Fatherhood inspires Clay Brizendine to create Shoebox Letters, a collection of authentic letters written by daughters to their dads
When I became a father of daughters–16 months apart–I didn’t know what to expect. Growing up, I had brothers and male cousins and boys I hung out. No one in my family could tell me “Clay, here’s what it’s like raising girls.” So I started doing some research of my own…and what I found was incredible.
My women friends were so interested and eager to talk about their dads that I barely had to ask the question. Many started the conversation with “Oh, I am soooo Daddy’s little girl” or “My Dad can do no wrong.” I was shocked. Really? I love my dad like no other, but there were some things he did wrong. I was fascinated with how boldly women would talk about their dads, how great he was in their eyes, and how long the conversations could really go if I let them.
To be clear, I had friends who have said just the opposite. Their dad wasn’t around to do the things that a dad should. I’ve heard stories of “my dad wanted boys.” Divorce crushed the dreams of others. Some dads don’t measure up to what we’d like. It can be for a point in time, or it could be a lifetime. As Rocky says in Rocky Balboa, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
Both of these types of stories you’ll read about in Shoebox Letters: Daughters to Dads (to be serialized over the next six weeks on the GMP). There’s as much that can be learned from the stories of less-than-ideal fathers as the stories of those that played the role perfectly.
Over thirty letters in the book are addressed to real life dads from their real life daughters. No editing, no scripting—what you see are the letters themselves in their native form. I did, however, ask them to all start from the same jumping-off point:
“Dad, as I thought about our relationship at this stage of my life, and what your role as my dad truly means to me, I wanted you to know a few things.”
—Excerpted from the foreword. We decided to follow up with Clay and find the motives, inspiration, and genesis of the book, parts of which will be serialized on the Dads & Families section over the next six Sundays.
Dads & Families: “I was fascinated with how boldly women would talk about their dads…” Why do you think this is, and why are men more reticent to address their father relationship?
Clay Brizendine: First, the women that I spoke to were good acquaintances or friends of mine, so the comfort level was there for them to be able to talk about something like that relationship with their dad. Given the quickness and ease with which those conversations happened, however, I don’t know that it would take much more for another woman to talk about that relationship.
Men on the other hand…. seem less willing to share. And they are competitive. And in my own case, there was certainly a period of my teenage years when my dad and I didn’t have the best relationship as I was trying to carve my own space out in the family and figure out who I was. Now, that doesn’t keep me from sharing that about he and I, but I wouldn’t talk about it in the same detail as my female friends did when they spoke about their dads.
D&F: True words about men and sharing. “My family focus increased” due to some jarring personal experiences. Tell us about the Total Health Organization, your role as Director, and this book’s role in the organization
CB: There was a 3 year period where my priorities were out of whack. I got lost on a lot of different fronts, and that impacted my wife and kids. I went through a 6 month depression, couldn’t get out of bed on days, and hit what I felt was rock bottom. But through all of that, I had the help of some influential people in my life, and I got out. As I got better, the importance total health – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual – rather than just being physically healthy became crystal clear to me. Thus, Total Health Organization focuses on brands or products that will enable an individual to become healthier in more than just 1 way. In order to really LIVE, you need those 4 areas to all be in alignment. Once they are, boundaries and limits are things of the past.
D&F: You are a father of two girls, and this book evolved out of your need for some guidance on how to father girls: What is the core sentiment you’ve experienced as an editor and a father?
CB: At the core of it all, after listening to and reading the stories, and after getting feedback from people on it… is love. And not just the kiss on the forehead when your kids are going to bed love. But the Unconditional Love that is talked about with the first theme. The Unconditional Love allows you to do everything else in the book. It influences the choices you make along the way as a dad, and helps you to be there and be accountable, to be the example in your daughter’s life, to be amazing for you and for your daughter, etc. So I feel like Loving Unconditionally is what will set the relationship up for success long term.
—lead photo by Peter Werkman/Flickr