Notes to a Young Man Interested in My Daughter

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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 well.

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

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).


22 Comments

  1. Jim Crotty

    Thank you from a fellow dad with two teenage daughters. You have expressed in the written word what I’ve been holding within my heart.

  2. Jesse Dempsen

    I also am the father of three daughters, and have not yet wanted to think about That Day (my oldest is 6, so I have a little time yet, I think).

    That being said, these are good reflections, and seem like they would strike just the right amount of holy terror into the heart of a young man.

  3. Jonathan

    So much wiser and more loving than the awful violence-threatening nonsense our (sub-)culture encourages dads to say. Thanks!

  4. Lisa

    This was beautiful. I’m sitting here thinking of my daughter as she had her first real possible dating relationship and my son as he may be dating the woman he ends up marrying with years in my eyes. You have taken the thoughts, emotions and concerns every parent has as there young adults enter this part of life. You articulated everything with a wonderful balance of graciousness, truth, and humble guidance for the typing man who will date you lovely daughter. Thank you for sharing this. I will be sharing this with my husband and my kids. Keep sharing what is on your heart and mind.

  5. Ken Harris

    What an amazing read. Being the father of a 20 and a 22 year old girl (woman) this expresses the true love a father has for his daughters. You stated my sentiment beautifully. Thanks!

  6. Jennifer

    So beautifully said. I hope you don’t mind if I print up copies of this letter to have at the ready for our teen girls’ suitors. It’s a hard, but lovely thing. Thank you for this.

  7. Su Willard

    Lovely, Doug. I’m sure you know the song “I Loved Her First”. This reminds me of that.

  8. Rachel

    This very eloquently expresses what I would like to say to anyone who is interested in dating my sons. His parents and grandparents and aunts, uncles, cousins, and dear friends have invested in him and loved and cherished him, and will continue to do so, and his relationships with his dating partners (and eventually, spouse) will be enjoyed (I pray) by those friends and family members! Thank you for expressing what a gift our children are, not just to their parents, but to all those whom God has placed in their lives!

    But, for now, I must admit that I am simply enjoying snuggling up with my kindergartner and 2nd grader, watching the innocent cartoons they are not yet too old to watch, and basking in my status as #1 lady in their lives!!

  9. Douglas McKelvey

    Thanks to everyone for these thoughtful comments. My hope in posting the letter on Rabbit Room was that it might resonate with others and help to frame conversations between parents and kids, so I’m happy to see the piece being shared.

    And in that spirit, Jennifer, please feel free to print copies and use in whatever way might be helpful to you.

  10. Dawn

    “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.”
    This letter is a refreshing contrast to the cliche “dad with a shotgun” type of message. Those have always bothered me.
    Thank you for sharing these beautiful words.

  11. Dano Villegas

    As a father of 4 daughters, 3 of which are teenagers, my thanks to you from the bottom of my heart for writing this tremendous letter!

  12. Kristy

    The fact that a father expects and/or demands to be the one who gives ‘permission’ for a fully grown independent woman to marry, is such an old tradition based on history where goods were exchanged and a dowry negotiated. Would it not be nicer if father and son-in-law-to-be had a relationship by that time such that son-in-law-to-be knew her father has already given his blessing in so many ways and would be nothing but happy to hear of marriage? I find this quote particularly irritating; “the one thing I expect is that before you would ever dare come to me and ask..” like her father is the final word.

  13. Pete Peterson

    Kristy said: “Would it not be nicer if father and son-in-law-to-be had a relationship by that time such that son-in-law-to-be knew her father has already given his blessing in so many ways and would be nothing but happy to hear of marriage?”

    Isn’t that the point of the post?

  14. Steve Van Sickle

    Kristy
    Even in the bad old days there were some whose intentions, given their cultural context, were good, in that a father sought to create the best start to married life, even if others only thought that young women were the property of their fathers. My three beautiful daughters never belonged to either my wife or myself but they were, for a season, entrusted to us by Father who took the risk that we might do a passable job of pointing these three precious ones toward adulthood and service toward others.
    Thanks for being a voice for those who have in the past and might be currently being seen only as property.
    Peace!

  15. Doug

    Kristy,

    I appreciate you weighing in to the discussion following my post. In my mind the concepts of “permission” and “blessing,” are two vastly different things and are worlds apart in their connotations and underpinnings. That’s why I specifically chose the word “blessing” and never considered using the word “permission.” My adult daughters are free to make their own life decisions, for better or worse.

    I do believe that family relationships are very important though, and that a mature young man or woman in considering marriage will recognize and respect the fact that the person whose life they are about to join their own to is a person who already exists within the context of a complex web of relationships with people who have invested heart and soul and time and tears into the love and care and nurturing of this other person. My charge to young men interested in my daughters (because all I have are daughters–though I believe it’s equally applicable to young women in contextualizing their relationships with potential spouses) is really about saying “Build this relationship in an intentional way so that it becomes a source of blessing for all; for my daughter, for you, and for your networks of family and friends. If you do that, my blessing, my full approval, my delight in your love of my daughter and her love of you is already yours.”

    But I want to be clear that it was never about “permission” as if I somehow demand the power to tell my adult daughter who she can or cannot marry. It is simply about blessing. About saying to the one who wants to marry my daughter “Yes, I affirm that this is a good thing and we welcome you into our family.” And I have a high degree of trust that my daughters will make wise choices in that regard. But if one of them were to end up with a guy who had no regard for my daughter’s other relationships, who sought to isolate her from family and friends, whose selfishness demonstrated a failure to truly love her, would I give my “blessing” to that? No, I wouldn’t. How could I “bless” and affirm as good that which I saw as grievous and harmful to my daughter? I wouldn’t forbid it. That’s not my place. If my adult daughter ultimately makes choices harmful to herself she (and all who love her) will bear the consequences and I will grieve for her and love her and support her and counsel her as I can in the midst of it, but I won’t say “Yes, you have my blessing,” (and again, in my mind “blessing” is an affirmation saying “what you have built together is a good thing”) if a relationship is harmful to my daughter.

    So if a young man wants my blessing on, wants my approval of, his intent to marry my daughter, he needs to first demonstrate that he is a man who loves her well. And she should do the same if she wants the blessing of his parents.

    The other context that might be helpful to you in clarifying where I’m coming from is that in our family we talk about such things and my daughters years ago expressed that they wanted any young man who was serious about pursuing relationship with them to come and talk to me about it, because these are girls who have the wisdom to recognize the difference it can make for a young man to understand from the outset that a girl has parents who care about how she’s treated.

    The other factor in play here is that my daughters are of a mind that they would want that formal blessing from their mother and me when and if they decided to marry. They and their fiances could choose not to care about it and not to ask for it, and I would never say a word about it. But they have clearly stated that they do want it and I anticipate that the young men they choose (if they choose) to marry will probably be the sorts of young men for whom that formal blessing would have real meaning as well.

    I hope that clarifies my position regarding any concept of “permission” and if I was unclear on that point in my initial post, I apologize. Chalk it up to the fact that I wrote this piece for the handful of young men to whom I would be expressing these things in actual conversation, and then, when I posted it, it was to the Rabbit Room community most of whom have a pretty good context for understanding where I’m coming from based on previous interactions with me. This post unexpectedly broke out of that limited readership, had hundreds of shares and tens of thousands of reads from folks who neither know me nor are familiar with any of my previous writings.

    Had I known the piece would travel so broadly, I certainly wouldn’t have included the final line “Thus have I spoken. So may it be,” which was nothing but archaic phraseology as ironic humor and 100% tongue-in-cheek. Folks who have read my absurd humor pieces would recognize that, but after being seriously accused by one reader (based on that line specifically) as having a “creepy, god-complex,” I realized I should probably now start reading my posts (before posting) through the eyes of someone who has no context whatsoever, and edit them accordingly.

    –Doug

  16. Stacy Smith

    This is a beautiful letter. I love the way you point toward the Kingdom (in which relationships matter and are central) and focus on the need to engage all of our heart and mind when we create the garden of relationship.  As a mom of young boys who are standing on the edge of the teenage years, it speaks to me and the kind of awareness I want to cultivate in my children as I try to parent them.  Thanks for sharing!

  17. Nicole Eckerson

    I so appreciate this. As a newly married woman, it is a delight to see the way my husband has embraced my family and especially sought to cultivate a relationship with my dad. The only time I cried on our wedding day was during the father/daughter dance because of the bittersweet poignant nostalgia of the realization that my dad, while still being the man who loved me first, would no longer be the man who loved me best. But I know that he was delighted to relinquish that role to my husband because of the way I had been cared for while we were dating and engaged.

    Thank you for these beautiful words!

  18. Peter Brunone

    @peterbrunone

    Dang, DKM. Words with the lightness and grace of a virtuoso ballerina (if that’s not a painful food-processor blending of terms).

  19. Duane

    Makes me wish I had daughters instead of 4 boys! One (of many) regrets is not asking for my father-in-laws blessing before proposing. I know it hurt him and set our relationship back a little.

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