I Don’t Care if You’re Happy: An Open Letter to My Daughters

I once asked my mother why she married my father and her answer shockingly didn’t surprise me. Her marriage wasn’t based on a deep love affair but instead was a reaction to living under her father’s roof. She got married to get away from him

She explained that during her childhood my grandfather was a strict man. He was a “my way or the highway” type of guy. Not really someone you could have a conversation with. It seems that his controlling style is what pushed her to run away with whoever she could find despite her reservations, which she had when dating my father. 

This story is not uncommon and some of you may have been biting at the bit to get away from your prison you call a home. I can empathize. I couldn’t wait to move as far away as I could from Maui. You heard right even Maui can feel like a prison when you are under a heavy-handed parent or in my case grandparent. 

Before becoming a father I promised myself that I wouldn’t raise my children the same way. I’d be their best friend and do things that made them happy. By doing so I hoped to create an open dialogue that would allow issues such as dating, drugs and other hot topics to be discussed more openly. This was going to be edict. 

Fast forward five years later and I feel differently now. They don’t understand it now because I didn’t at their age, but when they get older I’d like for them to read this letter one day so they’ll know why I didn’t care if they were happy.

Dear Noweo, Leolani and Welina 

Whether you like it or not my role as your parent is to not only be your friend but your father. It’s inevitable that I’ve hurt your feelings and that there are certain things you can’t share with me. That’s okay and probably normal. You should have other people in your life besides me whom you can confide in. Individuals that hopefully have your best interest at heart. 

There are many reasons why you may be unhappy with me. For starters, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found me to be cheap. I wasn’t always like this but when your mother and I decided to be parents we didn’t wait till we were financially settled before having all of you. Sadly this resulted in us not being able to provide the financial goodies that you see some of your friends enjoy. This doesn’t mean we don’t love you we just weren’t able to provide those extra things in life and in the end, you’ll find it to be a blessing in disguise. You’ll learn that growing up with little means that when you receive things it’ll taste a lot sweeter and you won’t take it for granted. 

You’ll find that it’s easy to fall into the bad cycle of, “Keeping up with the Joneses”. As an adult, you’ll feel like you never have enough. You’ll watch as others seem to have bigger and better things. Don’t fall into this venus fly trap. You’ll find that living within your means doesn’t mean living without. Conversely, spending over your limit will lead to living with nothing sooner than you think. 

Now another reason you may be upset with me is probably because of something I’ve said while angry. I’m sorry. I know that one of my weaknesses as a human being is that I have a short fuse especially when I’m feeling stressed. I can assure you I’m doing my best to control it. Honestly, I’m more angry at myself when I have an outburst. You see I promised myself a long time ago that I would never be like my father. He had a short temper, which led to some nasty behavior. I never felt safe around him and because I was constantly disappointing him I hated living at home. This is a big reason why I moved in with my grandparents. Even though my grandfather was a tough man as well I spent a lot less time being psychologically abused. 

I hope by knowing a little of my upbringing, which I plan on sharing with all of you when you’re ready it will help you to understand me. This doesn’t mean my angry outburst is justifiable, but you need to know I’m trying and treating you better than I was. 

You will learn as you get older that you’ll do things as a parent that you told yourself you would never do. That’s normal so don’t beat yourself up over it. Parents make mistakes and they should because it’s important for kids to learn to accept that mistakes are a part of life. We are all imperfect but what is important is if we are striving to be perfect. If you are doing your best I believe your kids will forgive you for your frailty, which I hope you’ll forgive me for mine. 

Finally, you may be disappointed in me because being happy isn’t enough. I blame this on my education as a counseling psychologist. You see when you smile and tell me it’s okay I won’t always buy that answer. Nobody is okay all the time. That’s not possible, therefore, when you say, “okay” it’s a trigger word for me to keep asking questions. You may try to avoid them and you’ll probably yell at me to stay out of your business but know that they are coming from a place of love. 

You see when I grew up I was considered the “good child”. I got excellent grades. I never got into trouble and I always had a smile on my face. Nobody could ever see what was going on inside of me. They never knew how much I thought about committing suicide. 

Why would I want to harm myself? 

I hated my life. My father’s drug abuse was destroying my family financially and in every other way possible. I blamed myself for all of it and falsely believed I could do more to help. I could pray more. I could be a better kid. I thought God would save my family and that a Disney ending would happen for me. It didn’t and I felt like I deserved to die. 

Did anybody know this was going on in my young mind? No. Nobody really knew about the pain I was going through because when someone would ask me how I was doing I’d say, “okay.” This is why I don’t care if you’re happy. If you’re not happy please tell me. I don’t care if you hate me. Just tell me that you do. Don’t hold onto the notion that you have to be the good kid all the time. Adults aren’t so you don’t have to be. 

When I became a father to all of you I knew there is no one other then your mother that I would love more on this earth. Whether you liked it or not everything that I’ve done in raising you has been for your benefit. Does that mean I was always correct in my parental judgment? Of course not but my actions has always been done with the purpose of making your lives better. 

Love, 

Dad 

By Keola Birano

(Photo: Corbis Images)

This post originally appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.

For more from GMP Dads & Families

The Choices I Make As a Dad … and I Have No Idea If I’m Making a Mistake

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