You can tell a lot about the real soul of a man by the way he speaks of his children.
You can tell even more about the real soul of a man by the way his children speak of him.
More specifically and in keeping with my dad-daughter focus, I would add that you can tell the most about the real soul of a daughter not only by how she talks of her dad, but by the smile on her face, the light in her eyes, and the way she turns her head. I guess you could say that her face tells the story.
Maybe it’s because of my profession where I have the privilege of getting up close and personal to heart stories or maybe it's because I'm a daughter myself or maybe it's because I am an observer of people and have seen it with my own eyes, but the unarguable truth is that when a daughter knows she is loved by her dad and feels the reality of his love, it shows. I guess you could say that her face tells the story.
When I meet a father who intensely loves his daughter, my spirit dances. I become almost giddy with joy as I watch their interaction. I smile and celebrate when hearing their stories. I even find myself flashing forward as I envision her as a confident, clear-headed young woman who believes she has what it takes to change the world, in large part due to the forever investment her dad has made in her life. I guess you could say that my face tells the story.
Some might call me a naive dreamer, but I believe that our country will literally strengthen from the ground up if every dad in America will choose to invest daily while dialing in to his daughter’s heart space with greater intention and consistency than in any previous generation.
Why do I believe that? Because when a girl experiences authentic, unconditional, safe love from her dad she won’t go looking for a counterfeit. Her crap detector will pick up the imposter when she's internalized the pure and the real.
With that backdrop I want to introduce you to one such dad who has poured his heart into his daughters' lives.
Meet my friend Jay. He's the proud father of two daughters, Macy (13) and Ava (8). At first glance he may seem like any ordinary father. But if you look closer, Jay will inspire you to never again take even one day that you have with your daughters for granted.
Jay is 41 years old and has already battled an aggressive form of cancer, one that has resulted in multiple surgeries and harsh treatment regimens. Yet somehow in the midst of his battle he has not only found a way to connect with humor but he himself has been a beacon of light to those around him in this otherwise dark place.
And though he credits his inner strength to his faith, he is quick to add,
“To this day my father’s influence on my life impacts me. He had a quiet strength about him, and a peace that was obviously other worldly. Observing him gave me confidence that Jesus was real because He impacted my father’s life. And I wanted that, that same impact, in mine.”
I guess you could say that their faith tells the story.
You know, I wonder sometimes why we as human beings have to be pressed to the end of ourselves or the end of our lives to have clarity. I have watched Jay’s life and can honestly say that he is intentionally living each day to its fullest because he sees every day as a gift. He knows that each day is one more day he has to invest in his lives of his precious girls.
Last week his oldest turned 13. The poem he wrote to her melted my heart. Maybe it will yours, too. He wrote:
Macy turns 13 tomorrow. Needless to say I'm a bit emotional tonight.
I look down the hall
See you standing there
Looking in the mirror
Pretty curls in your hair
I know that someday soon
I'll look there again
And you'll be gone
Someday you'll move on
To a family of your own
A different place that you'll call home
For this moment though you're here
I'm your dad and we are near
For this moment I can reach out my arms
And hold you
What a gift this moment is
What an honor and a joy
To share this life with you
And be your dad
Do you hear his tender strength in his words? Even if you’re not a poet like Jay, you can take his words to heart as you share in his perspective, one that sees into the depths of his daughter’s life, both now and in years to come.
I asked Jay how his diagnosis has changed the way he lives as a father to his girls, to which he said:
“It makes me look at them differently; it makes me treasure them more completely. I am here, right now, experiencing moments with them that there was no guarantee that I would. So each new moment is one that I am so grateful for--that they get to have it with a dad in their life. Sometimes I think the cancer hasn’t changed me much, but other times I realize it has changed every minute of my life, because I do have a different lens on that I see my family through. I’m grateful for the lens.”
I then asked him to tell me a bit more about how he fathers differently since being diagnosed:
“Sometimes I think in some areas I’m less patient. If the conflict is about something trivial, (and often conflicts are), I find myself having an internal dialogue about what’s really important in life, the big stuff, and how this isn’t it. So the challenge for me is to get to the heart of the matter in the trivial conflicts, and to find a way to love more in the way I handle them. Because even if the conflict is trivial, me loving them well through it is not.”
My last question to Jay was this:
From the vantage point of a father who has faced and is facing his own mortality in ways beyond what many dads your age have faced, is there anything you would say to other dads (especially dads of daughters) that has become clear to you through your journey these past couple of years?
“From the moment you wake up, you are getting messages sent to you from the outside. The majority of them that say that you need to something more, buy something more, have something more, and if you don’t you just aren’t quite succeeding. Your daughters are getting those same messages. From social media, from advertisements, even from friends and teachers. We, as their fathers, have the best chance to consistently send a better message, louder and more consistent than the others. That they are completely loved, now. That they are fully enough in your eyes simply because they exist and they are your daughter. They need to hear it, they need to know it, they need to feel it.”
Jay, as a dialed-in dad, you get it. You get how important it is that you look for ways to love more in the way you handle your daughters. You get that your daughters need to know that you love them just because they’re your girls.
And you say it best when you add that “in her few years left under my roof, I want to be a safe place for my daughter…to help her process the things she is being exposed to, even now. I want her to know that I care deeply about her soul, about her heart, about her identity. I want her to continue to know my love for her is so much deeper and stronger than any behavior let down she will ever have, so that she can always confide in me.”
Thank you Jay for speaking from your heart and for backing up your life with your lip. Thank you for opening up from the intensity of your real story and inspiring us all to live each day as if it were our last.
On this Thanksgiving weekend you remind us all to be thankful, not only that we are alive but that we have today to make a difference in the lives of those we love.
Jay McKenney is the Minister of Creative Arts at Sunset Presbyterian where he has served for 10 years. He has been married to his wife Allison for 20 years, and has two daughters, Macy (13) and Ava (8). In addition to family time, Jay enjoys photography, videography and health coaching. You can see some of his love for photography at Mac in Black Productions on Facebook or @macinblackproductions on Instagram.