Tag Archives: a father’s love

Dear Daughter, We’ll Catch Up on Thursday


Happy 12th birthday, my sweet daughter. I hope your got my texts and voicemail.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you on your special day, but we’ll catch up on Thursday.

I love how your sense of humor is reflecting some of my wackiness. I love how you tell stories with excitement and a great punchline. You’re a natural.

And while I know you won’t understand this now, at some point in the future, I want you to know I’m sorry for all of the misses and all the ways I have not been able to be there for you. But I have not been away from you by choice. I did not miss your birthdays, as much as miss you overall. Out of sight, I’m guessing, is out of mind in your world, and that’s as it should be. But we shouldn’t be apart so much.

Today, on your birthday, I thought about you all the time. And some of the times I texted you funny “dad” texts. I tried to blow up your phone during lunch. (Yes, I know when you have lunch, every day.) I wanted the smile on your face to be from me as I celebrated this wonderful day (with) for you. I want to show up in your life as much as I can.

As I walked through your room this morning, I felt your absence. I noticed the lack of your messy pile of clothes, I noticed the clean and steam-free bathroom, I noticed the made bed. You see, I notice when you are gone. Not to be creepy or anything, but I notice you are not here every day. And I can tell sometimes, when we are together, that you too are longing for more time. So let’s make the most of what we do have.

I know you are growing up. I can see it every time we’re together. I am fascinated by the few stories I get in the blur of dinner, homework, and school night bedtimes. I love how your sense of humor is reflecting some of my wackiness. I love how you tell stories with excitement and a great punchline. You’re a natural.

As you go on towards your teens you’re going to start detaching even more from me and your mom, it’s part of growing up. And even as I know it’s coming, I feel like the process began 4.5 years ago, when your mom and I told you we were getting a divorce. It was one of the hardest days of my life. I kept the brave face and so did you. In that moment of shell shock you were the first to speak. “Which pets are you going to take?”

As you pull away from both of us, your mom and me, during the next years of your wonderful life, I want to give you a piece of my love that will never fade.

It was one of your shining moments. As you leapt from the crisis to the practical matter at hand, cats and dogs. And we could reassure you that the pets weren’t going anywhere, only me. Only your dad, who wouldn’t be moving back into the house.

I want everything for you. I want to be smothering and I want to be strong and stoic. I want to show you how a good man should treat you, talk to you, open doors for you. I want to keep your heart soft and open by teaching you how to listen for truth and intention. I want to protect you in every storm you will encounter, but I won’t be there in person to do it.

As you pull away from both of us, your mom and me, during the next years of your wonderful life, I want to give you a piece of my love that will never fade. I want you to know how much I love you, in spite of leaving you alone. I want to give you the confidence that I will never judge or deny you. I want to be the red emergency phone that you can call without hesitation when things don’t go the way you planned. I want to be your dad, the best dad I can be. Even from here, I am reaching out daily to hold you, and I know you can’t feel it. But you will. Eventually you will separate from both of us and you will find the love that has been given to you, for your entire life. My steadfast love has never wavered.

Walk on, my sweet daughter. Walk on with the confidence that comes from having a solid father in your life. And even as we have fewer days and hours together, know that I am always here, just on the other side of the text or the phone call.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: father and daughter, edward musiak, creative commons usage


The New Dance of Anger: Men and Our Legacy (part 2)


This is PART TWO. The first part is here:  Men and Our Anger Issues: The New Dance of Anger

  • ONE: We all learn about anger at a very young age.
  • TWO: Relationships with Dad 
  • THREE: Anger In Unhealthy Families 
  • FOUR: Old Defense Mechanisms
  • FIVE: We’ve all got anger issues.

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 10.54.52 AMToday as I was entering this post into the Huffington Post publishing platform I was surprised to see this result in my keyword/tag research:

What was surprising is there were no topics/tags that started with “men.” None. Zero. Wow. I mean I know HuffPo was started by Arianna, and she’s not at all anti-men… but still I do notice if you look at the “divorce” section, where most of my content gets posts, there is exactly ONE male featured blogger. All the rest are women. Okay, moving right along…

We left off yesterday, partially due to exhaustion and partially due to my own overwhelm at writing about anger. And some other stuff… So today we are going to pick it back up when we start discussing how a man (or woman) today can begin to understand their anger, and transform it into energy and change for the better.

SIX: Uncovering our own anger.

First, you have to acknowledge that you have anger, that there are things in this world that make you angry. Second, you have to let yourself feel angry. You actually have to get angry and let that frustrating energy begin to bubble up inside you. Then, at this very moment, you need to examine what you are actually angry about? It turns out that we often have “anger triggers,” things that make us start feeling angry. And if the upset is minor, that might be all we get, just a blip that says, “that sucked” and we move on. BUT… Often the trigger will connect with something else, something from our past, some unresolved issue perhaps, that is re-energized by the trigger. When we get angry at someone, for forgetting to pick up the laundry, perhaps, and we find that an hour later we are still angry at them, there might be more to the issue than the laundry. Chances are you have connected with something else in your past that needs to be examined and, if possible, released. But anger work is difficult. And if you find yourself with anger issues,  it is recommended that you do this type of discharging with a trained therapist.

SEVEN: Accepting the anger of others, and learning to respond without heating up.

The truth of the matter is that people get angry with us as well. And in the healthy display of anger, this is a good thing. By voicing their anger we get new inputs about what is pleasing or unpleasing to them. This is how we learn. However, if we are anger-adverse, someone else’s anger is very frightening. The second someone close to us bursts into anger, it can cause some of us to head for the hills, both emotionally and physically. More common, however, is the mental exit. When someone shows you their raw anger, the typical response is to shut down. To clamp down on your own internal reactions so you don’t give away your feelings. If the anger was coming from a parent, the repercussions and withdrawal responses could be ten-times more powerful. When your dad yelled at you as a child, your entire world could be consumed by fear and regret. When your boss yells at you, you might be ashamed and afraid, but hopefully you can recover enough to carry on. If the person behind you at a stop light honks and flashes the finger at you, you can take evasive action to get out of their way, and not be the target of their frustrations. Finally, if your significant other is angry at you, there are additional levels of “will I be loved” and “will I be abandoned” that come into play.

For the most part, if you are comfortable accepting the anger of others as theirs, you can weather most storms. When the anger is repetitive and relentless, over the course of several days or weeks, for example, there is probably a lot more going on that the surface triggers that keep popping up.

EIGHT: Anger in relationships.

So your relationship is a very deep connection. Any disruptions in this closeness can result in fear, anger, jealousy, rage, depression. When the anger comes out in your primary relationship, you want to pay attention and see if you can hear what the core issue is. If you are too triggered yourself by the anger of your partner, you need to ask for a timeout and get help. The worst thing you can do in a relationship is try to deal with someone’s anger by shutting down or mentally exiting the relationship. This is how affairs and ultimately divorce happen. Anger is hard. But it is essential for healing the trust between to people. If your partner gets angry about the dry cleaning, but stays angry all day, even after you’ve gone back out and retrieved the dry cleaning, there’s something else up. Go get some assistance to help you both uncover the core issues that keep causing minor triggers to become huge “relationship issues.”

NINE: Anger and our children.

We are always teaching our children, even when we think they are not watching or listening. Like little telepaths, our children are acutely aware of the signals in our relationships. They are still much closer to that empathic system that allows them to read a person’s attitude merely from tone and facial expressions. That’s how they go along as infants, before they even understood our language. So when you are your partner are having a spat, believe that your kids are absorbing all of the information they can to help in their own survival. If you or your spouse has anger issues and begins to yell and threaten, you can imagine that the impact on a young child, would be even more dramatic. They don’t have any other options, in their mind. This is their entire world, and somehow something is very wrong.

So as parents we are doubly responsible for managing our anger. And even if we think our kids are sheltered from the storms, they are tuning in much more than you can imagine. So, as you experience triggers it is important that you and your partner have healthy ways to resolve the “issue” quickly and without drama or yelling. Triggers, and even anger issues, happen. The more you can channel those away from your family and into a therapy session the better. Once you both have a handle on the major upsets the triggers are easy. But know that how you deal with the anger, is the appropriate anger response you are teaching to your children.

TEN: Healthy and Honest Anger can heal us all.

So we get angry. And our entire family is involved in the dance of anger, when someone let’s a fireball rip. What we do next is of critical importance. If everyone runs for shelter and the raging person simply gets what they want, we may be setting an example for acceptable behavior that will haunt us and our children for years to come. If, rather, we learn to share healthy anger (often expressed as a disappointment, rather than a “you did this wrong”) and we talk through the resolution, even with our children present, you can see how this healthy interaction can lead to more confidence and comfort around angry people.

It it important to learn about the dance of anger, for men and women. And it is even more critical to understand the enormous impact your dance of anger has on your children. Give them healthy examples of dealing and discharging anger, and you will give them tools to deal with their own anger and anger of others. Show them how anger can be contained, and how the loving family can remain even when anger is occasionally expressed.

In my marriage, perhaps we hid too much of the anger. My kids don’t have many healthy examples of anger negotiation. And thus, even as young middle-schoolers, their response to anger is often to shut down completely, and even cry, depending on the severity of the anger. And this is anger not directed at them at all. We’ve got some work to do, showing them what healthy anger looks and feels like. And I’m sure as they enter their teens we will have plenty of opportunities.

Please take an opportunity to leave your feedback and experiences in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

reference: The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

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image: rage and love, lisa widerberg, creative commons usage

Men and Our Anger Issues: The New Dance of Anger (part 1)


I remember reading The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships during my first marriage to a rage-enabled Basque woman. She was less than 100 lbs soaking wet, but she had the fury of only one other person I’d ever known. Cliché coming: My dad was a rageful alcoholic. When he was not drinking he could get mad. But when he was lit his rage knew no bounds. My first wife, was like that, even without drugs or alcohol.

The part I didn’t remember about the book, was the “Woman’s Guide” part. I get it. And I understand how I might have suppressed this subtitle.  But I think today, we need volume two of this great book. Let this post serve as my outline.

ONE: We all learn about anger at a very young age. Before we can understand language we are being given verbal and physical clues about what is a right thing to do and what is a wrong thing to do. For most of us lucky ones, this guidance is done without the injection of anger or physical abuse. For those less fortunate the anger in their lives, both physical and verbal, had no boundaries. There was no safety zone around the young and developing mind, no parent or guiding influence to protect our early learning systems. Physical and emotional abuse are things I know a little about. When the rage and damage enters the personal zone of sexual health and safety, I bow out. Except to know that my first wife had experienced sexual abuse as well. But that anger, came from a place of darkness I could never personally understand.

TWO: Relationships with Dad Children crave a relationship with their fathers throughout their lives. Even after the dad has died, we often seek his approval through the relationships with other “father figures.” That’s nothing new. We know this. We can even recognise when this is happening, and welcome the mentor of confidant. But the primary relationship with our actual fathers has an impact on our identity as men. Masculinity is defined by our understanding of our fathers. How they treat women (Moms, sisters, girlfriends, waitresses, etc) all form parts of our library of male-knowledge that we refer to for the rest of our lives. And this relationship to our fathers is not just about relationships with women. Our dads drive most of our understanding of how to relate to other men as well. Basically, the idea goes, a father shows his children how to make their way in the world. The mom shows the children how to love in the world.

THREE: Anger In Unhealthy Families When your father shows unhealthy boundaries and exhibits unhealthy amounts of rage, even when they are not directed at you, you begin to form coping mechanisms for how to deal with the incoming emotional assault. In the case of the pre-verbal child these coping mechanisms are deep and primal. The child within a verbally abusive home resembles the feral animal. Wounded, the animal, will cower in the corner either hoping for recovery or death. While the small child doesn’t have this exact same frame of reference, the feelings are of fear of death or some subverted understanding of how reality is supposed to be. As a child, our parents are all we know. If that universe is colored, repeatedly, by anger and verbal outbursts, we begin to believe this is how the world works.

FOUR: Old Defense Mechanisms As we grow older, we begin to uncover parts of our defense mechanisms against anger that are no longer serving us. I consider myself “conflict adverse” and this is often seen as a weakness in terms of executive leadership. I always score low on my “sense of urgency” personality scores. I keep saying, “I work hard so we don’t have to go into emergency or urgent mode,” but the test doesn’t hear reason, and I am given a lower rating as a project manager or leader. So, I know this about myself, I avoid confrontations. I avoid angering someone. In my second marriage this resulted in my letting the physical connection and closeness slip out of my relationship without a big ass fight. I should’ve fought. I should’ve been verbal. I was physical and accommodating. And in the end I allowed her lack of sexual desire to overrule my need for physical touch, sexual and, more critically for me, non-sexual. So as emerging men, we have to dig into our anger issues and find some inner resolve. We have to understand our own dance of anger, and begin to make peace with it and make adjustments so we can have healthier relationships, and healthier relationships to our own anger.

FIVE: We’ve all got anger issues. The difference is at what point our issues kick in and render us less effective at staying present (in an argument, for example) or at staying in a marriage (in the case of the angry devorcee). Staying present in the dance of anger, yours or someone else’s is critical to becoming a healthy adult. The layers and layers of armoring have to be unwelded from our hearts, and we have to be willing to feel the fear of being raged at. It is important that we learn to be angry. And it might be even more critical that we learn how to cope with someone else’s anger when it is directed straight at us.

end of part one – here is part 2: The New Dance of Anger: Men and Our Legacy (part 2)

I hope you take an opportunity to leave your feedback and experiences in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

reference: The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

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image: rage and love, lisa widerberg, creative commons usage

I Love You, Dad

Do you remember saying that to your father? I do.

me and my dad - i love you, dad

And tonight (by some trick of luck I have my kids a day early) my son said, as I turned out the light, “I love you, Dad.” I felt it. And for just a minute, I could imagine what I felt like when I was a kid and saying it to my dad.

There’s a big difference between my experience of my dad’s love and my son’s. My hope is that by being fully present and loving that he will grow to know he is loved deeply. I never quite got that from my dad. I never quite felt like he got me. And after my parent’s divorce when I was about 5, I never really had much time with my dad. Things were pretty serious from then on.

I make sure, on a regular basis, that my son and daughter KNOW that I get them. I dig into their games and play with them. I listen to their stories as if I was trying to discover something about them and they way they are making their strides though their young lives.

And I try and expose as much of my real life as possible as well. Last weekend, I performed with my band at a local club, and I made arrangements for them to come, even though it wasn’t my weekend. I want them to see me doing my passion AND working for a living. I want them to see me in the process of healing from this change in all our lives. I can demonstrate how I can remain loving towards their mother, even when things are different.

I let them know that I want her to be happy too. As happy as I am.

And they can see my happiness daily. Occasionally they even make remarks to let me know they see my joy. Of course, I am not shy about telling them. I am always celebrating little wins like tonight, where I greet the babysitter’s car by saying, “I get an extra night!”

As much as things have changed in their lives, my steadfast positivism has never changed. And sure, they have seen me in sad and quiet places before, they saw it even while I was still married to their mom, it’s part of MY path in life. But they can see my joy every time I engage with them. They may get tired of hearing me tell them how much I love them, or how happy I am that they are here with me, but I don’t think I can ever say it enough.

But tonight, something special happened, it came sailing back to me, out of the darkened room, unprompted. And it struck me like an arrow, a joyful arrow.

And in that split-second I was both a father and a son. And in that moment, I also felt the joy of my father’s love upon me. He might have left the planet 15 years ago, but his love is still within me. And each time I can really hear and connect with my own kids, my heart lights up with a little bit more healing of my 5-year-old self, my wounded little boy.

My son gave me a gift tonight in just offering up his affection. And in that moment I heard my dad saying the words to me, “I love you, Dad.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Note: The image is of me and my oh-so-serious dad.


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