I have the privilege of interviewing families to capture their money story, a blessing to their children, and the legacy of values they wish to pass down to the next generation. While I love every part of this process, I am particularly fond of the blessing portion because of the impact it has had in my own life.
Like many men, my Father worked hard to provide a rich life for our family. He instilled in each of us – my two brothers and me – the importance of integrity and a strong work ethic. And he was incredibly faithful and patient: I have not counted the number of hours he spent practicing soccer and basketball with us on the weekends, listening to middle school band concerts (now that truly is love!), or attending our many sporting events, but I’d say he makes a powerful contender for “Most Hours Spent in Bleachers”.
And, like many men, my Father didn’t always know how to say “I love you” in all of its various forms and fashions. He exhibited it enduringly in the ways that he loved us, but he didn’t always say “I’m proud of you.” Unfortunately, his silence left room for my imagination, and I spent most of my youth trying to crack the code. What could I do, what could I say, what award could I achieve to earn his approval? To get him to say that he was proud of me?
By the time I graduated from high school, I had given up. No matter my achievements, it didn’t seem to be enough for his approval. I was angry, hurt, and ready to write him off. No matter how much he had shown me his love, I wasn’t able at the time to interpret his actions as love. And in his silence, I inserted my own dialogue: “You are not enough.”
Thankfully, God placed in my life a wise mentor who challenged my thinking. And he challenged me specifically to tell my Dad the truth of how I felt. To vulnerably share that train of thought that had developed in the silence.
So, over break during my sophomore year of college, I took my mentor up on his challenge. I asked my Dad to go on a walk, just me and him. And for about 2.2 miles, we sat in silence as I struggled to start the conversation. Every time I went to begin, the words would catch in my throat and stick there. I can only imagine how my Dad felt. He could tell something was wrong, and as is his nature, he patiently waited for me to gather the courage to speak. It is something I love most about him, that he is quick to listen.
Our walk was ending, and I knew I had to act fast. I could see our mailbox up ahead. If I didn’t say something now, I knew I would regret it forever. So I forced the words out that I had been choking on for the last hour. “Dad,” I said, “Did you love me growing up? No matter how much I did, it never seemed to be enough. I heard you praise the other kids but not me.”
I couldn’t look him in the eyes. I was embarrassed, a little ashamed, and afraid of how he would respond.
That is, until he took me by the shoulders and turned me to face him. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “That could not be farther from the truth. I love you, and I am incredibly proud of who you have become. My Father didn’t always know how to tell me, and the last thing I wanted was for you to feel what I felt as a little boy. I am so sorry.”
And he pulled me into his chest, and I sat there in the driveway and cried, listening to his heartbeat and receiving his words of affirmation, love, and blessing over my life.
As a young woman, you can imagine how that impacted me to hear those words, how it filled a void that had been missing for many years. Was it all sunshine and roses from then on? No. There were difficult conversations to come and some bumps in the road. But at least now I knew the truth. I got to hit the eject button on that old tape and replace it with the truth that my Father saw me, loved me, and was proud of me.
So to all the fathers out there, as a daughter, I want to tell you that your verbal affirmations of your kids matter. Even when they roll their eyes at you and say, “I know Dad,” the truth is – without you saying it, they might not. Your words of blessing leave a powerful mark. Thank you for all that you do, and as equally important, thank you for all that you say.
Sarah Bradley serves as Senior Client Advisor for Archetype Wealth Partners in Houston, TX. Sarah is a graduate of Texas A&M and a Certified Public Accountant. She worked for three years at PricewaterhouseCoopers before joining the Archetype team. Archetype exists to help families thrive across generations.
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