With Father’s Day upon us, I’m inspired to share a bit of tragedy and a bit of grief. And maybe, a bit of wisdom.

Last night I started reading Small Fry, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the daughter of infamous Apple guru Steve Jobs. She begins her memoir three months before his death, taking items from her father’s house, slipping small things like toothpaste, nail polish, and pillowcases into her purse.

Then, she explains. Before she had a sense of right and wrong, her father denied her as his daughter. At two years old she took a DNA test, and scoring the highest percentage at the time, 94.4%, he still rebuked the fact that he was her father.

Years later, taking things from his house sated her. At the time of his death, his net worth had been recorded at around 10.2 billion dollars.

I have yet to read beyond the first chapter, but the reader is left eager to learn her story, the untold truth of a girl made to feel insignificant by the man whose role as a father was supposed to empower her.

I’m a Lisa. I know the tragedy of a father who could not be happy with daughters. I heard the insults, diminishing me to the ways that boys were better-equipped for conflict, for ‘getting over’ it, and why couldn’t I be grateful for what I had. But girls are not boys, and as soon as the expectations are made for girls to behave like them, the shame begins.

I know now that the wounded are the ones who wound. The ways my father had been abandoned by his own father were left unhealed, probably unacknowledged, probably diminished. And given to me.

Everyone owns the right to access or deny their pain. It is a choice of self-awareness, of compassion, of curiosity, and ultimately, of expression, to address the wounds that fester beneath the surface. We have two options: to confront them or to pass them on to our children.

As a girl, my father was young, girded with fear and the expectation to remain stoic. This didn’t work. The societal pressure for boys to turn down their emotions has a fallout, but we don’t have to adhere to the norms. We can be brave, stand in solidarity with our truth, and practice self-love. And when we accept our own story based on the principles of love over shame, we empower the vulnerable inner child who lost an identity to fear.

Daughter #1 is graduating high school on Saturday. What a journey! For fun, I’m copying an experimental blog post I wrote when I was a newbie writer, five years ago, after my daughter turned thirteen. I plan on giving this to her for a graduation gift, something she can take with her and keep forever–because, we always need a Mom. Enjoy!

Dear Teen Daughter,

(I’m not posting your picture because I know you’d be angry that I shared it with every human, entity, and crumb that composes the Milky Way galaxy. (Especially because every single one of them reads my blog.) And just so you know, you DON’T look stupid.)

I’m writing you a list of the ten eleven most important things I want you to stow in the depths of your DNA, because in a matter of years you won’t be one amongst four who love you with all their hearts, but one amongst millions billions who don’t give a crap about your heart.

1. So why don’t we start with heartbreak? It will kill, crush, and pulverize you. You’ll cry yourself drier than the Sahara, road trips with Dad so we don’t have to stop and pee, and then some more. Give yourself time to weep, but then move on. Immerse yourself in something new (like pickle making) and get back into life. Give those pickles to a new, cuter, smarter guy.

2. You are smart. Remember that. Even when you stick your foot in your mouth, the whole world won’t think you’re stupid. They’ll think you’re human. But as I say, just because we’re smart, it doesn’t mean we don’t do stupid things.

3. Be human: care about everyone. I mean care about EVERYONE. From the Donald Trumps to the Donald Ducks, the homeless and the toothless, the hut dwellers and the tent aboders. They’re human and have the same emotional and physical needs that you do.

4. Don’t ask permission. Ex. Don’t ask, “Can I go to the mall?”, rather say those same words in a statement: “To the mall I can go.” If you give the world the option to say no, they will.

5.  Protect your assets. Yes, I meant to say that. This includes your body, your brain, your spirit, and your integrity. DO NOT allow criticism, including your own, to break down your guard.

6. Aim high. Not the weed kind of high, the expectations kind of high, with guys, school, work, friends, and happiness. You’re worth it.

7. Be creative. Creativity solves problems. Unless it’s me sewing. That actually creates problems. Whatever your version of my sewing is, just avoid it.

Gator only loves you when you play!

8. Love animals. A person’s capacity to care for humans can be determined by how they treat animals. Eating certain animals doesn’t count in this. Just look at poor toothless Gator. He loves you so much.

9. Be good at finding things. Females are generally the ones who have to find everything, including finding something good in a person everyone hates. Remember how you found your sister’s tooth for the tooth fairy in the garbage can with spaghetti all over? Keep doing that.

10. Travel the world. It’s a big, big place and you’re likely to get lost, especially when you need to use a bathroom really, really badly. The more you travel, the more you’ll know your place in the world. It just might be a place with a bidet.

11. Love nature. Trees are really great at helping people think, at least for me. Remember how you wore your skateboard helmet at the Bison Range because you were scared terrified mortified of mountain lions? Do what you have to do to enjoy nature. She is a curer of every ill.

Sophie and Aileen, Ages 7 and 9

(OK, I know I said I wouldn’t put up your picture, but this was years ago and you’re both so cute. Sophie looks devious with her deadly blade of grass.)

Love, Mom

As a French student in Paris, my top priority was to visit the Eiffel Tower. After arriving on train from Charles de Gaulle, I left the Gare du Nord with a backpack of belongings for the semester. Loaded with books, adrenaline, fatigue, and culture shock, I walked and walked toward the steel sculpture that loomed above the rooftops.

The sun was out, and sweat ringed my underarms. I was hungry. People scurried in and out of doors, across streets, and in front of cars. Everything was foreign. I lumbered. I slumped. I continued.

The steel frame appeared larger, but not closer. The sun eventually lowered behind tall buildings. I still hadn’t eaten. I was exhausted. Sirens wailed.

How small I felt when I could no longer walk on aching feet. How small I felt when I heaved off my backpack in the Métro, relieved to sit, disappointed to admit it. How humiliating to recognize the scale of my dream in proportion to my own size.

Scale is a filter that denies our truth. How often do we diminish the hard things, the things that wear us down, corrode us? How would it feel to unload the burden? Maybe we’re afraid to admit weakness. Maybe, because we’re human, we’re afraid of comfort.

Pain aligned to worth is not worth. Pain aligned to love is not love. With self-dignity as our destination, the balance shifts from worthless to worthy, from unlovable to loved. If we are weary, we must remember how largely important and lovable we are.

Paris, France

My yoga instructor once said, “I used to be perfect, but life wasn’t very fun.”

I love being in my 40’s because it allows me freedom from the pressure of impossible demands. I missed the past two weeks of blog posts, because, well, I’m not perfect!

Earlier this month, I found myself in the middle of a creative swell, and I spent a lot of time diving deep into the creative work of writing my memoir. It was time well spent because now I’ve reached another tier on the writing mountain, gaining the vision to see it from a new vantage.

Letting go of my self-imposed blog schedule gave me the freedom to reach further toward my life goal of finishing a book. Not that I’m close, but I’m closer.

Guilt holds us back. When we let go of perfection, we let go of the guilt that pressures us to meet small demands, making our large aspirations that much more daunting. But when we let the small demands be insignificant, we free ourselves to attend the priorities that give life meaning.

Everything and everybody in life is a ripple on the lake of our being. I know now to prioritize the inner ripples, to keep myself surrounded by the hearts and souls that lift me instead of pouring their burdens on me, the outlets that inspire instead of drain, and to climb the mountains that celebrate instead of coerce.

I’ve created good writing the past two days, shirking off exercise and other balancing activities that make me a mostly well-rounded individual.

Creativity requires stepping away from the world to dive deep into the needs of the project. Much like a newborn baby, art demands its needs without a language.

It isn’t until you’ve spent hours and hours agonizing over the possibilities that you begin to understand a project’s needs. Sometimes, the writing wants a detail, the color red to call attention to this spot here, or action, an explosive shift in the plot’s direction there.

I know the struggle and joy of being pulled toward my writing. When we burrow into art, we burrow into servitude. The ebb and flow of creative work requires strong communion with our state of being, opening ourselves to a place of potential and possibility, trusting that we’ve created a sacred harbor for self-expression, no matter how limited in time and space, within our immediate world.

Building the sacred harbor takes courage. You might have to push people away, people who bring toxic and negative energies that deplete you. On the other hand, that space will soon be filled with support and respect for the art that only you can make. Giving ourselves permission to feed creative impulses becomes not just a want, but a need, to engage in communion with our emotional and spiritual landscapes. Often, we are afraid to admit these needs, or, we don’t know how, because we haven’t learned the language.

The art will speak for you. I was forty-two when I began to write. When I allowed my voice to fall onto the page, my world transformed from fear to courage, hate to love, shame to pride. It’s never too late to reinvent a lifestyle based on art or to adopt a new way of living in service of your needs. It only takes courage to try.