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Guest Post: How I Taught My Daughter To Fight

This is a guest blog post by best-selling author Brad Meltzer on his just-released book, Heroes for My Daughter.

I was sleeping. Soundly. And then my pregnant wife shook me awake.

“I think the baby’s coming,” she told me.
It was four in the morning. 
“Go back to bed,” I pleaded. “It’s too early.” 
God bless my wife, she actually tried to go back to bed.
 But my little unborn daughter had her own ideas. 
Believe me when I say, that wouldn’t be the last time.

At the hospital, the instant I saw my daughter for the first time, my heart doubled in size. My own mother told me at the time, “Now you’ll understand how I love you.”

After giving us a few moments with her, the nurses did their usual weighing and measuring, and then said they wanted to whisk her off for her first bath.
 “I’m coming with you,” I told them, determined to protect her.
 They smiled that smile they save for new parents and reassured me, “She’ll be fine. We have her.”

But as I looked down at my beautiful, teeny, amazing daughter…c’mon… No way was I ever letting her out of my sight. Thankfully, the nurses put up with me, and let me pretend I was some old parental veteran as I helped give my daughter her first bath. Later, as I sat there, rocking in the rocking chair they gave me and holding her close, I still remember all the dreams I was dreaming for her.

I didn’t want just one thing for my daughter. I wanted everything. If she needed strength, I wanted her to be strong. If she saw someone hurting, I wanted her to find the compassion to help. If there was a problem, big or small, that no one could solve, I wanted her to have every available skill - ingenuity, empathy, creativity, perseverance - so she could attack that problem in a way that no one else on this entire planet had ever fathomed. And that would be her greatest gift: That no one - and I mean no one - would ever be exactly like my Lila.

I still believe that. I do. I’m a mushy dad. And it was in those first moments of blind idealism and unbridled naïveté that I resolved to write a book for her.

Yes, I’d been down this road before. I started a similar book on the night my son was born. The goal was to write this book over the course of my children’s lives - that I’d fill it with all the advice they needed to be good people. I began that night:
1. Love God.

2. Help the kids who need it.

My plan was to add more ideas as she grew older, and eventually, on the day when I presented this book to her, she’d realize I was indeed the greatest father of all time (I had a parade planned for myself as well).

Thankfully, during your first few years, I realized my cliché, self-important plan was just that. It hit me after thinking about my own life and after my friend Simon Sinek told me this amazing story about the Wright Brothers: Every time Orville and Wilbur Wright went out to fly their plane, they would bring extra materials for multiple crashes. That way, when they crashed, they could rebuild the plane and try again. Think of that for a moment: every time they went out - every time - they knew they were going to fail. But that’s what they did: Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild. And that’s why they finally took off.

I love that story. I wanted my daughter to hear that story. I wanted my sons to hear that story. I wanted everyone in this world to know that if you dream big…and work hard…and have a good side-order of stubbornness…you can do anything in this world.

Soon after, my new plan was born. I wouldn’t give my kids a book of rules. I’d give them a book of heroes. And in that, I’d give them absolute proof that anything is possible.

Following birth order, I first wrote Heroes for My Son, which was published two years ago. At the time, I was simultaneously writing the book for my daughter, and not just because my daughter kept coming up to my office and demanding, “Where’s my book?” (which she did). Over the past six years, as I began my collection of heroes, I always knew I’d have to split them between a book for my sons and a book for my daughter.

For that reason, I worked hard to divide the heroes equally. My son got more male heroes; my daughter got more female (in the exact same ratio, down to the exact percentage, so there’d be no arguing about which “side” was better).

Think I’m nuts? Wait till you have more than one kid. Like Switzerland, my parental goal was to keep all parties neutral, so all my children would feel equal love, equal respect, equal life lessons. Am I insane? I have three kids. Of course I’m insane. But (to steal my mother’s phrase), for those three little blessings, I’d saw off my own arm. And so, feeling like a 21st-century parent (so progressive I couldn’t even see, much less acknowledge, gender differences), I began to write these two equal books filled with equally amazing heroes.

But here’s the thing. Along the way, something happened.

When I handed in the manuscript for my daughter’s book, the editor came back with a surprising reply. She noticed that I kept overusing one word throughout the manuscript.

What word?

Fighter.

By her count, fourteen of the fifty profiles had the word “fight” or “fighter” in it.

As she pointed out, “Some of them, like Abigail Adams, Winston Churchill, Hannah Senesh, Thurgood Marshall, were literally fighters, so of course the term should stay there.” But I also used it with Audrey Hepburn, Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, Nancy Brinker…even with Lisa Simpson and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama! Even in the pacifist, I sought a fighter. And yes, that probably highlights my lack of descriptive ability. But it also raises a vital question.

Why?

After years of trying to keep this book for my daughter perfectly equal to the book for my sons - after years of trying to teach them the exact same lessons - why did I focus so intently on making sure that my daughter knew how to fight? Why did I keep using that word? Why, subconsciously or not, was that the lesson I kept coming back to?

It’s not a complex answer. Part of it’s because I’m still trying to protect her (even if I don’t like to admit it). Indeed, when my daughter was three, and first learning to swim, she used to jump in the pool, sink down to the bottom, and then pop up and shout, with a huge grin on her face, “I’m okay!” We used to laugh at it, especially as it became her personal catchphrase every time she went underwater: I’m okay! I’m okay! I’m okay!

But looking back, why did Lila keep yelling, I’m okay? Because someone (read: me) kept asking, “Are you okay?”

Yet the other part of the answer is because my dreams for my daughter today are different than the ones on the day she was born. Sure, I still want everything for her. I always will. But - and I’m just being honest here - I do want my daughter to learn how to fight.

It’s the dream that links every single hero I picked out. In this book for my daughter, every hero is a fighter. And as I tell my daughter, no matter what stage of life you’re in, when you want something - no matter how impossible it seems - you need to fight for it. When you believe in something, fight for it. And when you see injustice, fight harder than you’ve ever fought before.

To see the results, I picked out the story of Marie Curie, who never stopped pushing science forward, even when she was dying from the radiation she was studying…or the Three Stooges (yes, laugh if you want), who were the first ones to make fun of Adolf Hitler onscreen, nearly two years before Pearl Harbor…or the story of Billie Jean King, who challenged (and beat!) the pig-headed man who told her that women were weaker than men.

Women are not weaker. It was perhaps the most important lesson in there. I needed my daughter to hear that: Women are not weaker. They are just as strong, just as resolute, just as creative, and are filled with just as much potential as any man. Yes, as her father, my instinct is to protect her (like that first day with the nurses). Other people will want to protect her too. But she needs to know that she is not a damsel in distress, waiting for some prince to rescue her. Forget the prince. With her brain and her resourcefulness, she can rescue herself. And when she has her doubts - as we all inevitably do - she’d have this book, full of people who were wracked with just as much fear, but who also found the internal strength to overcome it.

From Amelia Earhart, to Teddy Roosevelt, to every person I picked, she’d have the stories of women and men who were no different from any of us. We may lionize them and put them on pedestals. But never forget this: No one is born a hero. Every person I picked for my daughter had moments where they were scared and terrified. Like you. Like me. So how did they achieve what they achieved? Because whatever their dreams were, big or small - for their country, for their family, or even for themselves - they never stopped fighting for what they loved.

We all are who we are, until that moment when we strive for something greater.

Is that schmaltzy and naïve? I hope so. Because I wanted my daughter to learn those things too.

As for the most important hero in the book, yes, I included my wife. And my grandmother. But for me, the most vital hero is my mother, Teri Meltzer, who died from breast cancer three years ago. On the day my publisher was shutting down, and no one was there to take over my contract, I thought I was watching my career deteriorate. So I called my Mom and told her how scared I was. She told me, “I'd love you if you were a garbage man.” It wasn't anything she practiced. Those were just her honest feelings in that moment. And to this day, every day I sit down to write, I say those words to myself, soaking in the purity of my Mom's love. I’d love you if you were a garbage man. My hero.

Yet for you, dear reader, the most important page in my daughter’s book is the last one, because it's blank. It says “Your Hero’s Photo Here” and “Your Hero’s Story Here.” And I promise you, you take a photo of your Mom, or Grandparent, or teacher, or a military member of your family, and you put their picture in there, and write one sentence of what they mean to you; that will be the most beautiful page in Heroes For My Daughter. And the best present we can give all our children: the reminder that it is indeed ordinary people who change the world. That’s way stronger than any upper-cut.

Today, my gift is complete. I’ve finished my daughter’s book. The book is my dream for her. And when my daughter has doubts, there is strength in the book. When she’s ready to give up, there’s motivation inside. And when she has questions, there are answers inside. But I hope, as every hero proves, the best answers will always come from what’s within herself.

Brad Meltzer is the #1 bestselling author of The Inner Circle and the host of “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded” on the History Channel. Heroes For My Daughter will be published April 10th. This article originally appeared in Spirit Magazine by Southwest Airlines.

Q&A with Joe Ehrmann, author of InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives

Joe Ehrmann is a former defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts and the Detroit Lions. He and his wife Paula have four children and are cofounders of Coach for America, whose mission is to inform, inspire, and initiate individual, community, and societal change through sports and coaching. Joe’s new book InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives was released on August 2 and is available for purchase on Amazon and other retailers.

NFI: You start the introduction to InSideOut Coaching by telling a moving story about driving home one night with your young son, realizing how much you love him, and recognizing that your father never felt that way about you. Why do you think a father’s love plays such a crucial role in a child’s life?

JE: Young people are hardwired to get that affirmation and love and acceptance, particularly from their dads, as well as their moms. Their basic self-concept of who they are is dependent on that relationship. Look at the tremendous number of dads who have abdicated that responsibility and leave children with huge questions about their identity and worth. Dads are one of the chief artists in painting the picture of who we are. As I travel the country, it’s the number one condition of children in America – it’s the lack of closure in those wounds as you grow from childhood to adulthood that continues to impact children’s relationships and identity.

NFI:
In an age when 24 million children are growing up with an absent father, we need dads mentor kids in their sphere of influence who need a father figure in their life. NFI calls this being a Double Duty Dad. How can coaches fill that role for their athletes?

JE: Sports engage more individuals, families, and communities than any cultural activity, religion, or group. 20-30 million children play youth league sports and 10 million play interscholastic high school sports. 40 million children stand in front of the one of the most influential adults in their lives. Coaches have an unparalleled platform and position to formulate children’s self-worth and identity. When you have players who don’t have a dad, it’s an incredible opportunity to be an example of what it means to be a man. Coaches can teach what fatherhood is, what a dad looks like. Coaches have an opportunity to help kids make sense of their relationship with their dad. The challenge is that coaching has been reduced to win-at-all-costs mentality.

NFI: Who was the most important coach in your life and what character quality of his made the biggest impact on you?

JE: I played for coaches from age 10 to 36. I looked back and charted every coach I played for and graded them if they were transactional (transactional coaches use players’ athletic ability for their benefit) or if they were intentionally transformational in my life (transformational coaches change the arch of their player’s life – they understand that’s the responsibility that comes with the power of the whistle). The most influential coach in my life was my college lacrosse coach Roy Simmons Jr., a man of great empathy and compassion. He was an artist – he saw the aesthetics not only of sports but of life. Lacrosse was a Native American sport, so he taught us about Native American history and took us to art museums. He coached me in a way that I saw things in myself that I had never seen before. When I started thinking about my coaching philosophy, I knew I wanted to be outside of the traditional model so I looked back at him.

NFI: Describe the InsideOut Coaching Process/Program

JE: It’s based on attachment research. Attachment is the formation and maintenance of relationships. 40 years ago a psychoanalyst in Great Britain working with juvenile delinquents asked how some parents had the ability to enable their children to attach to them, or to relate to them, in a way that optimized their development, but some didn’t. The answer has to do with how a parent has processed their own story about themselves. It doesn’t matter how suboptimal or abusive your childhood was, if you make sense of it and integrate it, you are not destined to repeat it with your own children.

My wife and I decided if that’s true in the parent-child relationship, it has to be true in the player-coach relationship. The biggest predictor of a coach’s ability to allow his players to attach to him in an optimal way is if the coach has processed his own story and understood the role of his father and coaches in the formation of his self-concept and developmental need. Once a coach develops his own narratives and makes sense it, it creates an empathic response to his players.


The InsideOut process is building your own narrative by asking 4 questions. 1: Why do you coach? Is it about you or your players? 2) Why do you coach the way that you do? Is the way that you run practices and relationships with players repeating the way you were coached or are you trying to be transformational? 3) What does it feel like to be coached by you? What does it feel like to be a young person with all the pressures (psychological, social, sexual, parental, etc.)? What does it feel like to have you as a coach in the midst of all their developmental needs? 4) How do you define and measure success? Most coaches have none of these things written out or know how to think through it. These questions can only be answered with integrity from your own narrative and life history.


When I started coaching, I had a clear purpose statement about the intent - why I was coaching, what I wanted to accomplish in the lives of my players. I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good. Every practice, drill, and game are designed to help fulfill that purpose.

NFI: What motivates you to do what you do through Coach for America and your other initiatives, such as Building Men and Women for Others?

JE: I’m a product of the 1960s – I was in college during the convergence of the civil rights, women rights, human rights, and war on poverty movements. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a better venue to address these issues than sports. Sports are a metaphor for change. Secondly, I have my own narrative. I’m in touch with my own anger, abuse, and issues I’ve dealt with. I’m very empathic when I think about my own players. When my brother died, Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning was influential – he says that the greatest of all human freedoms is the ability to choose how you will make meaning out of your circumstances. I’ve taken the painful parts of my life and figured out how to make meaning out of it to help others. I’m making sure that at the end of my life, I will have been relationally successful and have left a mark to make the world a better place. For me that venue is sports and coaching.

NFI: Anything else you want to share with us?

JE: It is the moral responsibility of every citizen to step in when children have parents who can’t or won’t take care of them. That’s what NFI’s Double Duty Dad initiative is about – when you see children who are abandoned or needing, it ought to touch us. If there’s one problem in America, it’s an empathy deficit. That’s the result of the socialization process of men who are denied access to their feelings or emotions as they grow up. The three scariest words to a boy are “be a man” – we’re telling boys to disconnect their hearts from their heads. So when men become dads, they don’t have the empathy to connect with their kids, and that’s where the problems begin. We need to create empathy – humans are wired with empathy, it’s what separates humans from animals, but it needs to be nurtured.

Thanks to Joe Ehrmann for taking time to talk with us! Check out InSide Out Coaching by clicking here.

Out and About with Trees ...and Books?

This is a guest post by Ave Mulhern, NFI's Director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Capacity Building Initiative. She shares her memories of exploring the great outdoors with her dad as a child as part of NFI's campaign to help Dads "Get Out: Hit the Great Outdoors with Your Kids This Summer."

Being in the great outdoors was not a big part of my upbringing. I tend to be more comfortable in the great indoors.

That being said, I do remember some wonderful times being out and about with my father who had a love of books and trees. I am the sixth child of a family of eight. Five boys first, then three girls - I am the first girl. In a way, we were like two separate families. The wild, older boys were all car fanatics and they worked in my fathers business, a service station. When we girls came along, my dad was obviously an older, kinder and gentler version of a father. Don’t get me wrong, he was always a bit of a grump and in his later years, he was called (to his face) “Grumps.” This probably was due to a disappointing life for a bright and scholarly man on his way to becoming an attorney who ended up owning a service station fixing peoples cars. Life happens, but with this latter, gentler, girl family he was able to leave the grease behind, for a bit, and have an attentive audience of three to spend time with and share his love of learning - and we believed he knew just about everything.

My father Cornelius (aka Connie) was an avid reader. I can barely muster up a mental image of him not reading a book. He loved history books, business and real estate books, biographies, and nature books. In the summer, he literally took us to the library every single week – and if we didn't bicker in the car, we might get an ice cream at Chernoff’s Pharmacy. He took us to quirky old used bookstores and he owned a lot of books. One collection was the little Golden Field Guides - you know, those little pocket sized nature books titled Birds of North America, Rocks and Minerals, and SeaShells of North America? I suppose they have versions for other areas than North America? But the one I remember most is Trees of North America. I still have it around here somewhere.

Dad would drive to nearby Morris Arboretum armed with the little tree book and he would send us off to identify certain trees. I once successfully spotted a Beech tree based on his vivid description of how the enormous and magnificent branches grow out and down to touch the ground like a giant 70-foot-wide shrub - but underneath, those low branches create a sort of “house” or “fort” that you could play in. He reminded us that these trees must be planted with enough foresight to ensure the proper setting and enough room to mature into their magnificence. Dad drove us around town showing us where the township built the sidewalk around a 200-year-old oak tree preserving it for the future. We saw distinctive Horse Chestnut trees with spring flowers and fall conkers (nuts), the toxic but valuable Black Walnut trees, the beautiful star-shaped leaves of the Sweet Gum tree and the really wretched smelling fruit of the prehistoric female Gingko tree. (The male version doesn’t stink!)

To this day, there are two specimens of those magnificent beech trees, properly placed mind you, on the front lawn of a beautiful estate home nearby. I never pass by them without thinking fondly of my dad and our somewhat-outdoor adventures. My own children were not as interested as my sisters and I – but right now I am looking for that little Trees of North America field guidebook so I can take it with me to Wisconsin to share with our grandchildren. Hey, is Wisconsin considered North America?

Heroes for My Son

There is a great new father-son book out called Heroes for My Son, by best-selling thriller writer, Brad Meltzer.

Asked why he wrote the book, Brad shared this humorous and moving answer:
"It began the night my first son was born. I was stuck at a red light, and I remember looking up at the black sky and thinking of this baby boy we were just blessed with. That’s when I asked myself the question for the very first time: What kind of man did I want my son to be? ... at that moment, I decided that I wanted to write a book over the course of my son’s life-and then when I eventually gave it to him, he’d realize what a brilliant father I was. I’d assumed Norman Rockwell would of course be resurrected to paint the moment, because it would be that perfect.

But the book was just a list of silly platitudes -- until a friend of mine told me this story about the Wright Brothers: Every day Orville and Wilbur Wright went out to fly their plane, they would bring enough materials for multiple crashes. That way, when they crashed, they could rebuild the plane and try again. Think about it a moment: every time they went out-every time-they knew they were going to fail. But that’s what they did: Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild. And that’s why they finally took off.

... that’s the kind of story I wanted my son to hear: a story that wouldn’t lecture to him, but would show him that if he was determined…if he wasn’t afraid to fail…if he had persistence (and a side order of stubbornness), the impossible becomes possible.

Since that time, I’ve been collecting heroes for this book, which has been one of the most rewarding projects of my life."

NFI highly recommends this collection of stories about the people throughout history who can inspire your children to greatness in both the big things and the small things. It is perfect for bed-time reading, as each story is short, inspiring, and to the point.

We will be previewing one of the hero stories in next week's Dad Email. Click here to sign up for the Dad Email - it's free!

Buy Heroes for My Son here.

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