Did you receive a blessing from your father when you were a child? When you left home, married, had a child of your own? Was it explicitly stated or written to you? Do you know in your heart that your father loved you and had he been able, he'd have expressed it? Or do you still yearn for his blessing?
You can do something about it! As you honor your father this Father's Day, you can also give him the opportunity to bless you. It can be as simple as asking for his blessing. A powerful model comes from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Remember the story of the brothers, Jacob and Esau, the firstborn? When Jacob stole Esau's blessing, what did Esau do? In perhaps the most tender verse in all the Bible, Esau, bereft and vulnerable, asked his blind and dying father, Isaac, "Have you no blessing for me, Father?"
Traditional ethical wills were written by fathers to transmit ethical values and wisdom to their sons. Though father was to instruct his children, even the ancient Sages knew and cautioned that the instructions be said "...gently, so that his family will accept them from him."
Contemporary ethical wills -- I call them "Legacy Letters" -- have the same function. Instead of empowering people to instruct future generations, I've learned that transforming instructions to blessings and incorporating the blessings within letters makes them more easily and eagerly received. Visit Life Legacies to learn more about writing legacies. Legacy letters of blessing address the deep and universal need in all of us to be blessed and to bless others.
Here's an excerpt of a woman writing to honor the memory of a legacy from her Russian immigrant father. Arriving in 1900 knowing no English, he learned the language in night school on the Lower East Side of New York.
From him I learned to respect and love words. His love of using words properly and well -- the best word in its rightful place -- was one of his legacies to me. I entered a profession in which my love of words, chosen with care for their meaning and nuance, was extremely important, not only to me, but especially to the people with whom I worked. These days, when I write, and when I encourage others to put their own legacies into words, I continue to be blessed by his teaching. Matching with care what I think, feel and believe to what I say and write, is a thread trailing forward from [hearing him from my childhood] 'Look it up in the dictionary.'
This legacy letter excerpt is from a woman in her early sixties writing her recognition of her aging father's approaching end, and expressing how blessed she's been by him:
Dear Daddy, Although we sidestep and maneuver and obliquely allude to it, we never really say to each other that we both know you are coming to the end of your fantastic, graceful, worthy life....Before you sail away on the whispers of your dreams, I want to tell you of the many ways you have shaped and molded me into the woman I am today....From my earliest memories, I inhaled and absorbed your belief that I could do anything....
So, Daddy, you dream your dreams. You travel wherever they take you. Always know I bless you for giving me the ability to dream my own dreams, undergirded by your faith in me....If I can hold, ever so lightly, your confidence in me, Daddy, my dreams will allow me to travel, too, to wherever it is my wildest imagination can take me. Thank you for the gifts of your acceptance and your belief. You will be with me forever and I will love you endlessly.
Some suggestions/action steps:
1. Take a few minutes to focus your thoughts on your father: reflect, remember, recall blessings he's given you. Write a Father's Day letter to your father, appreciating the legacies he's given you. Include a blessing, and offer it to him as a Father's Day gift.
2. If he is not alive, write a letter about your father appreciating the blessings he gave you to pass on to his grandchildren or great grandchildren -- to share and preserve who he was.
3. If you are a father, take on the spiritual mantle of fatherhood. Write a legacy letter blessing your children and grandchildren on this Fathers' Day as they are honoring you.
4. Take time to make this Fathers' Day a blessed day.
Although daughters may have been excluded in ancient blessings, in our post-feminist age, daughters both honor and bless their fathers as fathers bless their daughters. Here is a legacy letter of blessing, written by our most famous contemporary father, President Obama, to his daughters:
January 18, 2009
Dear Malia and Sasha,
I know that you've both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn't have let you have. But I also know that it hasn't always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn't make up for all the time we've been apart. I know how much I've missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.
When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me -- about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.
I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential -- schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college -- even if their parents aren't rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.
I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you'll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer. And I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.
Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country -- but when we do, I want to make sure that it is only for a very good reason, that we try our best to settle our differences with others peacefully, and that we do everything possible to keep our servicemen and women safe. And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free -- that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.
That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.
She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better -- and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It's a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.
I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you've had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much -- although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.
These are the things I want for you -- to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That's why I've taken our family on this great adventure.
I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful every day for your patience, poise, grace, and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House.
May this Fathers' Day bring you the joy of remembering and blessing your father,
May this Fathers' Day bless you with your memory of his legacies for you,
May you be blessed to ask for and receive your father's blessing.