in the coffee shop, there is a light inside each of you. Here is the most important law of our little land:

Let it shine.

Yours,

Daddy

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Why I’m Glad It’s Back-to-School Time (and Not Ashamed to Admit It)

It is time for the kids to go back to school.

For the last three years, in late August, I’ve written with nostalgia and grief about the passing of their youth, with trepidation about what they will learn on the playground, with empathy about the fear of a new school and new teachers and new friends, and with heartbreak about the inevitability of it all.

This is not that kind of post.

back-to-school

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This year, when I say it is time for the kids to go back to school, I mean it is time for the kids to go back to school, as in, the joy of summer is all used up. As in, either they leave for school, or my sanity is going to leave me. I’m not sure which will happen first. It could be a photo finish.

What is the difference between this year and the last three years?

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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

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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.

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The 7 Most Cleverly Disguised Pitfalls of Parenting

When our first child was born, I was terrified, because I thought I had no idea how to be a parent. I’m no longer as scared as I used to be, but I think that’s just because I’ve gotten used to being wrong. Turns out, you don’t really learn how to parent; you gradually learn, one day and mistake at a time, how not to parent. Now, twelve years later—almost a whole teenager later—I know I’ve fallen into some pretty common parenting traps. At least seven of them:

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A Daddy’s Letter to His Little Girl (About How Fast She’s Walking Away)

Dear Little One,

We have this unspoken ritual, you and I.

When we pull up to the curb at school, and you disembark for another day in kindergarten, we both know I’m going to idle there and keep an eye on you, until you disappear around the corner of the building. Some days, you walk briskly, never looking back.

Other days, you meander, turning and waving goodbye repeatedly.

Then, when we pulled up to the curb one morning last week, I said, “Sweetie, we’re here really early today; you’ll have plenty of time to play,” and you said something that squeezed my heart a little too hard:

“We have plenty of time for you to watch me walk away, Daddy.”

parenting

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Oh, Sweetie, if you only knew: that’s what I have done, am doing, and will be doing for your entire life…watching you walk away…

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