I’m asked all the time if I can distill what I learned over the year that I spent with 50 women sharing their life stories, and how their fathers shaped them. I’ve put those lessons into the following imaginary letter. It’s from every newborn daughter to her father. Feel free to share it.
After nine months in the dark, I have just spent 21 hours fighting my way out of that warm, cramped space. I was so happy to see you that I burst out crying.
I already know your voice. And I already feel an attachment to you. Please, don’t ever leave me. Hold me, hug me, and love me every day. Let me sleep on your chest and feel the rhythm of your life feed mine.
I need to be with you. I want you to want me with you. Tell me you love me. Show me you love me. Take me places and do things with me, just me. Anything you want to do is fine. We can go to the race track or parades or baseball games. We can go to breakfast or movies together. We can play catch outside. Take me with you in your garbage truck or to your office.
Take me camping, even if it’s just in our back yard. I need someone to treasure me and fill my heart. If you don’t do it, I may spend the rest of my life looking for someone who will.
Swing me high in the air above your head at the beach. Give me piggyback rides. Chase me and catch me and tickle me. Swim like a shark under water and capture me, then throw me into the air. Let me crawl into bed between you and Mom and then hug me some more. Let me see you smile.
Read to me. Tell me stories. You can make them up, any kind of stories. Tell me about when you were a little boy. Tuck me into bed at night. Let me talk to you, and listen to me, really listen. Try to hear what’s in my heart, because I won’t always know for sure.
Teach me how to be strong and fierce and how to fight for myself. Lay down the law and hold me to it, even when I whine. Show me how to work hard. Teach me about money and power and how to navigate in the world.
Love Mom forever. Show me what I should look for in a life partner by the example you set. Show me I deserve someone who will cherish me, have fun with me, listen to me, bring me flowers for no reason at all. Be the sort of husband that you’d want me to have.
Take me to church, to temple, to God. Help me find the Big Spirit and reverence inside myself, other people, and everything else.
Hold my hand and hug me, even as I get older. Tell me I am beautiful. Let me hear what it feels like when it comes from someone who loves me.
Tell me about yourself. Open your heart to me. Let me know who you really are. Help me come to know you as a man, not just as Planet Dad circling around me as I spin at the center of my own chaotic universe.
Hold me to the high standard of the woman I’ll be grateful to become. Whoever I meet and date, hold them to a high standard, too. Be firm. I don’t need a friend. I need a Father.
Accept and love me for who I am. I may not be the daughter you fantasized about. There may be an artist inside of me, not a doctor. There may be an engineer inside me, not a writer. I may have women lovers, not men. I may choose another religion or none at all. I will find my own political beliefs. Help me find myself. Encourage me. Love me unconditionally, even as I’m different. Just like you were.
Please, Daddy, find yourself. Don’t live a miserable life. Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for anyone. Let me see love in your heart and light in your soul.
Let me go when my time has come. But the best place you can be is around the corner—out of sight, yet close enough that if I ever need you, you will be there.
Take care of yourself, too. I want my children to know you. I want them to know why I’m crying so hard when I bury you, just like I cried when I came into this world.
© Kevin Renner, In Search of Fatherhood: A Mother Lode of Wisdom From the World of Daughterhood, Inkwater Press, 2011