by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.
One question that gnaws at the gut of all fathers is this, “How can I leave a legacy for my kids?”
The written word is powerful. Certainly, it’s important to speak words of blessing and encouragement to our sons and daughters, but writing has the potential to last much longer since words can be saved and read over and over again. The written word has power to shape and encourage our children and build a lasting family legacy. Short notes, journal entries, letters and even e-mails can be great tools to keep in touch and affirm our children.
Write a Journal
One great way of doing this is by keeping a written journal for each child. Just get a book of blank pages and write about what’s happening in your family’s life; or the joys of being a father; your hopes and dreams for your child as he or she grows; or the important values and beliefs you want to pass on. And, don’t skimp. Spend a few bucks to get a nice bound—or even leather—volume.
Start when your wife is pregnant, or if your kids are older, it’s never too late. You can write every day, or once a week. More realistically, record your thoughts on birthdays or holidays, and at special events like graduations, significant “firsts” in their lives, or a time when they’re embarking on a new venture or taking a step of faith. Or, it could simply be a time when something specific is on your heart. Including the date will give it even more long-term impact—like a family record.
I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years now, and my children—at least most of them—have a sense of wonder to think they’re reading my thoughts back when they were born, or when they were just starting school. Maybe you can present those pages to your child at a significant rite of passage in his life, or when he leaves home.
This simple practice will help build a legacy of blessing that your child can look back on years from now. Not to mention grandchildren, great-grandchildren and descendants that you may never see. I think you’ll find it will also help you gain perspective on your own feelings and challenges as a father. Just sit down and write what’s on your heart. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Be simple and clear.
Not long ago, I invited a college student to join us for Sunday dinner. Often, in conversations, I’ll ask lots of questions about a person’s family history, and try to look under and in between the lines to discern what kind of relationship a person has with his or her father.
As we talked to Amy, she was hesitant to talk about her father. It was clear there had been some challenges during the teenage years. One thing Amy did say about her father was this: “When I left for college, my father wrote me a long letter. And in that letter, he shared some of his mistakes and failures as a father—mistakes I knew he’d committed, but had never heard him verbalize like that. And as I’ve read that letter time and time again, it has made me think about how my father really does want to strengthen and create a relationship with me that will be long-lasting, and I find great comfort when I read the words that he wrote to me.”
Then I asked her, “Amy, where do you keep that letter your father wrote?” And she said, “In my Bible.” Now, dads, our words are certainly not on par with Scripture, but to our children, they are very, very powerful. They will be kept and cherished and re-read almost like the words of a prophet. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Also, don’t worry if you have lousy handwriting; it’s your heart that’s the key. In fact, I’ve often heard people say that reading their father’s cryptic handwriting gave the letters and notes an extra warmth and mark of uniqueness. Seeing their dad’s handwriting was like seeing a piece of him on the page.
So, I applaud any efforts you make to write notes and letters to your child. Who knows, your words may be tucked away in their Bible, but most importantly, in their heart.
Don’t underestimate the impact of letters when you’re separated from your child. E-mail has its advantage, and we should use it to bless our children often. But even though it takes time and effort, don’t neglect letters.
Letter writing is valuable if you have kids in college or the military or for adult children and grandchildren. But you can also do it when your younger children are at summer camp, staying for a week with Grandma and Grandpa, or when you’re away for some reason. Be funny, creative, challenging, and affirming. Send a reminder that you’re thinking about them, and encourage them in specific ways. A letter like that packs a big punch!
For non-custodial dads, you probably already know the importance of this. If you don’t have regular contact with your child due to a family break-up, letters can be the lifeblood of your relationship. But whatever the reason for being separated, a letter is a great way to breathe fresh air into the relationship.
You might also try a chain letter. As the leader of the clan, you can start it. Write a short note about what’s going on in your life, and maybe add a special note for each child and grandchild. Send it to the next family member and ask her to add a few lines at the bottom. Provide postage, so she can keep it circulating. In a few weeks, you’ll have a written record that may go down in your family’s history. You can do this on the Internet also, but again, handwritten words are more likely to be cherished and saved.
Those are a few ideas. Maybe you have better ones that work for your family. But I urge you to write often to your children. Think of it this way: something you write today could give your child the encouragement and guidance he needs, whether it’s today or ten years from today. Or, who knows, it could impact your descendants a century from now.