Keeping Your Head

Keeping Your Head

She did it again. She raged at you. Pissed you off. And you reacted. You blew a gasket. Provided you didn’t hit her or assault her in any way, you can come out of this ok. Keeping your head during a divorce is tough, really tough.

Divorce is emotional, and emotions run wild during the divorce process. But, you can control the emotions and control the process if you can keep your head and your emotions in check. Knowing you’re going to chat with the soon to be Ex and be emotionally charged, there are some things you can do to keep a steady course while navigating the rough seas ahead.

Keeping Your Head

The first rule of keeping your cool: Learn to be here, now.

Ram Dass wrote a great book in the late sixties on the subject, with a basic premise: Be Here. Now. (That’s the title of the book, too).

We tend to live a great deal of our lives out while not really being in the moment. There are many tried and true clichés on the subject, though it boils down to some simple understanding about how we build up stress. Most stress in life really has almost nothing to do with what’s actually happening in the present moment, it has to do with how we apply outdated emotions that worked in the past to a current situation that only looks like something that has happened before. We do this really quickly, too, so it takes a minute to recognize in ourselves that we are not really staying present but responding from past built in automatic responses.

If you are stressed in the moment, look around and decide if there is an actual real threat in front of you (like the house on fire) or if you are just working yourself up over something that isn’t even happening (like an imagined conversation going badly with the ex, before you even picked up the phone).

This is what I mean by “be here, now” – Keeping your head by staying present in the moment when you are feeling stress. If you are focused on a past you can’t change or a future that hasn’t materialized, then you are anywhere but here. Learn to get back quickly.

A rubber band may help.

It might sound sort of silly, but it could be the best silliest thing you do for yourself. Heck, the kids wear bracelets everywhere these days so you could even consider it a fashion statement. Go get yourself a regular rubber band and put it on your wrist. You could even get a Live Strong bracelet or a pretty multi-colored rainbow band, whatever your preference. Just make sure it is strong and that you can snap it when you fiddle with it.

I’m pretty sure you can figure this part out already, but just in case you haven’t caught on yet: When you start getting upset, give your new bracelet a little snap instead. It should sting just enough to remind you that you are alive, in this body, here and now, and help bring you back into the present. Eventually, just feeling it on your wrist, or even glancing at it will have the same effect.

Think of Pavlov’s famous dog. That’s what we’re doing; we’re tricking our minds into associating a sensation with an action. The sensation is secondary to the act of thinking about your behavior in the moment and learning to take a small moment for reflection, which will allow you to make wiser choices. Eventually the simple thought of snapping the rubber band will replace the action of actually doing it, and the effect will be the same. You will no longer be living inside your mind and taking actions based on past experiences or imagined futures, but you will begin making better decisions based upon what is really happening in the moment. Learning to divert our attention when we start to feel anger (in this case, into the rubber band) gives us a better chance to take another tactic when we are feeling emotionally distressed.

In Neurolinguistic programming this is one of the most basic “pattern interrupters” we can create. Neurolinguistic programming (or NLP) is the science of the study of how language affects the central nervous system. NLP is pretty powerful stuff and if you’re not already familiar with its concepts, I certainly recommend looking into it. The idea behind the rubber band is easy; we get influenced by circumstance and shift into auto-drive and stop responding to the actual threat, instead using a predetermined set of reactions to handle it. Simply put: we get stuck and stop paying attention. The little sting interrupts that thought process and gives us a chance to think anew on the current dilemma and respond in a better way.

Finally, let me add that a rubber band, while certainly effective, is not the only way to create this pattern interrupting behavior we are looking for. Aldous Huxley wrote once of parrots on an island trained to say “Here and now, boys”. You could set a timer every ten minutes (or two hours, or twice a day, etc) to chime and remind you to pay attention. You could pay Kato to come over and attack you whenever you return home. You can be creative in your choices on how to resolve the problem of keeping yourself present when you are feeling angry.   \

Next week, we’ll look at more ideas for keeping your cool.

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When You’re Home For The Holidays

When You’re Home For The Holidays

Ahhh, the Holidays. That glorious time of year that we get to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with our loved ones. Or do we? That’s certainly questionable if you’re home for the holidays and having to negotiate with your Ex as to whether or not you’ll see the kids. It’s certainly reasonable that the kids will regard the custodial home as “their home”. That home is more typically with Mom as opposed to with Dad as the Family Court system has traditionally not been kind or understanding to Dads during the divorce process.

Regardless of who is the custodial parent, we must always understand that it’s not our needs that need to be addressed, but the needs and wants of our children.  Kids clearly have the holidays off from school, and they have family and friends that they want to share time with. Dads Want to be and need to be factored into the schedule, but when? Negotiations with the kids and with the Ex are in order if you want to have a reasonable opportunity to share valuable time with your kids.

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are perhaps court ordered in a support stipulation agreement. While it can certainly ease tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to think about having flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I actually did have a fairly complete support agreement to rely on when issues arose and used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family). Making permanent schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Home for the Holidays This Year 

For example, Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for mom’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a fairly large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving. Now, by turn, while my family isn’t really small, we also have not ever really had long standing Thanksgiving traditions. Of course I would love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me, however, in this situation, while I could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt her family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs. Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, mom would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays). From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations. Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have seen.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning when they’ll be home for the holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When you’re going to be home for the holidays, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Start negotiating as soon as you know.

My ex and I were pretty good at this, and we often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter, which made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks far enough in advance to also make plans with other kids where she would be travelling (or staying at home).

Next time we’ll talk about handling scheduling conflicts towards fair resolution.

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5 Secrets to Cooperative Co-parenting On Holidays

5 Secrets to Cooperative Co-parenting On Holidays

The Thanksgiving holiday is now in the past, and Christmas is fast approaching. This is a tough time of year for any divorced parent who is not the primary care giver. This is especially true for divorced Dads as they are least likely to be the primary care giver. Kids naturally gravitate to spending time with their custodial parent which is with whom they spend most of their time. They view their custodial home as ‘their home’ and they don’t naturally think of Dad’s place as ‘their home’. It might not seem fair, but it’s reality.

To find more time with your kids during the holidays, you must act more cohesively than ever with your Ex. You have to co-parent on holidays to get the most from your kids and get the most for yourself. Keep in mind, this is not about you, Dad. This is about your kids and what they want and what they need.

Holidays are full of traditions. Your kids likely have traditional things that they do with Mom. Maybe they bake cookies and decorate the tree while drinking their favorite cocoa. But, what traditions have you established with your kids? What have you done to create new traditions for you and your loved ones? Time is on your side and you have time to think of new ways to connect with your kids. If possible, go out and cut down a fresh Xmas tree. Go Christmas caroling with them. If you have daughters, take them to the Nutcracker. If you have boys, take them hiking in the woods or camping in nature. There are lots of creative things you can do to establish new traditions. But it starts with you.

Co-Parenting Agreements Can Help

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are court ordered. While it can ease co-parenting tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to have flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I had a detailed support agreement to rely on when issues arose. We used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

His and Her Holidays

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family).

Making permanent co-parenting schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Family Traditions of Her Side of the Family

Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for my ex’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, while my family isn’t small, we also don’t have long standing Thanksgiving traditions. I’d love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me and could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly. Honestly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt my ex’s family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs.

Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, my ex would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays).

Special Time With Daddy’s Girl

From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life-long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations.

Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Here’s That Flexibility Thing Again

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Co-Parenting on Holidays and School Vacations, Too!

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have experienced.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When holidays and vacations are approaching, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Co-parenting on holidays and vacations can be stress free if you start negotiating as soon as you know about special events.

My ex and I were pretty good at scheduling on holidays and vacations. We often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter!

Early negotiating made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks. My daughter was never left hanging until the last minute, and could make advance plans with other kids that live where she would be on break.

Co-parenting Conflict Resolution

No matter how carefully you plan, no matter how good your relation with your ex is, there will be times when you have to find a resolution to a scheduling conflict.

Obviously, one of you will have to give in. Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay?

Listen, as the years go by, the important thing is your continued presence in your child’s life, and one holiday isn’t going to make the difference. Keep that in mind as you negotiate.

By the same token, it is important to give your children routines that they are comfortable and familiar with. One of these is keeping holiday schedules intact. Though it isn’t critical to adhere too strictly, it is definitely a good idea to keep a comfortable schedule your children are familiar with when possible.

The Art of Negotiation

Giving your kids routines around the holidays (and frankly, around just about any recurring activities in their lives) provides them a sense of comfort and security.

So, let’s say you both want to spend the 4th of July taking your kids to see fireworks. What can you do?

Well, the most obvious first question is; do you already have a set routine between your ex and yourself concerning this holiday?

For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that she normally has custody on this holiday. You’re disturbing the co-parenting routine with your request. So, be certain to ask yourself how important is it that you get the kids? Do you just want to spend time with them on a date you normally don’t, or is there a compelling reason to ask your ex to shift schedules (family in town, great deal on a houseboat, special activities for the kids, etc.)

If you honestly believe the children will benefit more from time with you than from their established previous routines on this holiday, then you should proceed with careful negotiation.

I feel the first fair proposal to make your ex is to see if you and she can both spend time with the kids on the holiday. This makes a huge impact over the years, when kids can see their parents interacting without malice.

If it is already established that you and your ex will not share a holiday together, then there is no point in trying that route. Concerning the children, the real question is what will make the most sense. If you know that having the kids will best benefit them, then I suggest you do your best to discuss your position with your ex. Explain how they will benefit, and be willing to make a counter offer.

Effective Co-Parenting On Holidays Means There Has To Be Some Give And Take

Perhaps if you take them for Independence Day, your ex will take them for Labor Day weekend when you would normally have them?

When working with your ex towards finding co-parenting holiday schedules that will work for the both of you, compromise is key. (Mostly, your compromise.)

Remember, the goal is to find the best experience for your kids. Though you may have ideas of how you want your holidays, you will have to negotiate in most cases. Always try to keep the conversation focused on the resolution, not your personal wants or desires.

Again, try to keep a bigger picture in mind. Swapping holidays is really pretty common among single parents, and unless you have some type of stipulation either clearly defining each holiday or clearly stating your rights, then there is going to be room for redefining your holiday scheduling.

I have mentioned this previously, and it bears repeating: The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.

The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.

The sooner you are aware of the need to change an existing schedule, the better the chances of getting it accomplished. Use your first available opportunity to communicate with your ex what you would propose for a change, and be willing to make concessions.

Remember, anything that isn’t already defined is going to be a disruption for her, so keep that in mind as you ask. If you know you want your kids for one holiday, perhaps you can come up with ways that taking them will actually look like support of your ex. Just being willing to work with her will make a difference, for you, for her, and most importantly, for your children.

How are you dealing with the challenges of co-parenting on holidays? Tell us what works – and what doesn’t – in the comments below!

Now is the perfect time to check out Melissa Ricker’s tips on Using Google Calendar for Effective Co-parenting. You won’t want to miss Sara Gabriella’s reasons why Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First.

 

Thank you for visiting Guyvorce.

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Co-Parenting With Your Ex

Co-Parenting With Your Ex

The mother of my daughter hates my guts. She doesn’t just dislike me; she loathes me with a passion

And yet, we have no choice but to learn to co-parent together. To be perfectly honest, she’s not really my favorite person in the world, either. However, strange as it might seem, it is more common than we might want to think in this world that you can share your greatest love with your worst enemy.

While she and I are barely civil to one another, we have never allowed this to influence how we set ground rules for our daughter.

This fact alone has allowed us to navigate the last fifteen years of our daughter’s life with a mutual understanding and respect, while maintaining a safe distance from one another.

I am proud to say that my daughter is a sweet, charming, thoughtful and delightful young lady who graduates high school with honors next month, and her mother’s and my early decision (we separated when our daughter was less than two) to keep our personal feelings for one another out of the parenting equation apparently had good results. We didn’t have to like each other to keep teaching our child to make good decisions. In a way, we are very fortunate that we were both raised with the same general principles, social mores and taboos, though we often have very differing opinions about them. And while there are certainly grey areas and some difficult negotiations along the way, we are both coming from basically the same place; we want our child to be happy, and we want to support her growth in learning to think for herself and make choices that will serve her best throughout life.

While we worked hard at putting aside our feelings and personal biases in discussing what is best for our kid, we’re polar opposites in the way we manage our personal lives, and we both take responsibility for exposing our daughter to both the good and the bad of our own personal choices, so that she might make up her own mind.

For instance, my daughter has been raised religiously non-denominational for the most part. This is not because her mother and I don’t both have our individual beliefs; but that they are not the same beliefs, and rather than force one upon our child, we decided to just let her make her own choices and make ours available to her. Her mother is a non-practicing Catholic who still celebrates Christmas and Easter; I am a reasonably practicing Jew. (Which is to say, I observe high holidays and try to at least acknowledge Shabbat.)

The fact of our different heritage has another interesting aspect for raising our daughter. Since Catholicism is passed down patrilineally, and Judaism is passed down through matrilineally, our daughter does not belong inherently to either religion. This oddity in our religious backgrounds actually forced her mother and I to take this issue very seriously and were probably some of the longest discussions we ever had concerning her upbringing. (The other big issue for us became medication, as our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD early in her life, and it has been an area where we disagreed on appropriate treatment, which in turn forced us to have very passionate dialogues about what was important to us.)

While this could have become a really difficult part of parenting, instead it became perhaps the most important aspect for us in learning how to parent together while separate. Because this particular aspect of raising our daughter was a bridge that could not be crossed, what we had to learn early on was how to share our differences to our daughter without making the other party out to be “wrong”.

Now, in some ways, I have to admit that this particular aspect of my parenting might leave others angry or questioning. Even from members of my own faith I have experienced a small and subtle backlash in choosing not to push my personal beliefs upon my child. Still, I am fortunate that her mother shares similar views. So we choose to focus instead on things that we both agree are important. Instead of teaching about Jesus or God (or Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) we talked about sustainability, responsibility, compassion, conservation, philanthropy and other core values we mutually consider important. These are principles that are demonstrable and have proven results. We are also pretty solidly agreed on our lessons concerning work, school, play, friends, and a host of other subjects, so in the grand scheme of “what our kid needs to know”, religion really is pretty low on the totem. We feel that we can talk about religion when she brings it up.

I believe the only truly morally responsible act to take as separate parents is for both to strive to keep the welfare of the child or children the most significant part of any communication, and to strive to create harmonious outcomes (or at least ones that are fair compromises) concerning consequences and rules.

Whenever possible, you should agree on basic principles and expectations and be consistent in both homes:

  • If a behavior is not allowed at one house, for example, it shouldn’t be tolerated at the other
  • If a punishment is meted out by one parent, it should be upheld by the other
  • Curfews should be consistent, as well as what “grounding” means in your home.
  • Don’t try and out-do one another on things like allowance and tooth fairy visits – take turns or divvy them up, but always keep them equal
  • Compromise on things like healthy eating and the amount of sugar intake, have zero sugar at one house and a veritable treasure trove of gummy bears at the other won’t help anyone

While your child might seem innocent and you are confident they have been brought up well, the urge to play one parent off the other, especially when the parents hate each other and can barely communicate with one another, is just to delicious and irresistible to a child who wants something really, really bad. It becomes easy, and before you know it, they will master the art of lying and manipulating to get their own way. Don’t ever underestimate how smart they are, and don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t listening and seeing what is going on when you least expect it. 

Don’t Forget Another Very Important Factor

Make sure your new partners respect your wishes with your ex, and are on board with your plans in being consistent. It isn’t a competition. If you aren’t in agreement with your ex, and your new partner supports you in that decision, you can escalate very quickly to a situation that is not manageable without being in a constant state of anger and frustration, or heading back down the very expensive road of court costs.

You don’t have to like your ex, but you have to work together where the kids are concerned. After all, you made them together, right? Well, now you have the responsibility of raising your kids together…and that means getting on the same page when it comes to parenting, even if in no other aspect of your relationship. You owe it to your kids.

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Letter To My Daughter On Her Graduation

Letter To My Daughter On Her Graduation

For you, my incredibly amazing, magnificent and beautiful daughter on her graduation from High School, I give this ‘Letter to My Daughter on Her Graduation.’ It was hard to write this then, and still hard to read today. Several years have passed since I first wrote this to you, and as I read it again, I’m struck by how true it still is! It will still be valid in another couple of years, and even more beyond that. You continue to amaze me daily and I’m struck so often by how you “have it!”

Hi. This is your father. Many things below I’ve said to you in person. But I believe important things are best backed up with the written word. Most of this letter is a bunch of stuff you may, or may not, decide is useful. I know when I was graduating high school I didn’t give my father’s advice much thought. But I promise you, if he had written it down for me, I guarantee I would find it valuable today. Hopefully you’ll find a few nuggets buried in this letter to my daughter now and later.

You’ll excuse me for overstepping my boundaries if you feel I have in writing it down. Since I can’t buy you a car for graduation or fly you around the world as a present when you turn 18 soon (both things I’d love to do, but alas, it ain’t gonna happen), what I can do is this. I can write a letter to my daughter. Sure, I can write you a letter any time, but I’ve decided to pour out what I consider to be the real morsels of truth in life. I’ve found these over the years, with most coming from pain and wrong choices. You’ll make those too, but maybe this letter will help you avoid the ones I made so you can go make your own, less painful ones.

To My Daughter

So… here’s the most important stuff (read this next paragraph if nothing else, please):

In all the time you have been on this planet, I have loved you more than words will ever express. You are my daughter, and I am amazed by you. Always and forever. I wish I had more to offer you than simply my pride and love, though I hope they will suffice in this moment. I’m truly in awe at what a smart, sweet, kind, caring and optimistic young woman you have become. You are quite simply the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m really glad you’re here. I love you. Looking good, kiddo!

Now, on to the graduation address…

That I am sitting here writing to you on the eve of your high school graduation and a month before your official status as a young adult has me simply flabbergasted. I could not possibly have prepared for this day, and yet here it is. What I find more odd is how vivid my memories are of my own graduation and then later your birth. I can still see you as you were before school began for you, when the world is full of wonder. And now you are about to set out on the next chapter. I can’t describe the joy and sadness that swirl in my emotions.

You are a young lady now, hardly the small child of my memories. I haven’t the foggiest notion of how to really talk to you, though it is absolutely my honor, privilege and duty to keep trying, for as long as I live.

Truth told, I’ve never considered myself a very good father, and in many ways I’ve been simply lousy. I’m sorry is about all I can really offer. The older you get, the older I get, the more likely the struggles of my adult life will become things you know more about, and in so doing, will likely shift some of the distance between us, though it will never excuse the places where I failed you. For this, all I can do is say I’m sorry and ask for your forgiveness.

Of course, there are also many little things that I have had a part of along the way that have certainly helped shape the fine young woman you are today. I’d like to think that some of the adventures, people and places I have shown you had an impact, and that my family has had some positive growth for you as well.

Your mother and I made a deal a long, long time ago that no matter what happened, we would always do our best to teach you about the world as best we could without disparaging the other. I think it served you well. I hope it did. It wasn’t easy, for either of us.

Somehow, I missed the part where you stopped being a little girl and started becoming a young adult, and it definitely happened along the way. The young woman I see before me is really an amazing person, and I want to do everything in my power to help ensure she stays that way.

So, I’ve been watching you for awhile now, and I’d like to offer some insight into the world you are about to enter. There are things your father still knows that you do not. There are some pieces of advice you’re unlikely to hear from anyone else, and some of them may piss you off a bit, but if I don’t tell you, no one else will, and forewarned is forearmed.

Know that first and foremost, what I want for you is a joyous and happy life filled with love, friendships, adventures, learning and growing. I also know that there are going to be tough days. I hope you’ll count on me as a voice of reason and wisdom as you grow into adulthood.

Know also that no matter what anyone ever says, you are perfect just exactly as you are. You’re never going to be too short, too fat, too dark, too weak, too dumb, or anything else that people may come along and tell you that you are. Surround yourself with people who remind you of how awesome you are, and avoid the ones that don’t. The only person you need permission from, from now on, is you.

I hesitate to say this part, and I think it is necessary. The world is sometimes cruel and evil people really are out there. You have been incredibly blessed so far that perhaps the worst hardship you have endured is your father’s lack of presence. I’m not aware that you have broken any bones, required surgery or had any close friends die on you or really fuck their lives up horribly while you had to watch. While I truly don’t know what personal struggles you have overcome (though I do know that you have a perseverance about you that is admirable, and that simply learning itself has been a life long challenge for you, and may well continue to be), what I do know is that you really have lived a fairly sheltered life compared to what many children in this world endure. There are a great many “bad” places on this planet, and I hope you’ll steer well away from them, or enter only safely with a good guide. I mean this as much about real, physical places and people as I do about bad decisions and poor judgment, your father being somewhat of an expert on bad decisions and poor judgment.

Your conservative father is deeply concerned that you may not give enough credence to the idea that capable as you are, you are also diminutive, attractive and generally optimistic. While these are cherished things, they are also traits a bad person will try to capitalize on. I don’t want you to be afraid of the world in any sense, and I do want you to be prepared.

My second really important point I want to get through to you is this: There is a huge, amazing world out there, too. Go see it.

You aren’t in a hurry, of course, and I don’t want to see you wasting a minute of your life longer than you have to here. There is an entire planet out there, and you should strive to see as much of it as you can. My largest regret in life is that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to me to travel in my youth. I got scared and stayed put. Don’t let your fear of the unknown keep you from travelling abroad or moving out of state for college.

This point you seem to grasp really well, but I want to say it anyway: Do what makes you happy! Find your passions and do them! They are absolutely the most important real life work you have to do. When you are passionate, you energize others. When you are working with purpose, you show the way. Trust the little voice in your head when it tells you that you should make art, or plant a garden or help someone. It’s a good voice. Too many ignore it, and after some time, they lose it. I can’t imagine how different and wonderful the world might be if more people listened to that good side just every now and then. Be unique and be that one that does!

Lastly for now, (since I expect to write you again at 21 and offer you a few more pieces of wisdom that you would currently call “lecturing”), I want to remind you again of something that is becoming more and more relevant as you mature.

You are a creative person. Unquestionably. So is your dad.

So, please, help me help you.

I don’t know enough about your inside life to really know what to offer, though I am quite certain that I have some answers for you, and I don’t want to pretend I know which ones are relevant. I just hope you’ll still consider asking me when you feel you have a tough one. This old man might know some things. My life hasn’t been easy. I haven’t followed the cookie-cutter path. I’m certainly not perfect. That’s where I can help. If there is one guarantee in this life it is that you will make mistakes and you will fail at something, and actually several things. I know I have. Dealing with it is extremely tough. I can speak to you as one that’s fought through many tough times, and continues to do so. Don’t seek advice from those that just don’t know.

My dearest daughter, all I really want you to know is that you are loved and supported by many.

I am so proud of you.

With Much Love,
Dad

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