Whenever I travel, I like to bring my kids a little something back. And by little I mean little. Thankfully, my kids are still young enough to get excited over a pack of gum or a candy bar. Their expectations are pretty easy to manage, even if I procrastinate.
At the end of a recent trip, I brought home for my 6-year-old girl, Annie, a small journal. She went crazy: “Oh daddy, I know exactly what I’m going to do with this journal!” She loves to doodle and is forever wanting a fresh notebook for her drawings, so I figured that’s what she would do with her present.
Almost every night from then on out, I would find Annie sitting up in her bed working in the journal while she waited for me to tuck her in. As soon as she saw me in the hallway, she would close the journal real quick and stuff it under her zebra-print pillow.
I could tell she was hiding whatever she was working on from me. So I did what any reasonable parent would do: One evening, while she slept, I slipped my hand under that zebra pillow, then, slowly and stealth-like, I grabbed the journal to take a look.
That’s when I found the most meaningful gift I have ever received stolen.
Inside that journal I read love note after love note from Annie to me. I became overwhelmed with emotion as I got a glimpse into her tender heart. I didn’t have sisters growing up, so I had no idea how expressive girls can be. Annie—at just 6 years old—is already better at communicating love than I was when I married Holly.
“If I get in trouble and cry and all of that stuff, nothing can get in the way of our love. You’re the best dad in the whole world. You rock. You’re my hero.”
Of course, I had to write her back. So I sat on the couch that night and began my own love note to Annie.
Over the next few months we began a tradition that I believe will help keep our relationship strong well into her teenage years. The Love Journal between Annie and me is one of the most sentimental things I own.
Through our journal, I see so clearly how she views her world, our relationship, and me. This motivates me to stay in the Word daily, to work hard, to be fully present when I am with her, and to love her and her momma well.
We write to each other about everything. I mostly ask questions and reaffirm my love for her. But she, like her momma, tells me everything—who got in trouble at school, what she ate for lunch, what made her happy that day, what made her sad, what she loves about us.
I travel often so we use our journal to stay connected. On one trip, I take it with me and write to her. On the next trip, she keeps it at home and writes to me.
I know a day will come when the things we enjoy about our relationship now will get a bit awkward for Annie. My wife tells me that snuggling on daddy’s lap, wrestling, and tickling may come to an end in the teen years. I think, during those awkward years, the natural tendency would be for Annie to hesitate before talking to me about what’s deep inside that maturing heart of hers.
Fathers, we have to fight through the awkwardness to create a safe, comfortable place for our daughters to communicate deeply with us. I don’t want any other man—or teenage boy!—helping my daughter sort through teenage emotions and questions.
Sometimes, in a house full of brothers, Annie’s days are consumed with sports, wrestling and bodily noises. She fits right in with the boys, but she still has a gentle and delicate heart that needs to be heard and understood by her daddy.
She deserves a place in her fairy-tale mind where king and princess meet for tea parties—where daddy brags on her pretty dresses and painted nails.
One day, the fun of make believe will be replaced with the reality of boys, purity, faith and dreams. And when that time comes, I’m so grateful that the two of us have our own safe place to talk—our Love Journal. The love notes between Annie and me are fun today, but they will be necessary tomorrow.
“I really love you. You rock. You are the king. I love you.”