I have mentioned before that I am a father. However, I have yet to write about this experience of fatherhood. I’ve thought about it — played around with what a post could look like. But I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet. And it’s been the same reason each time.

I want to protect my daughter.

With the exception of Jesus and my wife, I have never loved a person so strongly. I still remember the overwhelming feeling of love I felt the moment I saw her be born. In that instant, I became a firm believer that no one else would never be able to love her as much as I do — with the exception of my wife.

Because of this, I am protective of my daughter. I am constantly attentive to her well-being and her joy. I am always analyzing the day’s events to determine if she is feeling loved enough or provided for.

This constant attentiveness also makes me lie awake at night, trembling with fear.

I know my daughter has my genes. She has inherited many genetic traits from me. Her personality shows hints of mine. She has my unique eye color. She even has incredibly varied facial expressions like me.

I fear if she’ll also have bipolar. There’s a 70% chance she has the disorder and could have it triggered into play one day.

There’s a chance my daughter will have inherited my other weaknesses, like my learning disabilities or codependent tendencies.

And, honestly, there’s a chance that she could also struggle with her gender identity and sexuality.

I can’t properly describe to you the utter feeling of despair that consumes me when I think that I may have brought a precious life into the world just to pass on these struggles and disabilities. Some days, it’s all I can do not to break down weeping at the thought of it.

And should it ever come to pass — I worry about what I’ll do to myself. My love for my daughter will never change, but my anger at myself would be terrifying.

I have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to avoid this. How do I keep her from falling into these snares? And, God forbid, if she does fall — how do I help her? I don’t want my daughter to be caught unawares by a struggle.

At what point do I share with my daughter what I’ve been through? How much do I share?

My own parents hid their entire past sins and struggles from me. It wasn’t until I shared with them as an adult that they even acknowledged they weren’t perfect. And they still shared so little that I can’t really say it did anything to help. It made me angry — angry because, if I had known, I could have expected at least a few of the struggles I’d later face.

Instead, my parents were more worried about maintaining a “righteous” image in the mind of their son.

I don’t want to put my daughter through that. I don’t want to put her through the struggles at all. Honestly, there are so many things I don’t want her to go through. I want a better life for her.

And by the way, if you’re thinking of commenting something about how her struggles could help others, or make her more like Christ, or be a great testimony for Jesus — please shut the **** up.

My daughter’s well-being is more important to me than a “great” testimony. You know what great testimony I want for her

That she grew up loved deeply, knowing her value was always rooted in Christ who died for her. That is the testimony I want for her.

And that’s why this will be one of the few posts about her. Because I am still sorting out what this looks like. And until I know how to do that, I don’t feel comfortable sharing details of my relationship with her.

Maybe someday when I have it all figured out, I’ll share.

But until then, I will continue to protect my daughter and love her more and more each day.

Did you grow up “protected” from your parents’ struggles, or did they openly share with you? Do you wish you’d known more about their struggles as you faced your own? If you’re a father, how do you express vulnerability with your children and also protect them?

* Photo courtesy enthusiasticawe, Creative Commons.

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  • Thank you for sharing this so vulnerably. I’m a father too and it likewise terrifies me. I have 3 kids. One by marriage/adoption who is now almost 19. She was 12 when I married her mother. Now a son who is almost 5 and another daughter who is 2. These thoughts torment me. Especially for my son. Like you, ‘h parental NEVER let me see any of their weaknessness and struggles. In fact it wasn’t until my mom suddenly passed away and my first marriage was falling apart because of my sexuality that my dad bothered to say to me “I’m sorry for how I treated you growing up. I always saw something in you that made me hate myself because when I was young I had a homosexual relationship that lasted a year”. I suppose he thought it would bond us. But if made me furious and I pushed him away completely for a few years. So I often think about how open and vulnerable I want to be with my kids. I’ve already been pretty open publically and on a large speaking platform and I don’t want my kids to hear it online. I want them to hear from me. Of course the 19 year old knows and she asks questions and in fact has told a few of her gay friends to come talk to me. And they want to. But how soon is to soon for my other 2 kids? And I pray daily that this cross i bare that they will know nothing of it. I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies much less my children. But of one thing I’m certain: the same grace that carries me daily in this walk is available to them. And if nothing else I want to teach/show them how to live in that grace no matter what their issues are. You’re a great dad Dean and your daughter is so blessed to be loved by a man like you!

  • “And by the way, if you’re thinking of commenting something about how her struggles could help others, or make her more like Christ, or be a great testimony for Jesus — please shut the **** up.” Hey man, I know that was out of frustration but it sure did make me smile. It’s almost worse to get even good answers when there’s no heart behind them.
    I’m glad I didn’t know all my parents’ struggles, especially when they were coming up with the wrong answers themselves. But I wish they didn’t act like things were ok when they weren’t and leave me to fill in the pieces as to why. I remember some year before high school hitting the can one summer, and altho they didn’t mean to and I didn’t mean to, I’m listening to my parents out on the deck discussing whether to get a divorce. What still gets to me is how unemotional it was. They never did, and it was never talked about it, but it rocked me. I don’t remember if I was too young or scared or confused but I never brought it up, but writing this, it’s like I’m there again. Since they never divorced and they worked things out, I’m kinda glad they didn’t bring it up, I just wish I hadn’t heard it since I was too young to process it well. Hey man, give her all your best all the time, and that includes the hard things we suffer and the good that came out of it. No one needs to share their screwups with their kid if they never learned from them, at least that they were screwing up.
    For what it’s worth, all the angst and despair and sleepless nights over the what-ifs is wasting your time and emotions. At least for me, it never usually changes what I’m gonna do anyway, and most of the time, it’s not the what-ifs that hit you bad, it’s the things you never saw coming. But even if your what-ifs come true, you’re gonna be there for her no matter what. Your heart’s telling you that even now.

    • I smiled broadly at that quote as well, Dean, as I smiled broadly at the beauty and transparency of the whole article. Yes, you expressed a bunch of anxiety, but that is one of the truths of parenting. There is nothing to be more anxious about as there is nothing more precious in the world, to us or to God. I love how you analyze the day’s events to ascertain how they have impacted her. Would that more of our parents had done that.
      Yes, I was far too protected from my parent’s struggles, but they learned that innocently from a church that taught a false piety. People in the churches of my youth always presented that everything was well, that they always heard the voice of the shepherd and walked in peace. But my parents fought constantly over silly and large issues, and the church folks around them constantly gossiped about everyone else. I remember one affair that occurred when I was about 10. Everyone reacted as if the church had never before experienced sin.
      We have tried to protect our children with more transparency and prayer. We have, of course, failed often with both, but God has answered our primary prayer of filling in the gaps caused by our failures and weaknesses. And we have confessed various mistakes to our kids and asked their forgiveness many times. It astounds me that in over 4 decades, my father never apologized to me or a sibling one time, for minor or huge offenses. He felt it would violate the Biblical call to be a good role model. Such confusion!
      Part of the transparency has been sharing my SSA with them just this year. They both handled it beautifully, and it has just made us closer. My son greatly respects that I have been loyal to his mother, though the enemy has tempted my heart to look elsewhere. I think he respects me more now that he knows this.
      Another way we protected the kids was to stand up for truth when it was difficult, and when it cost us friendships. We homeschooled through high school and frequently encountered absurd and harmful teachings like Gothardism, that we had to forcefully oppose in various groups and churches. So our kids knew that the church was a place to find truth, but also that it was also infected with false ideas, and that we all had to remain vigilant.
      I just spent a week in Mexico with my 25 year old daughter on a missions trip. I am so proud of the way she exercised her many remarkable gifts and how she interacted with the children and adult workers. God has truly answered our prayer to cover the many mistakes we made. And he will answer yours as well, Dean. You seem to be an even more thoughtful and vigilant father than I was.

      • Hey brother, how you doing?
        Y’know what, God bless those well meaning but clueless brothers who try to help by giving theology when you need something living that heals. If I’m getting scorched in the desert, I don’t want to hear a weather report, give me some water. There’s grace in knowing when to shut the **** up.
        Congrats mi on raising what sound like two awesome kids.

        • Another awesome quote, bh (“If I’m getting scorched…”) I’m well, thanks, though I lost a god friend to cancer this week. She was my clinical supervisor, and she taught me much about working with sexually abused kids. She was one herself. She was a pioneer in working with sand trays and was a committed Christian. She was also loud and exuberant and a crazy dancer. She is teaching the angels some moves today. But her husband is left here to work through another massive challenge. If anyone offers him a weather report this week, they may get socked in the mouth, all with the love of Christ, of course. It’s good to see you back here.

          • “She is teaching the angels some moves today.” Sorry for your loss mi but what a great way to think of her still doing what she loved. Hold off as long as you can, but sometimes you just gotta sock people. There was a NY Knick power forward from the 90’s, think it was Anthony Mason, 6-8, 250ish, a Christian. Some guy tried to rob him but AM overpowered him and pinned him down, sitting on his chest while waiting for the cops. AM starts giving him the gospel and how he should turn to Jesus, but when the guy wouldn’t stop mouthing off and cursing at him, AM slugs him out cold. Out cold, one shot. . . I don’t know why, but still thinks that’s funny. Still better to hold off on slugging people as part of a gospel presentation. 🙂 Hey man, it’s good to be back. Hopefully this time I’ll know the grace more to know when to shut up sooner.

  • I think my parents didn’t speak of their struggles to me for two reasons. First I was a chatterbox, tattletale, gossip of a kid before learning the meaning of “in confidence.” But more importantly, my parents never shared because their struggles did match up with my struggles. Plus I wasn’t the same as they were growing with our own personality differences and upbringing experiences. They did what they could to the best of their ability. I wish I could take a time machine back and give them some instruction on how to best raise me like get rid of all TVs, put me on sports team and stick me in a library right when I get home from school. That could have gone a long way.

  • I think the best thing you can do is give her a good foundation. In addition to sharing the faith with her, that means being the kind of family that is open and supportive. One of my biggest issues with my family is that we are simply not the type who ever talks about our inner lives. While my parents are loving, that made my coming out very awkward.
    You don’t have to jump into the specifics of your struggles, but just letting your kids know you don’t always have everything together is good start. I’m guessing it should probably get eased into as the kids start hitting their teens and such.

  • I too am married with two children, aged 7 & 9. I have thought about what point do I share with my daughters what I’ve been through. At this age, they’re not aware of sexual concepts yet. I’m not open about my struggles and victories with SSA for their benefit. Perhaps when they get to high school and can understand both homosexuality and are able to understand a nuances like, “sexually attracted, but living contrary to that”, they I might tell them. I don’t want some kid coming up to them in the playground saying, “Your Dad’s gay.” “No he’s not.” “Yes he is, he likes dicks.” So until they can handle that it’s more than one or the other (eg. gay or homophobic), I’m just going be their Dad and a husband to their Mum. Yes, I’ll make mistakes and apologise but I’ll do my best.

  • Thank you Dean. I mean SERIOUSLY is there a tougher job than being a parent? Unlike you my parents were very overt in their own defects – “dysfunctional” is the nice way to say it. I know I married my wife because I needed a “real” family and perhaps a chance to raise kids the way I wish I could had been.
    We are blessed with two amazing, caring, smart and healthy kids. Our son is nearly 23 and daughter is 18. Both in college so “empty nesters” – kind of….
    I was most concerned that our son would develop SSA , “inherit” my weaknesses and brokenness , not genetically but perhaps from my “passiveness”. I made sure we spent good time together doing father/son stuff. Made sure he knew I loved him and that included hugs. I quit drinking when he was three so he wouldn’t have any memories of “trashed” dad (which I was often prior). I also made sure he was active in “boy” activities: football, baseball, wrestling, scouts and karate. This gave him the opportunity to be around adults that I considered to be “real men” because I felt I lacked all that. And have plenty of healthy friendships, None of it was “forced” and he was well balanced (but very busy) with music, academics and church too. If anything perhaps too busy.
    I did though travel often because of my job, and my wife naturally “ran the show” at home. My most stressful experiences was having to confront her about her being too harsh, too demanding, not emphatic sometimes. And I’m being kind. She was rough and it triggered me back to some of my own “stuff.” But son shows every sign of being hetero but perhaps too distant, and I am worried about him being independent financially as he pursues grad school. Mom almost always rescued him, and now…. That can’t happen. He is brilliant though and basically on his own sharing a house at college. He graduates on dec 16.
    Our daughter? Well she was/is much more competiitve and aggressive than son. More like her mother and just as moody/rude when angered. But also very connected with me growing up, as she loved the outdoors and we still go fishing a couple times/summer. Just her and dad. She was also active in sports (gymnastics), but here her mother was often like a Russian coach. And it caused friction and when our daughter had some injuries that mother was denying – I had to step in and I did. It’s still a very sore spot between wife and I and I’m not sure it can ever be reconciled – one if the reasons we lack emotional intimacy now.
    Daughter too was active in our church, but somewhere around 14 met a “gay” girl at school. And they have been “close” ever since. Daughter now says she is gay and this other girl is “it” for her. Wife really hates this girl, it is a huge wedge between them. I share my wife’s view that daughter is too young to make “life decisions” like being gay and certainly committing herself to this girl. But we can only state our concerns and recommend. Daughter is an adult! Unfortunately her high school and now college (and most of the world it seems) celebrates this identity. I am viewed as “old fashioned” and “narrow minded” by daughter – and this tempts me to share more of my story to her. BUT I would never do it before telling my wife and well I am just not prepared for her predictable rage/shame toward me. And alas I am guilty of not telling her about my past and issues before we married. So yes much is on me for trying to have a real family but believing I had to hide “that” because what woman would want “that” in a husband? Those decisions were 25 years ago but now haunt me.
    Both my kids are lukewarm (at best) with their faith. They see the Catholic Church (and Christians) as being oppressive. I’m not sure what to say as I am having my own spiritual struggles. I am not very inspiring in that regard.
    So anyway….. Thanks for sharing and you know what? Seriously you are a great dad! And yes I care about my kids deeply and that’s why it hurts when they walk out into the world on their own. And I have some regrets – but never regret loving them. I have to have faith though that at the very least they had a much better start in life than I did, and much better than many in this world.

  • Dude. I just had a son. He is 4 months old. I have many of the same worries. My parents also were not very open with their struggles. It was only after I came out to my dad that he opened up back to me about some stuff. I have no idea what sharing my struggles with my son will look like. I wonder if there is anyone one the blog who has had the experience of opening up to their kids?

  • Dean, Congratulations on your courage to speak at all. Most men don’t dare.
    I have four grown kids (probably at one of them your age!) and yes I had the same fears. I was a hider of my stuff (SSA and Childhood Sexual Abuse) until all kids were safely in their 20’s. My wife spoke of some of her drug use (due to abuse she still doesn’t deal well with, IMHO) to the kids when they were early teens. We did not try to make it spiritual or ‘good for us’.I was pastoring a very small congregation plus job most of their childhood.I didn’t come clean with myself about my issues until after my kids had grown. But even back then, I did say to my children, ‘you haven’t gone thru what we did, so you can probably do better at life than us.’ And I think they have. They are solid citizens. Not church goers, except one. Pretty sure 3 of 4 are believers (my judgement, not God’s).
    But, were they scarred by my stuff? Of course. Because I was scarred by it, and because we were close when they were young. Yes the scars were somewhat transferred. I don’t see any way around that happening. My thought is this: I explained stuff to my kids. My parents never did. That ‘keep it in the dark’ strategy made the shame in me grow like wild and did far more damage than the wounds I received.
    Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to be who you are. You are. And mostly, your kids already know you, if you have been close to them. Eventually, your kids deserve the whole truth at the appropriate time. That’s all I got. Stay close to your Savior, do what He say, when he says. THAT works!

  • I struggle with what to say on this one. I don’t want my son to grow up the same way I grew up- in shame and in a perfect world. It just makes any struggles harder- because there is no room for you if you struggle.
    My parents severely sheltered us from things they considered immoral- mostly anything sexual. They would have let us watch a horror movie or shows with extreme violence- but wouldn’t let us watch Pretty Woman, the most mild of sexual movies.
    They struggled, for sure- but only with “socially acceptable” things- anger (dad), worry (mom). Ironically neither struggle is actually a sin. And in front of me & my brother, my Dad actively made fun of my mom’s struggles with worry. Growing up was a toxic environment- because real Christians don’t sin- and when you do struggle, you have to hide it because it’s shameful.
    So all that made it very painful, and more difficult when I started to struggle, and sin, with homosexuality- I was the “only one” struggling in my family- and my church. I grew up believing that there were different levels of sins- and homosexuality was the worst. It was so bad that my church wouldn’t even mention it.
    So, thinking about my 1 year old son, I don’t want him to grow up in a environment like that. I want him to see his parents- and have authentic relationships with us. See our struggle- and how we turn to Jesus. I want him to know us – and feel like part of our family regardless of any struggles. I want him to feel loved, and accepted- as we work together and become more like Jesus. I want to show him how to be a whole person- not a perfect Christian; how to accept and love himself, and how to accept and love others.
    Thanks for the great topic Dean.

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