Dear Jackson and Micah,

Sons, you’re both fast asleep in the bunk bed next door and I’m sitting here wrapped in the blue and gold Michigan blanket that Micah got in Traverse City this year. It’s early and even Wolfie isn’t awake yet. I need to tell you something that’s a little bit grown up but when I see you both with your long arms and legs and strong hearts, I know you’re ready.

You’re ready to learn some of the hard things. Some of the grown up things.

Jackson you’ll be in first grade this year – public school. I know you’ve asked me about “home school” and why we don’t do it and I could give you a long answer but the short version is that honestly honey, it’s just not my thing. And your teachers are SO much better at it than I would be. I’m happy to teach you all kinds of stories about South Africa and how to stalk a rhino and the best ways to make chocolate fudge. But a,b,c s would drive mommy around the bend and let’s face it, just having to help you with your math homework is going to be an extremely large challenge for me.

But boys, listen up. This one’s important. It’s not about the back pack you take with you to school or what kind of candy comes in the snack pack I send with you for lunch. It’s really about all those other kids you’re going to meet. And here’s the thing – lots of them won’t have dads.

I know that’s crazy for you to even imagine.

I know your dad comes home from work and before he’s even had a chance to take off his tie he’s wrestling you in bear claw crazy on the bed (that I just made and will have to make again).

But there are kids whose dads choose other things. They choose work or fast cars or new mommies instead of their kids.

I know you are starting to know this because of the talk we had on the way home from Vacation Bible School two weeks ago. Micah when I accidentally gave your toy away to Grace and you cried and cried – remember what I told you? Remember how I told you that Grace’s daddy climbed up on his motorcycle and rode away from her. And wouldn’t you rather have a daddy at home than a pair of plastic glasses that glow in the dark?

Daddies shouldn’t break as easily as a pair of dollar store glasses.

But boys, some daddies do. Some daddies break into bits and pieces of who they used to be and they never get put back together again right. And here’s the scary, wonderful part – both of you, my sons, will probably grow up to be daddies one day. And I’m going to do my best to teach you now what you might need to be a good daddy then.

Your dad and I are going to start now to make sure that one day you don’t run away from your kids.

We want you to know that God expects big things from boys and husbands and dads.

We want you to know that strong isn’t mostly about muscles. Strong is choosing to stay when things get really hard. Strong is cleaning up after yourself and then being willing to clean up after someone else. Strong is sometimes giving up what you want so that you can give someone you love what they want.

We want you to be the Jesus kind of strong.

We want you to learn to love so hard and so strong that when it really matters you’ve already got a lot of practice at putting other people first. Watch how daddy unloads the dishwasher every night and never forgets to take out the dog or the trash.

Watch how he stops what he’s doing to listen to you when you want to tell him about your Beyblade tournament.

And I know you know how loud and growly his voice can get when you disrespect me. He is the dad. His job is to protect his family. And that starts with the mom.

We will teach you to clean your rooms and clear the dishes not because of the pocket money you earn but because of the habits you learn.

We will read to you about all the heroes from The Action Bible and history and The Lord of the Rings who gave up their lives to save people. Some days it might feel like that when we make you give up video game time to give your baby brother a chance to watch Caillou. But sons, giving up what we want is often the best thing for us.

Let me be clear, if it teaches you to be the kind of men who won’t leave the mother of their gorgeous one-year-old son sitting alone in a coffee shop trying to figure out how to parent alone, we will teach it to you.

While you live in this house we will help you live lives of honor.

You have greatness buried in you, boys.

Your dad and I – we are determined to unearth it. We will be relentless and some days you will think us unfair. But we will not be moved. We will dig fingernails deep into the wet soil of your young selves and mold you from the inside.

Because we love you.

And we love the women you will love and the kids who will have your crooked smiles and beautiful DNA.

Starting now. This morning. As I hear you waking next door and calling daddy to come back from the front door for one last hug. Because he always does.