I’m now at that stage in life when–as a father of 3 beautiful, sparkly, creative daughters each at or near college age—I have been increasingly called upon to offer “context” for the benefit of certain young men who frequent the premises. Because I think best when I write and often fail miserably to communicate when I simply “speak from the heart,” I eventually got around to expressing such thoughts in letter form. I offer it here In hopes that it might help others in a similar position to better articulate such things.
To a Young Man Interested in My Daughter,
You think my daughter is special. That’s good. It means you’re observant. Her mom and I think she’s special too. At this point, though, none of us can know how your relationship will develop. You might date for a while and get to know each other better and then at some point drift apart for any of a hundred reasons. Or, you might find that the more you get to know each other with all of your individual virtues and talents and quirks and habits and woundedness and dreams—that through the fun and the difficulty and the elation and the hurt of really knowing and caring for this other person, that you are more and more drawn to one another and that the joys and challenges of your friendship and your relationship only make you stronger together.
If that’s the case then over time you might become best friends and one day get married and build a life and raise a family together. But as I said, none of us knows at this point, so I’m not concerned about what your long-term relationship plans are. It’s okay not to have any yet.
Right now, for me, it’s enough to acknowledge that you’re interested in my daughter and you want to spend time with her and get to know her better. I’m fine with that. I trust her enough to believe that if, out of all the guys she’s around, you’re the one she noticed and wanted to get to know better, then there’s probably pretty good reason. It tells me that there are already things about your character and your mind and your personality and the way you’ve treated her that she has observed and judged to be good and honorable and worth finding out more about.
That’s good enough for me.
Because I place a high level of trust in my daughter’s judgments, you get a pass. You’re already in the club because she put your name on the guest list.
So enjoy getting to know her, but here are the two things I want you to remember as you do:
Your relationship, whatever form it takes, exists in the context of a complex web of intergenerational relationships that began long before either of your were ever born, and will continue long after both of you are gone.Douglas McKelvey
First, remember that your relationship will never just be about the two of you. Your relationship, whatever form it takes, exists in the context of a complex web of intergenerational relationships that began long before either of your were ever born, and will continue long after both of you are gone. Bear in mind that there are parents and grandparents and great grandparents and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who have loved her, invested years and emotions and sacrifice in caring for and nurturing her, who have invested prayers and sometimes tears—as all parents do at times—on her behalf, who played and laughed and dreamed with her and who have delighted in her. And who still do.
If your relationship with my daughter grows to the point that you one day marry, then that marriage relationship will become at that point the most central and important human relationship for both of you, but even then, it will never exist completely outside of the context of these other relationships. And of course, the same is true of you and your relationships with your family and friends.
Why is this important to remember? Because the way you pursue your relationship with my daughter, whatever the outcome, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It effects and impacts the lives and emotions of her family and friends, for better or for worse. We want her to flourish. We want what is best for her. If she marries in two years or five years or ten years, we want her to be with a guy who will love her and nurture her and care for her and who will learn to delight in her in the uniqueness of the singular beauty of who she is. The bottom line is, if she were to end up emotionally tied to (or hurt by) a guy who ended up being a jerk to her, it wouldn’t just break her heart and make life miserable for her, it would break the hearts of her sisters and her parents and her grandparents and her friends as well. One person can make selfish choices that cause burdens a lot of other people have to carry, sometimes for their whole lives.
I say this, not because you’ve given me any reason to be concerned or suspicious. I have no red flags or qualms whatsoever about you and my daughter dating. I say it because if you build your relationship on the knowledge that everyone who loves you, and everyone who loves her, are invested in the choices you make, it gives you a good foundation for building well, for building something that can last, and for building something that doesn’t only serve two people, but that can be a blessing to generations before and after.
That’s what I want you to remember most. That even in the early stages of getting to know one another, you are building something.
Build such that even if all you end up creating together is a small garden where friendship can grow, that it will be a beautiful little place that makes others smile when they pass by.
But if you find that what it turns out you were creating all along was not just a garden, but a castle and grounds where the rest of your lives and the lives of your children and your grandchildren and all of your friendships and your service to God will be lived out, well then, all the more reason to have built well, with care and with tenderness and with unselfishness, from the beginning.
The second thing is—and I trust this would be some ways down the road, but I’ll go ahead and plant the seed of the idea now—The second thing I want you to know is that if the end result of you getting to know my daughter is that you one day fall in love with her, I want you to remember that you were not the first man to do so.
The first was me, her father. She had my heart the moment she was born. I held her when she cried. She fell asleep in my arms countless times. I was the first man who read stories to her, who delighted in her silliness, her playfulness, her laugh, her imagination, her beauty, her quick mind, her clever hands, her unique personality.
So if there ever comes a day when you decide that you love my daughter and you can’t live without her and you want to ask my blessing to marry her, if that day ever arrives, the one thing I expect is that before you would ever dare come to me and ask, that you would have at that point already shown me, over time, by your actions towards my daughter, that while I was the man who loved her first, you have become the one who has learned to love her best.
Thus have I spoken. So may it be.
Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s Kickstarter campaign for “The Wishes of the Fish King” wraps up in one week. Written for his first daughter when she was two years old—and now being illustrated by Jamin Still—this lyrical, luminous book is designed to capture the aching wonder of that brief season when a parent and child first explore their world together. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dougmckelvey/the-wishes-of-the-fish-king
Doug participated in the early work of Charlie Peacock’s Art House Foundation, an organization dedicated to a shared exploration of faith and the arts. In the decades since, he has worked as an author, song lyricist, scriptwriter, and video director. He has penned more than 350 lyrics recorded by a variety of artists including Switchfoot, Kenny Rogers, Sanctus Real, and Jason Gray. His newest book is Every Moment Holy (Rabbit Room Press). His other works include The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog (illustrated by Zach Franzen), The Wishes of the Fish King (illustrated by Jamin Still), Subjects with Objects (with Jonathan Richter), and Stories We Shared: A Family Book Journal (with Jamin Still).