Two painful memories from over a decade ago are seared in my mind. The first happened the afternoon of my husband’s funeral when I was asked this heart-wrenching question: “Did Dad write me a letter?” I had to choke out this answer: “No, I am so sorry, he didn’t. He just couldn’t.”
My husband died just three months after his cancer diagnosis. With the shock of a very bleak prognosis, the many resultant and necessary decisions along with his physical suffering, he didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to write letters despite my pleadings.
A year later, I experienced a similar gut punch when my own father died. I was tasked with cleaning out his apartment and was SURE I would find a letter from him. He was my greatest cheerleader. While he had all the necessary paperwork neatly organized for me in a file folder, there was no letter to be found.
Perhaps my own disappointments have made me even more passionate about the lasting importance of written affirmation from a father to a child. No matter what our age, we long for our father’s blessing and to know they believe in us. Once a father is gone, those words become even more profound in their impact or their absence.
I consider any father who proactively writes affirming letters to his children to be a role model who deserves to be celebrated. The behavior is that incredibly rare.
Last year, while leading a letter writing workshop for a group of Kingdom Advisors, I met a man who has truly created beauty from ashes. He has used the pain of his own fatherless childhood as fuel for doing things right with his own family.
Ross Haycock leads a financial planning firm in Colorado Springs, CO. He has been writing annual birthday letters to each of his three children for many years. They are now aged 29, 27 and 16.
The letters are written in individual journals and his children are welcomed to read the letters at any time. However, Ross makes clear to his children that while they can READ the letters, they can’t have them yet.
What does Ross include in these letters? He summarizes the previous year, talks about their friends and favorite events and intersperses them with encouraging Scripture verses. He affirms and encourages them and focuses on their strengths. All three children have told him that it is the highlight of their birthday each year to read their letter.
Ross is committed to break the cycle of divorce in his family. A natural byproduct of writing these journals to his children has been that it has strengthened his marriage. Being grateful and affirming of his children makes him even more grateful for his wife and for the tremendous impact she has on their family.
Ross and his beautiful family
Recently, his 16 year old daughter said: “I want my marriage to be like yours. You guys actually like each other!” Now that’s a compliment!
Men, please understand how incredibly important your heartfelt, written affirmation is to your children. Perhaps writing a yearly letter seems overwhelming to you. Would you at least consider writing ONE letter to each of your children? Just one? The letter doesn’t need to be long. But expressing the strengths and outstanding character qualities you see in them and your deep love for them will truly provide lifelong encouragement.
“I’ve never lost the desire to know how my dad thought about me.”
A Grandfather in his 60’s
PHOTO CREDIT: BRETT JORDAN/UNSPLASH