For the past several years you and I have had an ongoing daily patter that goes something like this:
Me: Do you know how much I love you?
Or if you’re feeling feisty:
You: To infinity and beyond (a la Buzz Lightyear)!
Me: Do you know what I love best about you?
Me: Will you remember forever?
Me: You’re such a winner.
The exchange always brings a smile to my face. To my great delight our banter brings a smile to your face too. The back and forth has become a wonderful intimacy between us which I hope will continue forever. Not long ago someone overheard our little routine, and asked me how we came to start it.
One day a couple of years ago I read an interview with a woman who had just been released from prison after serving eighteen years for killing her father. Needless to say I was curious as to what had happened and why. The interview unsettled me, and I found myself googling similar stories.
I learned that without exception, every woman who had killed her father under similar circumstances had been the victim of repeated sexual, physical or mental abuse—or all of the above, at the hands of the one man in the world who was charged by the forces of nature to protect her as she grew up. I was horrified. As the father of three daughters I found it shocking that a man could treat any girl or woman that way, let alone his own daughter.
I innately feel an overwhelming protective instinct towards you and your sisters and I wondered what kind of man would drive his daughter to the point where she felt her only remaining choice was to defend herself by becoming a killer. More importantly, I worried about how to ensure that you grew up feeling loved and respected in the way that you should as you make your way in the world.
I’m not a psychologist, and I leave the scientific analysis to those who are far more qualified than me. But as a matter of common sense it has always struck me that the best way to impart to you a sense of your self worth, a sense of your “lump of clay” value, and a sense of your lovability was to manifest our love for you in tangible ways no matter what. And as importantly, to tell you early and often (with apologies to Chicago politics) that whether we’re angry with you or happy with you at any given moment, your mom and I love you unconditionally and forever.
I’m not saying I don’t get angry with you or your sisters. Of course I do. Recently a friend of mine posted on Facebook that when she was a kid, sometimes her mom and dad would threaten to “knock her into the middle of next week” if she didn’t start behaving. I had to laugh when I read that because every once in a while you do or say something that will cause me to have those very same thoughts. Yet I still want you to know that I love you even when you’re driving me crazy.
When I was a teenager your grandma would sometimes say to me, “if you love me you’ll clean your room”. That always irritated me. How was one tied to the other? She could certainly ask me to clean my room, and she did. She could be upset with me if I then didn’t clean my room, and she often was. But what did cleaning my room have to do with loving my mother?
And did that mean that if I didn’t clean my room I didn’t love her? I certainly don’t doubt that your grandma loved me, of course. Yet in adulthood I’ve come to understand that words are powerful tools. As a parent it’s often easy to forget the devastating impact words can have. The difference between innocuous venting and something much more nefarious isn’t always distinguishable by a child’s psyche.
Your mom and I know that for better or worse, we will be the most influential role models of your childhood. You’ll be inclined to take our words and actions as gospel whether or not they are well intentioned.
As an athlete during my high school and college days, I had a few bad coaches and a few excellent coaches. The excellent ones taught me the importance of positive self-talk. They taught me that positive reinforcement and encouragement led to the self-talk of a winner. The bad ones? Well, enough said.
In the end, my sweet daughter, how you perceive yourself will become how other people perceive you too.
I’ve spent many years on the battlefield of life and I know full well that the more one feels loved and loveable, the better one functions top to bottom. Experience has taught me the importance of love, and of respect, and of compassion. And most importantly, experience has taught me the importance of telling the people I love how much I actually love them. Which brings me back to how and why I started our little routine, and how I hope you’ll go through life.
I wanted you to know you are profoundly loved, so that you may love others profoundly.
I wanted you to know you are unconditionally loved, so that you may love others unconditionally.
I wanted you to remember our love long after your mom and I are gone, so that you may pass that love on to your own children.
And I wanted you to know that you are a winner. Simply because you are.
Don’t kill me for saying that.
All my everlasting love,