Happy Father’s Day!
This is not the typical letter one might write on Father’s Day, but I wanted to write you this letter for a couple reasons.
- First, because it is Father’s Day and this is a good time to talk about the role you’ve had in my life.
- Second, because I finally sent you a copy of Manly Marriage Revival a few weeks ago, and there are some things that I want to clear up.
As you know, I have no “official” credentials or training in marriage counseling. Everything I do for men here on this site is based on my own marriage, extensive research, other men’s stories, the Bible and of course my own life experiences. Since I grew up in your home, your role as a husband is one of the things that formed my experiences, and therefore it is occasionally an example that must be cited. There is no getting around it.
We can both agree that you were not a perfect husband. Just as Mom was not a perfect wife. And of course I am not a perfect husband either, nor is my wife a perfect wife.
Unfortunately for you, everything I do here is about helping, guiding and correcting married men; not married women. Therefore, your failures (and mine) will inevitably be more highlighted than Mom’s (or my wife’s) because that’s what’s most relevant to the men I serve here. Note that I do highlight my own failures as examples/warnings too, e.g. in MMR I reference my past struggles with porn and my ongoing struggles with communication and apathy.
Nonetheless, with all that being said, I want to start this letter by saying I’m sorry.
You didn’t ask to be used as an example; I didn’t tell you I was doing it; you weren’t expecting it when you started reading that book. That is a result of my own failure to be vulnerable and honest with you. But I want you to know upfront – I do not think of you as the ‘original’ bad example or anything like that… You are not the straw man.
Today, I want to clear the air and make sure that YOU know how I think about you and some of the many ways you have contributed to the man I am today.
You Fueled My Entrepreneurial Spark
I can remember many times when you encouraged and enabled my entrepreneurial desires throughout my childhood.
Most kids have a lemonade stand – we had that, but we also had a bamboo stand. I remember how you helped me and one of the neighborhood kids chop down a bunch of bamboo in our back yard, then set up a little kiosk at the end of the driveway so we could sell it to passersby.
We did the same thing with buckeyes that we picked up in our yard.
Unfortunately, since we lived out in boonies with very little foot traffic, we never actually sold much bamboo or lemonade or buckeyes. But we put in the work and we setup the business, and it was fun. And through that I learned the fundamentals of all business – develop a product; sell it. And I learned that I liked doing that.
Another childhood venture was the neighborhood carnival we hosted in our front yard. I know our babysitter helped us with that too, but it wouldn’t have happened without your encouragement or guidance. You helped us pick out and setup games (complete with a ticket system!), design and print flyers and then distribute them around the neighborhood. I’m sure you called some of me and my brother’s friends’ parents to guarantee us at least a few attendees. And it was a blast!
And of course there was the toy swap that you helped us host. And the garage sale. All ideas that you involved us in developing and implementing.
As a teenager, I was past the age of lemonade stands and neighborhood carnivals, but you continued to inspire my entrepreneurial ambition. I remember talking at length about investing and accruing a nest egg and long-term financial planning when we were on our trip through Germany. I remember learning about profit and loss, assets and liabilities, quality improvement and customer feedback.
I remember one time in the car we talked for a couple hours about writing and publishing a series of books critiquing different religious beliefs from a Christian perspective for budding apologists. You thought that was a great idea. (I still haven’t forgotten that idea by the way; maybe someday)
These are all great examples of how you encouraged me to become the entrepreneur that I am today. And I still always enjoy discussing my business with you and hearing your ideas.
Despite all of this, there is one even bigger lesson that stands out as more important than all the specific business ideas and concepts that you imparted to me…
You Told Me I Could Do Anything
And you meant it.
I will never forget a conversation that just the two of us had in the car one time. I must’ve been 12 or 13 years old. I hadn’t quite hit my rebellious streak yet, but I was old enough to be thinking about my future. We were chatting and you told me that you thought I would make an exceptional lawyer. I told you I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a lawyer or if I was cut out for that amount of work.
You told me that I could do anything that I wanted to do and be anything that I wanted to be. You told me I had the intelligence and the motivation to do literally whatever I wanted with my life.
We talked a bit more, but we were almost home so that was most of it. It was a pretty simple conversation, but it stuck with me.
See, I had always suspected that I could do most things I set my mind to. But hearing you say that and feeling that you really, truly meant it had a an enormous life-altering impact. And it is perhaps one of the big reasons that I felt so confident dropping out of college when I was 19 to pursue entrepreneurial ventures online.
You Made Sure We Found Our Talents
My brother and I did a ton of extracurricular activities throughout our childhoods. Soccer, tennis, wrestling, football, basketball, baseball, piano, choir, guitar, boy scouts (although I never gave in to that one), camping out, painting, building stuff, computers and more. We did stuff outside of school in all of those areas.
Even though I was not a naturally athletic child, I enjoyed playing tennis, soccer and wrestling, and eventually of course I settled on wrestling as my primary sport of choice. But, even in all the things I never liked, you made sure I tried them and I learnt from them. And of course you also transported us to and from each ‘thing’! Even when I didn’t learn any direct skills from something, I still met people through these activities and I learned how to socialize and go outside my comfort zone.
You Ingrained in Me the Value of Perfection
Speaking of piano, I remember a number of times where I got very frustrated trying to practice piano with you. You highly encouraged perfection, and you always wanted me to stop and focus on the areas of a song that I struggled to play. I remember you bringing out the dreaded metronome while I played a few measures of a song over and over again… When I’d mess up, you’d slow down the BPM by 10 on the metronome until I could play it perfectly.
At the time, it was infuriating. But, there have been many times where I have used that same sort of slow, diligent path to perfection in writing and even in life in general.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I make an effort to live by the Pareto Principle. I make a conscious effort to use my time as effectively as possible. But, some things need to be perfect. Some things need to be slowly honed and perfected to a point that they ‘click’ – to the point where you have peace that, “Yes, this is GOOD!”
This is how I wrote Manly Marriage Revival. I honed it and polished it and perfected it. And it was worth it. The slow, diligent path to perfection has paid dividends in hundreds if not thousands of marriages. And it was you who helped me see the value of perfection.
You Led the Way in Patience
If I had to pick one trait that I LEARNED from you that I was not naturally born with, it would be patience.
I was not born a patient man. I was never very good at being patient. At least, I never felt like I was very patient. But you have always been very patient. Not just with us kids, but with everyone. Yes, even with Mom. In every area of your life you led the way in patience, and I saw it and learned it.
Today, I think that almost everyone I know would describe me as a very patient man. That is something I learned from you.
You Encouraged My Silly Side
You were a very fun dad to me and my brother growing up…
- There was the dad classic, tickle monster, which I will play with every single one of my kids. I remember when our local news station did a segment on stay-at-home dads and we played tickle monster to show how much fun it was staying at home.
- I remember your PTA acronym. I won’t disclose the meaning of that reference, but I remember it and I remember how funny I thought it was.
- I remember walking around the mall talking in an obnoxious British accent. I remember how funny you thought it was, even though you told me to stop and talk normally. It was hard to take you seriously when you couldn’t stop laughing!
Perhaps the most iconic example of you encouraging my silly side was that time when you were helping out with our elementary school’s end-of-year Field Day – the funnest day of the year where all we did was play outdoor games and do indoor activities.
When I was in 4th (I think), one of the indoor activities we did on Field Day was karaoke.
When it was my turn to sing a song, I made the obvious choice – Britney Spear’s new hit, Oops I Did it Again. But I couldn’t just sing the song normally; I had to look the part. So I rolled up my shirt into a bikini top (as a pretty chubby 4th grader), and started dancing around on stage while belting out the pop lyrics.
I remember looking over and seeing you standing in the doorway to the gymnasium right as I hit the chorus…
“Oops, I did it again. I played with your hearrrrt, got lost in the game… Oh baby, baby!”
You were treasurer of the PTA and I’m sure many other dads would have been embarrassed to see their son doing that, but you were just laughing. Maybe you were a little embarrassed since you knew all the other parents there (your face did look a little red…), but I think you were proud in a way too, and you certainly didn’t scorn me.
So far we’ve covered some cool and fun and interesting ways you molded my childhood.
These last three are each very big things you did that I don’t think I’ve ever really expressed my appreciation for. But, each one of these are extremely important and helped shape the man I am today.
You Kept Us Out of the Conflict
(as much as possible)
I know that you and Mom had problems for a long time. As long as I can remember. But, never once did you (or Mom) ever use me or my brother in any way during those conflicts. In fact, you both did as good a job as anyone could do of keeping us out of everything going on. And, you tried. You tried for a long time to make things work.
There is no way for marital conflict or divorce to be easy for a kid to process. It ALWAYS has an effect on them. I know this from firsthand experience. But! I also have a new appreciation (from my experience running this site) for just how well you, as the primary caretaker, kept your responsibilities as a parent separate from your ongoing marital struggles.
Never once did you allow the stuff going on behind the scenes take away from your devotion to fathering us kids.
- I’ve seen plenty of parents neglect their children to try and “win” their marriage problems.
- I’ve seen plenty of parents make the decision to live apart casually even before they’re ready to divorce, thinking it will help the kids “get used to it”.
- I’ve seen plenty of parents try and use their kids to get what they want or to force their spouse to bend to their will.
You never did any of these things. You always made us a priority and you always kept us out of the conflict as much as was humanly possible.
Does that mean we were perfectly protected? No. But you tried and you cared, and that’s what matters.
You Taught Me That Talents Are Meant For More than Money
One of my most shameful memories comes from when I was about 10 or 11 years old. We were driving back from a small church outside Springfield. You’d just finished playing guitar for their services that morning, and since Mom was on call (or something) you had brought us with you.
Not more than 2 minutes after we had left the parking lot, the first thing I asked you was, “So did you get your payment?”
You immediately turned to me, taken aback, and sharply exclaimed, “Son, don’t ask me that! We didn’t come here for the money.”
I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like that.
The implication was clear. You weren’t playing at that church because they offered you big bucks; you were playing there because it was an opportunity to serve other people using the gifts God gave you. You played because it was the right thing to do; money was not the priority.
This was the first time that I ever really understood that your talents and skills could be used for something greater than financial success. Making lots of money was not the most important goal in life; not by a long shot.
You Valued Me
Neither you nor Mom were ever the type to say “I love you” at every opportunity. Nor were you the type to show oodles of physical affection.
You always made me feel valued.
In other words, I always knew that YOU valued your time with us. The time you spent with us in our childhood did and still does mean a lot to you, and I never doubted that. You were always very sentimental about us, and I noticed and appreciated that.
Probably the best example of just how much you valued our childhood was in that book of vignettes that you created for us at our high school graduation. I never knew it, but you had kept an ongoing journal of moments and quotes from all 18 years of our childhood. You went through them, picked out your favorites and compiled them into a nicely printed and spiral-bound book for us. This is so indicative of how attentive and involved you were throughout our entire childhoods.
Now that I am an adult, now that I’ve seen so many men fail to engage with their families, now that I’ve spent so much time working with foster kids and have seen just how common it is for parents to neglect and de-prioritize their children, I look back and realize there was not a single time throughout my brother and I’s entire childhood where you “checked out” and prioritized other things. If anything, we were TOO high of a priority! So much so that we overtook your marriage (I know this is true for Mom; not quite as sure for you).
Either way, I can say with confidence that you loved me, you loved my brother, and you always valued your time with us. It meant a lot to you. And because it meant a lot to you, it gave me and my brother meaning.
3 Final Things I Want You To Know
To finish up this letter, there are three things that I want you to know about how I think of you as a husband, father and man.
#1. I Do NOT View You As a Failure
I can see how when reading through MMR, especially the first few chapters, it would be very easy to look at the examples and principles and think that I have a very low view of you as a husband and a man. I can see how you would feel like all I was doing was basically saying, “See what my dad did? Do the opposite.”
But I hope that you can see and really believe from the examples above that this is NOT the case. I can’t stress it enough – I do NOT view you as the bar for what a bad husband looks like. Not even close.
Did you have some areas that needed work? Yes. And I know you would agree. But it’s not like you did everything wrong, or even most things wrong.
You were a good, thoughtful husband, and you never neglected the marriage or stopped caring about it. At least from what I can tell.
That’s one of the saddest things about broken marriages… It really doesn’t take any “big” problems or failures to break a marriage. It just takes a couple little problems that don’t get solved for so long that they fester and become infected. With time, small problems turn into big problems. You and Mom really just had two or three underlying issues that just never got solved. And that was that; over 15 years, those problems festered until they hurt too much to endure.
That brings us to the second thing I want you to know:
#2. I Do NOT Blame You For the Divorce
As I’ve said a couple times now, I’m not going to try and tell you that you were a perfect husband. You and Mom both had failures as a husband and wife respectively. My wife and I both fail each other as wife and husband too.
To me, the biggest failure that led to your divorce is in the complete lack of sound guidance that you and Mom received, even after asking for it multiple times from multiple people.
It is a tragedy of the severest kind that two good, Christian people who had a real desire to fix their marriage; who slogged through years of counseling; who were both willing to change and work for their marriage, STILL could not get the help they needed to set their relationship right.
Having done a good deal of research on the efficacy of marriage counseling (which I discuss in-depth in Appendix C of MMR), I now know that counseling only reliably saves marriages if a few select conditions are met:
- Both spouses are willing to attend counseling.
- Both spouses want to save the marriage.
- Both spouses are willing to change to make the marriage work.
I KNOW that this is true. I have seen the necessity of these conditions from statistics, from other men’s experience Inside the Haven, and even from marriage counselors themselves.
Now here’s what really blows my mind:
You and Mom met all three of these conditions.
You both were willing to do counseling, you both wanted to save the marriage, and you were both willing to work to do so. From what I understand, you two consulted at least 4 or 5 different counselors throughout the last 10 years of your marriage.
And yet, it didn’t change anything.
What you learned or were told… It didn’t matter.
In my opinion, it is because the help you received was wrong, misguided, and in some cases it actively hurt more than it helped.
Mom has mentioned some of what you two were advised in counseling, and I have yet to hear a single piece of good advice. Or at least, I have yet to hear a single piece of advice that had the potential to change your marriage. What you heard was irrelevant, ineffective, or focused on the wrong things. What you heard is certainly not the advice I would have given you if I could go back in time as I am now.
And that’s why I have this site. To get that advice that I would give… The advice that I have now seen save marriages… To as many men who are seeking it as possible.
If I had to blame anyone for the divorce, I would blame the completely inadequate help that you two received. And yes I know that you are probably several years past the point of caring about blame at all, and I know that it doesn’t really matter. AND I fully acknowledge that this could be my own need to point a finger talking here, but that’s the truth. I don’t blame you; I don’t blame Mom – you two did the best you knew how to do.
You knew you needed help, and so you did the absolute best that a person who knows he needs help can do – you sought help! You went out and asked for advice. The problem was that the help you got didn’t change anything. The advice you got was wrong. You and Mom both made an effort to follow the advice and implement what you learned from counseling, but you weren’t given the help you needed. And so I blame the professionals who you paid for that help for the slow, uncorrected breakdown of the marriage.
You two did your part and you did it for longer than most people in your circumstances would have done, and I know you did that for us. So, thank you for fighting.
#3. You Were & Are a Good Father
This is why I’m writing you this letter. This is what I want you to know. You were and you are a good father. And since I am a father myself now too, I think I am qualified to make that commendation.
I do not look back on my childhood with regret. I had a great childhood, and as my brother and I’s primary caretaker, you were a big part of making that happen. I view the childhood and the upbringing you gave me as a supreme blessing from God. Undeserved, rejected and rebelled against, and yet given unconditionally with grace and sacrifice.
And, as I said at the beginning of MMR, I hope you can be confident that while God did not want you to get divorced, He will take what’s been broken and with His power and grace make it into something that bears fruit. The pain that you suffered has and will be multiplied in the opposite direction. The years of work and sacrifice that you invested into your marriage and the following failure and disappointment when that investment fell through – it is not without purpose. It was not futile. That investment IS yielding return. This website, the thousands of men who have and will save their marriage because of it (at least in part), the fact that I desire to help those men at all… None of those things would exist without the marriage that you endured.
A bit heavy here at the end, and this letter has now surpassed the 4,000 word mark. I hope that you can see that if I were to try and list all the different things that you taught me and all the many positive memories I have of us, well, I’d probably end up with another book.
Instead, I will simply hope that this is enough. As a father myself, I now know that I will never be able to really repay you for the sacrifices you made as a parent and the tireless hours you gave to us as a father. Instead, all I can say is this:
I appreciate you. Thank you. And I love you.
– Your eldest son
With much manly love,
I'm Stephen, the guy behind Husband Help Haven. I'm not a marriage counselor or a lawyer, I'm just a guy on the Internet who has talked to a loooooot of men going through separation... Over 2,000 in the past 5 years. My goal is to give men the tools they need to save their marriage from separation.