It’s Thursday November 10 2016, and the results of the election two days ago have thrown the world – our world – into a fair amount of chaos. It’s a tough time for America right now. I don’t know how to do this, really. I don’t know how to focus on getting back to running my company or to any sense of normalcy. But the one thing that has been a tremendous relief to me is to have this opportunity to be your dad. I decided to write this because, well, I’m a writer, and writing has helped me through some tough times. Hopefully, I can write my way through this.
Twins, you’re almost 15 now, and your younger sister is 11. It’s been a few years since that photo. I had hoped that you would not have to confront harsh realities like this election for a few more years. I had hoped that you could be little and innocent for a while longer. But I guess it snuck up on me. You’re growing up quickly. This election, and the campaign leading up to it, and the years that will follow, will force us all to grow up a lot more. So whether I was ready or not, it’s here. We’re in it. We have to keep going.
This election was very hard on me emotionally. I didn’t expect to feel so many things about it. From moment to moment over the last couple of days, I’m trying to just let myself feel whatever it is that I feel about it and what it means for our country, for the world we live in, for your future. Honestly, I have a different emotion about every six and a half minutes. I would love to feel an extended, deep, seething rage about it for a few hours right now. But I’m fluctuating between sadness, some rage, utter despair, tentative hope, shame, and a feeling of wanting to shield the three of you from this reality (even though I know you are prepared to face it with me).
First, you need to know: I am SO proud of you. I’m so glad that I’m raising girls. It has been the greatest gift of my life. Whenever I think over the last couple of days about what a privilege and an honor it is to be your dad, and how you’re dealing with this election, I can’t hold back a smile. Sometimes I start crying with joy. When I joke with my friends about how I feel like I’m raising a small army of feminist activists, it’s a sense of pride that warms my laughter about it.
When I realize what amazing strong women you will become, how you and your friends and the girls your age are going to become an unstoppable force for good, I know that our country is going to survive this. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. It’s going to be tears and heartbreak and triumph and joy in turns, for the rest of your lives. But I already know that you’re prepared.
Today, I’m just trying to revel in how proud I am of you. Tomorrow, we begin the rest of our lives. No matter what happens, and no matter who occupies the White House — or the state house, or city hall — I want you all to remember these things, because they will guide you in the years ahead:
- I know you have heard this before from me, enough times that it might even be annoying by now, but this is the big one: No one EVER has the right to treat you like garbage. Not anyone. Not ever. The president-elect has said some truly disgusting things about women, and he appears to have gotten away with it. Sadly, he’s not alone. There are thousands of men out there who believe that they have the right to treat women like crap. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to have to tell you that men will probably try to hurt you at some point in your life. Men have tried or succeeded in hurting literally every woman I know. All of them. It hurts to tell you that I know women who have been harmed so badly that their emotional scars may never completely heal. But you don’t have to accept that things will always be this way. You don’t have to stand for it. You can always say “no” to a man, no matter what he asks of you, and you don’t have to give him a reason. You don’t have to smile back at a guy because he smiled at you. You can always speak up if a man threatens you or another woman or girl or makes them feel unsafe. In fact, you have a responsibility to fight back wherever and whenever this happens. You have to stand up for each other as sisters, and to stand up for other girls and women. This kind of nonsense could end in a generation if women all locked their arms together, and locked arms with every man who believes what I believe (and there are a LOT of us). You can always call on me to help, and if I witness it myself, I promise you I will speak up without being asked. Having daughters has made me a better man, and this year’s presidential campaign has made it clear that even the best men (including me) have room to improve when it comes to respecting women. Oddly, the president-elect’s horrible behavior may have been a tremendous gift to the country, because it has inspired women to speak up, and inspired me and other men I know to change how we think about the importance of ending mistreatment of all women. So I’m committed to that deeply and personally now, in large part because of the three of you. And I will help you recruit other people – allies – to help with this too. We can change this. Little by little we can change this.
- Speaking of allies, they are super important. Not only do you need to seek allies (as I mentioned above) but you need to BE allies. And it doesn’t end with simply being allies to other women. You all have a responsibility to be allies with your LGBTQ friends too, no matter their orientation or gender. We live in the Pacific Northwest, and living in this particular city was a conscious choice your mom and I made, in part because we wanted you girls to grow up in a community that’s tolerant and safe, so your minds and spirits could thrive. I’m thrilled that you get to grow up in a place like this, where LGBTQ kids can be themselves openly in school, and I’m delighted that you’ve befriended some of them. These people need you. They need you more than you might realize. Because even though we happen to live in an amazingly tolerant place, there are still a whole bunch of places in the world where your LGBTQ friends are quite literally in physical and emotional danger, simply for being themselves. The world is not yet entirely safe for LGBTQ people, and they need us. They are going to need us for a very long time. We have to stand with them, we have to fight for them, sometimes we may have to even shelter them from harm. As heartbreaking as it is for me to tell you that, I know you’re three people who the LGBTQ folks can count on to be a friend, an ally, or even just somebody safe to sit with or talk to. Don’t underestimate how important even small gestures are. That stuff matters a lot, and all of my LGBTQ friends will tell you the same thing.
- It doesn’t end there either. You three are all white girls. One of the tradeoffs about living in the Northwest has been that you have not been exposed to much racial diversity in your lives. But the world, as you will learn when you grow up and leave home and travel on your own, is an incredibly diverse place full of amazing people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds. Our country, as you will learn over time, has a troubling, regrettable and sad history of treating non-white people like garbage. From old hurts like slavery and the systematic extermination of Native Americans, to the killing of African-American men and women by police that happens even still in 2016, this nation we love and call home has a lot of problems when it comes to equality. Just as I told you that no one has a right to treat you like garbage, and that you have to be an ally to LGBTQ people, you have a responsibility to first learn about people who look different than you, and about what they and their ancestors have endured. You have to listen to them. Then you have to not allow anyone to treat them like garbage, either. And you have to be an ally to them too. There is no such thing as “other people” – the problems and the struggles that any one group faces are problems and struggles that all of us face. We are all humans. Never forget that.
- There’s been a lot of talk about Democrats and Republicans in our house, on the news and probably at school too. Those are the two dominant political parties in the US, but are by no means a complete picture of what everyone believes when it comes to politics. There are more than 300 million people in this country, and probably roughly that many different points of view. Some points of view you will agree with passionately, others will profoundly shock you. Find your own point of view. This requires listening to people who may not agree with you. It requires believing in ideas and passionately debating them and defending them too. But never forget to listen. I have found (because I discuss politics a lot) that sometimes when you talk with someone who disagrees with you, the discussion breaks down very quickly over some small point of disagreement. And for many people, those disagreements end there, or escalate into a shouting match. As Michelle Obama said recently “when they go low, you go high.” I have found her words to be so validating. Many times in my life I’ve found that if you can avoid shouting, if you can listen, if you can take the high road – it is possible to get past disagreements and to find things you can agree on. That is how you can build a better world. When your mom and I got divorced seven years ago, one of the earliest and most important decisions we made was that we were going to set aside the differences in our marriage and do everything we could to stay focused on raising the three of you, even though that meant we’d be doing so in two separate houses. Your mom and I couldn’t stay married anymore, but she loves you every bit as much as I do. You may not realize it, but even to this day, she and I talk about you a lot, and we always work together to help you girls get what you need, and to help you grow up to become the women what we both know we’ll be proud of for the rest of our lives. I’m saying this because I want you to know that you’ve already experienced personally the healing of a divide like the one our country is going through right now. Your mom and I, through a spirit of collaboration on a greater goal managed to find a way to work together. If she and I can do that, I believe that anyone can. Keep your head up and your eyes on the bigger goals — that’s how you’ll know where you are and stay focused on where you’re going and fixed on what’s important.
- Get involved. Volunteer. No matter where you end up living or what careers you may choose, find a way to get involved and to make your community a better place to live. There’s always work to be done, and great organizations that need your help. I don’t care what the organization is, just do something that you can believe in. For me, that’s always meant volunteering with arts organizations, because I believe so strongly in the power of art, music, dance and storytelling to make our world more beautiful and to help us understand each other better. For some people, it’s serving food to people with no homes or money. For others, it’s walking dogs at the humane society. Some people coach kids’ sports. There are thousands of important causes and ways to serve your community. The important thing here is that you do it, and in a meaningful way. You all have so much to give. And there’s a bonus too: in doing this, you’ll meet some of the most amazing people in your life.
- Speak up. That’s a common theme here throughout all of this, obviously. But I want you all to write, to create, to work for change. That’s going to take many forms. You might need to write letters to the editor. You WILL need to send emails to your congresspeople and elected representatives. You’ll probably need to participate in demonstrations, marches and protests. You may decide to run for political office yourself someday. This country has still not elected its first woman president, so consider that one of your options as well. It could be one of you. But don’t keep your voices quiet. Speak up. The activist Maggie Kuhn said “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” Speak up for yourselves of course, but more importantly than that, I want you to speak up for the people who have no voice, or whose voices have been silenced or marginalized. This is what it means to be an ally. Use your voices. Nobody knows more than your mom and I what voices you have! Use them!
- VOTE! It seems hard to believe, but women didn’t always have the right to vote in the United States. People had to march and write and scratch and scream and fight (some people even died fighting) in order to make that possible for you. That’s a big responsibility. The three of you all are related to Susan B. Anthony (on your mother’s side), so you quite literally have an important family legacy to uphold. Just like your mom and I, Susan would want you girls to vote every chance you get. Vote in special elections, vote in primaries, vote in midterms, just register to vote and vote in every election you can until the day you die. Voting is your right, and it is your responsibility. This is your dad talking now, in my Most Serious Dad Voice, but if I ever find out that you did not vote in an election that happened after your 18th birthday, we’re going to have a serious talk.
I’ll stop here. You’re probably getting tired of it and rolling your eyes thinking this sounds like a lecture or something. It’s not. It’s just the thoughts of a dad who loves you more than you will ever know. I cannot wait to see what amazing women you become, and what great changes you bring to our world. You’re my three most favorite people, and I’m proud of you every day. I promise I will do everything I can to support you in all of these things above and anything else you need for the rest of my life, for as long as it is in my power to do so.