A letter to my daughter

I’m posting this letter as part of Rachel Held Evans’ “Week of Mutuality,” a weeklong discussion of the egalitarian view of gender — which happens to be the view I now hold after several years of, well, not seeing it this way. Credit for some of the inspiration goes to Micky DeWitt for her excellent post, “Fathers and Daughters.”  


Dear Elizabeth Lacey,

You are just over 21 months old, and you are overflowing with life and vitality. You’re just beginning to assert your independence — which is why your rain boots so often end up on the wrong feet, but heck if you don’t get them on anyway. (It’s also why you currently don’t want to hold my hand when crossing the street, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Your personality is starting to flourish, and can I just say… I love who you are becoming. From chasing the dog around the living room to enthusiastically greeting everyone who walks by — which, let’s face it, is a trait you probably got from your mother.

You won’t get to read this for several years, but a day will come when you and I will sit down, pull up this old blog (assuming they haven’t replaced the Internet with something else by then), and read.

For there will come a time, I’m sorry to say, when you’ll meet certain people who will try to steal your sense of boundless opportunity.

They will tell you that some roles in life aren’t for you, simply because you’re a woman. That your gender means you have to take a backseat. That you are forever consigned to be in the audience and not on the stage. Always a follower and never a leader.

They will tell you this is so because God — the same God we read about at bedtime — made it so. They will tell you that God made you inferior, subordinate, second-class.

Not that they’ll use these words. (Well, they might use “subordinate.”) Instead, they’ll talk about “complementarity” and “submission.” But what they really mean is, your path to God runs through a man.

No matter how much you have to share, no matter how much wisdom and natural leadership God gives you, they will politely insist that you can never serve in a position of authority over men. You can never be the one who points others to God because, well, that’s a man’s job. Or so they will say.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I want you to hear it from me before you hear it from them. Because there’s something else you need to know:

They are wrong.

They’re the ones, not God, insisting on a world where only men can lead.

Pay no attention to them.

Remember, you are a daughter of Eve, who was created from Adam’s side, not his feet. True, Eve was Adam’s “helper,” but then again — all great leaders are those who serve others. Maybe that’s why the Bible uses the exact same word to describe God. (And I’m pretty sure no one ever tried to tell God he could only go so far in life.)

Our faith wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for women like Ruth, Deborah, Huldah, Esther, Mary, Anna, Priscilla. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for women who followed Jesus to the end — who consistently showed more faith and courage than Jesus’ male disciples. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for women who led house churches and became apostles.

Our faith wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for women who witnessed the resurrection first — and told the men (who were busy hiding in fear) what had happened. Women were apostles to the apostles.

So when certain men try to tell you there are certain things you can’t do because of your gender, don’t listen to them. They may mean well, but they’ve forgotten that God is in the business of overturning manmade hierarchies and power structures. They’ve forgotten that our God is one who gives away power — and he’s invited us to follow his lead.

I’m not going to tell you that you can do anything you want simply because you want to do it. There’s more to it than that. After all, lots of little girls dream of becoming the first female president.

You see, each of us has different gifts. Each of us is made for different opportunities. Time will tell what your unique gifts and opportunities are.

But know this: your gender is not what determines them. There is nothing in this world that is off-limits to you because you’re a woman. “Male and female” simply doesn’t count when it comes to membership, service, and leadership in the kingdom of God.

Whatever may come, I will always cheer you on as you embrace your unique gifts.


Dad (otherwise known as “Dada” and, on occasion,”not Mama”)

16 thoughts on “A letter to my daughter

  1. This made me cry, Ben. Beautiful. “They are wrong. Pay no attention to them.” A beautiful affirmation that many women needed to hear from their own fathers. You are doing good work here.


  2. Ben, as a now single father of a little girl not so much older than yours, and as I spend much time worrying how I will bring her up to be strong and independent and Godly, I LOOOOOVE this letter. As I read it and envisioned my own daughter’s potential and the struggles she’ll likely face against people who mean well and those that don’t, I pray for wisdom on how to bring her up to see herself as God created her to be, not as the world would have her see herself.

    And yes, like Sarah, I actually cried reading this. Someone must be cutting onions somewhere nearby…


  3. Beautiful…I ache for my daughters to believe this in their bones. I fight to believe it in my life so they will know. She is so blessed to have a father who knows it, she will do great things.


  4. In elementary school I was so put out by all of the girls who said, “I want to be a third grade (or whatever grade we were in) teacher, just like you!” Well, not me. My intention was to be the president. Thanks for showing more than just your daughter how to dream big!


  5. This is beautiful, thanks for sharing it.
    My dad tried to tell me the same thing when I was younger, but I listened to the wrong people and am just now finding out he was right all along.


  6. Discovered this post through the 29 Things the Poor Really Do post on Huffington. Love this post. I hope I gave this attitude to my daughters. Will be sharing this post and now following your blog.


  7. Pingback: We need feminism because my daughter thinks most TV shows are for boys | Ben Irwin

  8. Pingback: Where are all the women? What my bookshelf says about the lingering effect of patriarchy | Ben Irwin

  9. Ben–Your list of women writers led me to this lovely, thoughtful post. I hope your daughter finds a world much more open to ALL of her gifts as she grows.

    I’ve stolen your book list and saved it to my computer; several of those books are on my shelves, waiting…and my commitment thsi year is to read all those waiting books. Boy, I hate to do this, but may I suggest one more writer? Nora Gallagher’s exploration of her vocation in Things Seen and Unseen was a really moving and enlightening story of a woman who feels called…

    I look forward to your thoughts as you read through your list; I hope you’ll keep us updated.




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