At the age of 53 years, I married a younger woman, and became step dad to her three daughters. Over the years, I’ve written several letters to them, most of which have never been delivered. Sometimes, the situation for which the letters were intended passed. More often, I realized the letters would do no good, and just filed them away. Writing like this as always been a good release for me, and a way to organize my feelings.
So the letters here – reproduced in no particular order, are what I’ve written to the little girls that I have loved more than I never knew I could love human beings. Almost none of these will ever be read by the people for whom they were intended. Maybe – and it’s a long shot – you or your daughters will read them, and, since I am a stranger, perhaps your daughters will learn from them. The Scriptures tell us that a prophet is without honor in his own land. So be it.
They laugh about boogers. They laugh about farts.
They laugh about mold on old Pop Tarts.
They laugh about things from before they were born.
They laughed when my favorite shirt got torn.
When I tell ‘em I’m tired from working all day,
They laugh in my face and call me to play.
They call me a sissy if I ever say ouch,
And laugh when I tell ‘em don’t jump on the couch,
They laugh when I call their mommy My Honey.
They laugh about things I don’t think are funny.
They roll on the floor when I wear my old hat.
They drive me to cussing, and laugh about that.
But I’ve seen lots of girls who didn’t laugh much –
Who’d give their eyeteeth for their daddy’s touch –
Who’d shriek in delight at the crumbs from our table –
Who’d think it pure heaven to sleep in a stable.
I’m thankful to God for the laughter of girls –
That He’s blessed me with these three exquisite pearls.
If He asks why I think I rate entry Above,
I’ll say ‘cause my little girls laughed, and knew love.
19 April, 2003
July 20, 2010
My Precious One,
I have no idea what was behind your attitude this morning. If it was something I did or said – or didn’t do or say – I’d like to know. Maybe I can do something to make it up.
If you weren’t mad at me, I’d like to know that, too. An apology wouldn’t be out of line. We all have days and attitudes. Apologizing doesn’t make you less independent or mature.
It seems that about the time I start to believe we are getting to be friends, something like this comes up, and it lasts a while, and then we take up more or less where we left off. Things like this morning cause me great pain, especially when they seem so totally undeserved.
Your common teenaged girl is careless and casual in the way she hands out pain; she sows it like the wind sows dandelions.
Your uncommon teenaged girl begins to understand how her actions and attitudes affect others. She starts to learn empathy – seeing something from another’s viewpoint. To be able to foresee what will cause pain to herself may be the begining of judgment, but to foresee what will cause pain to others is the beginning of humility. You will find that, paradoxically, from true humility comes the only true nobility.
I hope you will recognize that I have considerable experience in regret, and that you might give serious consideration to what I’m saying.
I hope you had good day, and are feeling better.
The phrase, “I love you like breathin,” isn’t just empty verbiage.
21 Dec., 09
The conversation about Paul got a bit tense tonight. It’s a very emotional subject on all sides. You were right a while back when you said I don’t know the guy. If you get serious about him, I guess I ought to change that.
I really did think about setting him up with a fake text message and working him over with a ball bat or something. I thought about it for about 30 seconds, then gave it up and put it from my mind. It was just the papa bear taking over for a little while.
So here’s the advice. You knew it was coming, right? Paul has been involved in some pretty negative behavior for years. Okay. So was I. People can change, but they have to do it on their own strength. They have to find something they want more than they want the buzz or the high or the orgasm. If Paul – or any guy – ever says, “Baby, if I had you, I know I could quit,” you run like hell! If he won’t quit to GET you, he sure as blazes won’t quit to KEEP you! Once a guy has a girl, the new can wear off really fast. Even if he really meant that, for you, he’d quit whatever he’d been doing, when the temptation and habit comes knockin’ – when he smells a beer or a joint or some floozie’s perfume – you will be yesterday’s news. Your tender, loving heart might tempt you to fall for that sorry old line, but that’s all it is – a sorry, cheap, old pick up line, designed to separate a girl from her bloomers.
Make him EARN you, Darlin’. Make him go straight and stay straight BEFORE you let him say you’re his.
Never give your heart to some guy on credit – you know, the “play now, pay later” plan. Make ‘em ante up first. If he won’t do that, he isn’t worth messing with, and you get yourself away from him.
There. Love you like breathin’
6 Jan., 2010
(Her mother and I had grounded her from her phone, so she went out and bought one, explicitly thumbing her nose at us. She was 17.)
The talk we had in the door of my bedroom about your phone was probably as unsatisfying to me as it was unpleasant to you. It didn’t even come close to saying what I really meant. I’d like to try again
Now, I’m not judging you or your mom. I’m just talking about what happened. Your mom and I had set a rule about the phone. I was invited to withdraw from the program, but in the beginning, it was both of us, so I don’t want you to think I’m trying to suck up by denying my role. You knew very well the intent of the phone rule. When you got your own phone, you escalated the conflict. I don’t know what you were thinking at the time, but your actions said, “I don’t care about your rules or what you think.”
Your mom could match your escalation with one of her own, or she could back down. She was stunned and hurt, but she knew that to escalate would bring a whole new world of anger and hurt. She couldn’t bear that, so she backed down.
There’s a principle I’ve learned in the past few years that can save you untold heartache: The person who cares least about a relationship will have the power. That person is willing to risk the relationship to get his way. “You do what I want or it’s over.” The person who cares most about the relationship will back down – yield power – to keep the relationship. You can see the potential for abuse, meanness, and downright evil in this principle. One person can be controlled by his or her love for another. This is what your escalation of the phone deal did to your mom and me. This is what I failed so miserably to say the other night.
I’m not saying you were all wrong or that your mom was all right on the phone deal. I do understand your frustration. I also understand what your mom has been trying to do. And trust me on this: I also know what it’s like to do something and have it come out wrong!
There are 3 things here that I hope you will seriously think about, and maybe learn from.
(1) Betting that another person’s love for you can be used to manipulate their behavior is a terrible risk. You put everything on the table and throw the dice, and even when it seems like you’ve won, you’ve lost something. (2) Before you escalate a dispute, do your best to understand what the dispute is really about, and (3) weigh carefully what you stand lose against what you stand to gain. You can lose everything – and I mean everything – by an ill-advised escalation.
I have paid an awful price in pain and loss for this wisdom. I hope and pray that you might learn it at less cost.
Love you like breathin’.
My Dearest One,
On your 18th birthday, I feel compelled, as a dad and as a friend, to share a few ideas with you. This is not to scold or direct you, but with explicit respect for your authority to make your own decisions. Some of this is pretty personal and intense. It seems to me that we’ve come to a place where we can be frank with one another. If there is anything in these letters that offends you or hurts you, I beg your forgiveness! As I write, there is nothing in my heart but the deepest love and respect for your agency. Since you moved out, I have managed to go two or three days without bawling when I think about you being out there, building your own life. I’ll get a grip one of these days, but so far, it’s been rough.
I don’t know if you will like, or even read these letters. That’s okay. Maybe they will make more sense when you’re 30. As with everything, what you do is up to you. I’d love to know what you think about them, but again, that’s up to you.
There are a number of precautions in these letters; they aren’t accusations. So don’t feel threatened or accused, okay? That’s not what this is about.
Your life now is of your own making, for good or bad. It’s mostly good, and I’m tremendously proud of you and so much that you are accomplishing. You are truly a remarkable woman. That so many of your decisions have been good ones speaks of your quality. That a few of them weren’t so good speaks of your humanity. Trying to build your life from scratch, strictly on your own, will lead you into many unnecessary bloody noses and avoidable heartaches. Sometimes, “doing it your way,” can mean consciously deciding to take instruction or example. Ben Franklin said experience runs an expensive school, but it’s the only one a fool will learn at. Someone else said, “Experience is a great teacher, especially if it’s someone else’s experience.”
I know you are an amazingly good person. Every day, different aspects of your ethics and values impress me. But life will set traps in our paths, and while we all fall into some of them, a word of wisdom from a loving heart and in due season can help us avoid others
No one but my Father in Heaven knows what you mean to me, and have meant to me from the first time I saw you. My love and hopes and prayers ride with you every day, wherever you are, whatever you are doing.
So. These are written by a dad who loves you one way, and a friend who loves you another. Between the two, you are just about everything to me. Everything.
Love you like breathin’, My Darlin’
I. LOVE AND SEX – attention-getting title, isn’t it!
Love is an expression of the best within you. Love may well be the most complex of all human emotions. It is the recognition, in the character of another, of what you think is great – of what you’d like to see in yourself. If this justifies loving the other person, it also justifies loving yourself. In fact, you can’t really love another person unless you honestly believe that you are worthy of love, yourself. Love is not the denial of yourself. On the contrary, it is the ultimate affirmation of yourself.
When you are with the right person for the right reason, there is no difference between love and sex. They become one and the same, and as one grows stronger and more consuming, the other does the same. Beware of the greatest mistake people make: the sex can be freakin’ incredible, but that doesn’t make it love. And by the way, there is no age limit on this mistake!
Sex is not love; it is an expression of love. It is possible that the closest we will come on this earth to a Godlike moment of creation is that overwhelming, exquisite, spiritual instant of orgasm, when, with another human being, we open our bodies and our very souls to the creation of new life. Don’t sell that short, Sweetheart. That’s why Satan wants us to cheapen and squander our most private and sacred capacity. There is no sensation in life more powerful or soul-rendering than sex. Use it with great care and discretion! Yes, I wish you’d save your virginity for your husband on your wedding night, but that’s your choice, my Love. Don’t give it away carelessly. It is a priceless gift – one that many men never receive. A man may go with a thousand sluts, and not remember a one of them. But he will never, ever forget a virgin. This great gift is yours to give. Be sure it is to a man who will be worthy to carry it for the rest of his life – and the rest of your life – whether you are with him or not.
Sometimes, people mistake dependency for love. Do not think you love someone because they need you. This is despicable! It is the equivalent of valuing weakness more than virtue. It makes a mockery of love. Yet the temptation to do this is very, very strong! Men will tell you they can’t be sober without you, and try to use your pity to seduce you. I have known men who claimed to be gay in an effort to make women believe they could be the ones to make them go straight. Contemptible, eh? But it is an example of mistaking pity for love. Don’t think you are above this temptation! Beware of it!
Never use sex as a weapon to punish or control someone. That can drive the most stable man insane, and I mean the beat you up or cut your throat kind of insane.
Sex should ALWAYS be respectful and courteous. If it can’t be respectful and courteous, stick to a vibrator. It’s more sanitary, and you won’t have to wonder what’s being posted about you on Facebook.
Love you like breathin’, my angel
II. POPULARITY VS INTEGRITY
Since I have known you, you have had two conflicting desires: to be your own individual and to be liked by others. I have seen you torn between these two, and when you’ve tried to find balance, you’ve actually flip-flopped between them. Not that you’ve had a worse time of it than any other kid! It’s part of growing up, and you’ve done okay with it. At your tender age, the conflict and its consequences haven’t been all that bad. That will change as you get older.
You create your own individuality through your character and personality. Your beauty and grace do not make you an individual. They are truly gifts from God, but others have beauty and grace, too. The only thing you have that is truly, uniquely you is what’s between your ears – your values, morals, and attitudes.
Popularity comes from doing or being what others want. Their desires are based on their own values, morals, and attitudes, not on yours. People will try to manipulate you by making you feel guilty or inadequate. They may pretend to like or love you, or say hurtful things to do this. Guys will frequently do this for sex, but women can be utterly savage, too. Doing things out of rebellion is exactly the same as doing them to be liked. Either way, you will be acting according to someone else’s ideas, not your own. Down this road you will find nothing but heartbreak and loneliness. I think your desire for independence and to be your own, unique individual is stronger than your desire to be popular, and this speaks very highly of your innate character. It will also save you.
I haven’t seen you misuse flirting, but you are, by nature, a delicious little flirt, and there’s a very thin, hard-to-see line between innocent fun and dangerous evil. It’s one thing to do some good-natured flirting, and I know you enjoy it. But it’s quite another thing to use your beauty and sexuality to make people think they are going to get something if they are nice to you. Don’t do that kind of thing, my Love. It’s wicked, and there’s a term for girls who do it. Actually, there’s several, and prick teaser is one of the nicer ones. This falls under the category of using sex to control or manipulate people, and can lead to some really bad stuff.
Let your character – your values, morals, and attitude – define you as a unique individual. You have plenty of intelligence, and the makings of a stainless character. You have respect for other people, and you genuinely like people. Be who you know you are, and people who respect you – and whom you can respect – will be drawn to you. I saw a note taped to the closet wall in your room: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Not bad advice
By building your own character, you will become popular with those who matter.
Love you like breathin’, My Sweetheart
III. INTEGRITY AND VALUES
You have an obligation to do what you really think is right. Only you can decide what you will value most. It’s a sorry person who would surrender this responsibility to others, but you’ll meet no end of such sorry people. Anything or anyone can be of value to you. A value doesn’t have to be money, or even material. It can be abstract, like freedom, or love, or beauty. A person can be of the very greatest value. Material wealth should be of value, but that is for a letter of its own. Your LDS upbringing suggested a good set of values, but there are others. It’s your choice.
I once told you that taking off your CTR ring did not absolve you of the responsibility of choosing the right. Decide what is right, and do it, and try to never let your impulses, emotions, or passions turn you from it. Believe me, that’s a tough one to stick to! Never get too big to apologize for bad decisions. Guilt is awful. Apologizing helps.
Values are hierarchical – like a stack, with a top and a bottom. Not all things will be of equal value to you, and you will have sleepless nights and shed a lot of tears when life demands you decide which is the greatest of many. Seek the counsel of prayer and of people you respect, but do not run from this decision; it is at the heart of your character, independence, and integrity.
Always serve your greatest values first, whether they are material things or human beings. The definition of “sacrifice” is to give up something of great value in favor of something of less, and down that road is heartbreak, misery, and poverty. God gave you a mind for thinking, and agency for acting on your thoughts. To decide that “Joe” is more important to you than “Bob,” and then abandon Joe and go with Bob is not only stupid, it spits on your divine agency.
People will agonize over a value judgment. They will tear their hearts out over it, and finally come to the decision. Then, when it comes time to act on that decision, they find it easier to go with the lesser value. Having had the courage and integrity to make the value judgment, how could they lack the courage to act on it? I don’t know, but I’ve sure seen it a lot.
Values are a matter of your choice, which means they can change. That’s normal and indicates a process of maturing. Sometimes. Other times, it is an indication that your brain has slipped below your belt. Welcome to the human race.
Have courage, my Angel. Work hard at making your own value judgments. Then do what you judge to be right, and keep those people and things that you value most. When you screw up, look your mistake dead in the eye and acknowledge it. Then tell the people you’ve hurt you are sorry. Then shut the door on it and get on with your life.
Love you like breathin’, My Precious
IV. CHARACTER, VALUES, AND SELF-RESPECT
You have an obligation to examine the ideas you were raised with, and see if you really believe them. Just do this one thing: Be as hard and merciless in evaluating new ideas as in evaluating the old ones.
Your character and the quality of your life will depend on the ideas by which you live. You will never make decisions more important than these. It is for this that your Father in Heaven gave you that fabulous mind and the agency to allow it to direct your actions. Ideas about right and wrong, values, morals, and even politics are not silly, useless, mind games for professors and geeks. They are the very building blocks of the life you will live. They will determine whom you marry, what kind of a wife and mother you become, and how you will fit into the world. Anyone who tells you these things are pointless is probably trying to get you to do something stupid. Get away from him.
Everyone has a standard of moral value. It may be love, money, or fame. It may be chastity or sexual pleasure – sobriety or inebriation – but everyone has a standard. That’s how we make decisions about what we will do. Every decision in life is governed by the answer to the question, “Which is better?” Your standard of value is simply the thing you use to decide the answer. Which course will give you more money? More fame? More Love? More sex? More power? More peace? Everyone has a standard.
Seek out people who share your values. A great philosopher said that when you find someone who shares your most deeply-treasured values, you will be compelled to love that person. What kind of sense does it make to get romantically involved with someone who treasures things you despise? Trust your own value judgments, and stick to them.
As you trust your own value judgments, you will see how they steer your life. Never be afraid to change or adjust your values, but never do so out of a desire to fit in, or make people like you – or to annoy someone. They’ll end up despising you, anyway, and you’ll despise yourself.
The concept of self-esteem is a load of horseshit. It is utterly meaningless. It cannot exist without the opinions and charity of others. Self-esteem is sort of like a wart on your butt – just something you were born with, that hangs out when the pretty wrappings are removed.
The valid concept you should be concerned with is self-respect! Self-respect has to be earned, like any other kind. It is sort of a paycheck you give yourself for being a good person. Self-respect is priceless. It is earned. It is justified. It is based on the recognition of real value in yourself. Self-esteem can’t be sold. Self-respect can’t be bought. Self-respect lets you look squarely into the eyes of that girl whose makeup you put on and tell her, “Well done, Kiddo.”
Love you like breathin’, My Love
Christmas day, 2009
My dearest Daughter,
On this, your last Christmas with us as a child, I have wanted to give you something personal, and something uniquely from me. In the time we’ve lived together, I’ve done a lot more wrong than right, and most of the things that were right somehow or another came out wrong, or were at the wrong time, or whatever.
So here I sit, trying hard to come up with something that will be right. In all the world, there is only one thing I can offer you tonight with absolute confidence of its rightness. It is my testimony.
I know, because I have been shown, that the Book of Mormon is true, and is precisely what it purports to be – the inspired word of God, written by His prophets. The truth of it has been shown to me by example, in the lives of the men and women who have sealed their testimonies with their blood and toil. It has been shown to me in principle, with the utterly irrefutable, unflinching logic of creation. It has been shown to me in the abstract by the power of that same “shock of recognition” of which people speak concerning the power of an artwork. It has been whispered to me a thousand times by a quiet voice that springs from the synapses of my own mind, and says to me, “This is so.” And sometimes, by that same voice thundering like a cannon in my head.
There is no way that book can be a mundane work of a mortal man. It is either of God or of Satan, and, as a house divided against itself cannot stand, Satan could not and would not offer up such a testament of Jesus Christ.
What you are about to do – to be sealed to your husband for time and all eternity in the temple – in The House of the Lord – is right and proper. It is the most correct thing you will ever do. No matter what comes after this – no trial, no disappointment, not even betrayal – can change the fact that to offer yourselves up to be sealed in His Temple is an act of faith and righteousness that will never be discounted or discredited.
I pray with all my heart and soul that your husband will love you as I have, that he will try as hard to please you and care for you as I have, and that he will have all the success that has eluded me in these things. The love that I have had for you is one of the best and truest things I’ve ever done. I do not deny or regret a second of it.
And most of all, my darling, I will daily pray for your happiness, and that you will always have an unshakeable faith in and testimony of The Savior and of the Gospel. This is my best gift to you, in the name of our Brother and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This morning, my thoughts are dwelling on a particular woman, and what she has meant to me over the years. Many’s the time if I wanted to do something stupid or reckless or dangerous, she was right there by me saying, “Okay let’s go!”
I’ve watched her acting the perfect flibbertygibbet, and without breaking stride or rhythm, look me dead in the eye, and say something so profound – and so far beyond her years! – that it would stop me like a brick wall.
I’ve seen her generosity toward strangers, her gentleness toward scared or savage creatures, her capacity for love and loyalty that is apparently without limit. I have also seen and felt the icy, razor-steel of her scorn and the withering fire of her rebuke.
I have watched her try things that scared her, and wipe away the blood and try again, and thirty minutes later play the most helpless, girly girl in town.
She has allowed me to be a part of her learning and growing, and of this, perhaps, I am most proud. We have made each other blisteringly furious, and wept on each other without shame at the death of a pet, or a few other things that are not for public knowledge, but may or may not have to do with jail.
More than once, I have hit what I thought was my limit; I have written the letter and loaded the pistol, then on the way out the door, thought, “No. She may need me someday,” and turned back, torn up the letter, unloaded the pistol, and gone back into the battle. In this sense, she is, literally, the reason I live. She is woman essential – love incarnate – mi corazon – mi ‘hita.
Happy 21st, Baby
Hi, Sweetie. I hope your visit with your boyfriend’s family is going well. If you are just yourself, I honestly can’t see how anyone could not love you.
I need to explain something I said yesterday at lunch. What I’m about to say is not “Mormon,” or even religious in a strict sense. It is universal, and is valid no matter what your philosophy. Also, I don’t mean to tell you what to do; this is just about principles.
When you were telling me about your boyfriend, I said that Catholics believe in the Old Testament, including the book of Genesis, which contains this verse: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
You sort of pounced on that, and said you were going to remind him of it, and thereby, my daughter, hangs a grave risk. By all means, discuss the Scriptures with your man; I encourage you to make them a part of your life together. I firmly believe that adherence to Scriptural principles will make a stronger marriage – provided you are both sincere, consistent, and humble.
I would point out two principles: first, never use the Scriptures as a weapon or as a way to win arguments or get your way. It seemed to me that after the first year of my marriage to your mother, the only time the Scriptures were mentioned in the house was when someone wanted to beat me up about something. That’s not what they are for; it is hurtful to the recipient of the beating and brings a spirit of negativity, or even condemnation to what should be sweet and encouraging.
Second, do your best to be in compliance with the Scriptures before you quote them as counsel to another. You have always been very sensitive to and aware of hypocrisy, and you have rightly scolded me for it on a number of occasions. If you quote a Scripture to someone when you are in violation of it or another, similar one, the other person has every right and reason to admonish you. I’m sure you respect The Savior’s counsel when He said, “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone.” This does NOT mean you have to be perfect before offering counsel or opinion; Heaven will be filled with deeply flawed people. Just do your best.
You will find people much more receptive to what you say if you seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Instead of saying, “You are not following this Scripture,” try asking, “What is your thinking on [or interpretation of] this Scripture?” As you ask this, it is absolutely essential that you ask in sincerity, and after you ask, SHUT UP AND LISTEN! Otherwise, the other person will rightly believe you are setting a trap.
Every caution in the three previous paragraphs should be multiplied by ten when dealing with your mate or spouse! Think of it is as being sort of like teaching a rattlesnake how to brush his teeth.
I love you more than breathin’.
17 January, 2011
Good morning, Baby. Hope you are well and happy this day. We had such a good time with you and Matt last night! Everyone loved the dinner.
You know what a tough time I’ve had of dealing with your being out on your own. It hasn’t been because I think there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just been hard to see you out in the world on your own. I wasn’t tired of your being 10, yet, you know?
But last night something changed for me – not saying I’m finished with being dumb about it, but it changed. I watched you bustling around in your kitchen, fixing dinner for your guests, visiting with them and taking care of them. I watched you flirting with your man and him with you – making promises that couldn’t be kept with others in the house. There was some emotion I couldn’t quite nail down, but it was very strong.
It took me a while to sort it out, but you know how anal I am about analyzing and pondering, and it came to me this morning while I was brushing my teeth. It was the sense of rightness about the whole thing. You weren’t created to be a little girl; you were created to be a woman, and sure as the world, there you were, being a woman in your house – the woman of your house – your man’s woman – your parent’s daughter – your sister’s sister. It was a perfect scene of what’s right in life.
So I’m sitting here, alone in the dark, about to leave for work, with big ol’ fat tears puddling down my face, but they are different tears than have been there the past year or so. I’m not saying I won’t still be all goofy about hugging you and worrying about you, but I think it will be different, now. You will be my Baby for all time and eternity, but I’m a lot closer to being comfortable with your being a grownup lady.
I love you more than breathin’.
FATHER’S DAY 2013
I’ve taught you how to keep your fingers safe around a saw.
I’ve taught you how to watch for passive tense.
I’ve taught you that it’s best to be respectful of the law,
And how to tighten chainlink on a fence.
I did my best to teach you how to mop and sweep and dust,
And to keep a tighter rein on that smart lip.
(I might have been the one who taught you how to cuss,
But I know I didn’t teach you how to dip!)
I know I’ve taught you how to ride a bike and drive.
I’ve taught you how to shoot and set a pole.
But have I taught you what you need to know to stay alive?
Have I taught you how to love and keep your soul?
My Darling, have I taught you how to live?
Have I taught you right from wrong?
When to keep and when to give?
Or how to find the notes to sing your song?
Have I taught you how to speak your very heart to God,
To be your husband’s woman and his wife?
To keep on learning when life spareth not the rod?
Have I taught you to be humble and the value of your life?
Some lessons help to feed you, some give your heart its wings,
And I pray I’ve done my part to help you learn.
For the world is full of children who never learned these things,
And I wonder what reward their fathers earn.