Justin Ricklefs


What Will the Next 15 Years Bring?

Our oldest daughter turns 15 today. I’ll let that soak in (for me) for a minute…


I’ll never forget, leaving the hospital on a cold, rainy January afternoon in 2004. In many ways, it feels like yesterday. In so many others, it feels like an eternity ago.

We had this maroon Mitsubishi Montero Sport. We bought it at an auto auction, and when we made basically zero dollars a year, we were super proud of that car.

It was certainly an upgrade over the 1993 Chevy Blazer we drove away in on the night of our wedding just a little over one year earlier.

One year and four days to be exact.

That was the distance between wedding day and baby day. We were still babies ourselves, I’m not even positive if I had to shave once a week at that point.

We were both 23. With a Montero. And now a baby.

As we headed back to our little ranch home in Columbia that afternoon, to a house full of new, proud grandparents, we stopped for gas.

We looked in the backseat, you know, to check on her. Make sure she was still breathing. Make sure she didn’t poop already. I don’t know, just to make sure she hadn’t gone anywhere I guess.

There was no nurse, no doctor, no machinery, no “don’t shake your child” videos.

Just a kid. In our backseat.

Our kid.

It’s really mind-blowing when you stop and think about it. Especially for your first child.

You roll in, excited but overwhelmed. Anxious and happy. Fearful yet hopeful.

And a few days later, you roll out with a human that will call you mom or dad until the day one of you dies.

A relationship that regardless of the choices made from that point forward, can’t ever be untrue.

Always a son or daughter. Always their mom or dad.

These last 15 years have told so many stories. At one point, I would have put a pretty bow on them and told you all the things you other dads out there should know about raising girls.

But the truth is maybe that was a cover-up for not knowing how the hell to raise my own.

Maybe I still don’t.

Sure, there are classes and books and friends and well-intentioned family and so many other sources of wisdom. But like everything in life, you can really only know it by experiencing it.

You can only grow by going through it. You can only love by being in it.

If 15 year later version of me could have a beer with 15 year ago version of me as it relates to raising a little girl, I think I’d tell him something along these lines:

  • Lighten Up – all the little things you’re so wound up about really won’t matter. She can miss a nap or two and she won’t die. If someone holds her and she cries about it, she’ll be OK. Her diet doesn’t have to be all-natural, homemade, organic and perfect.
  • You’re Not in Control – you want so badly to control her environment and her life, you even feel like you do control it, but you don’t. You’re not in control. And that’s OK.
  • Ask Her How She Feels – it will be hard as a dad to stay engaged in her life. She’ll start to move towards other things and drift from you. Not because she doesn’t like you, just because she’s growing up. One thing that will allow you to reconnect is if you ask her how she feels. And don’t try to fix whatever she says, just keep listening to her feelings.
  • Own Your Shit – you’re going to make some huge messes, probably bigger than you ever imagined. You’ll lose your temper, say awful things, make terrible financial decisions, go through dark seasons in your own life and hit the rocks. Own it with her. Don’t minimize it. Tell her you’re sorry. Don’t pretend she doesn’t see it or feel it. It impacts her too.
  • Find Something She Loves, Not What You Want Her to Love – firstborns seem to want to please, especially you dad. She wants to be with you, she wants to make you happy. But don’t confuse her desire to be near you with what she really loves and wants to do. Find out what she loves, not just what you want her to love. The difference is huge and it’s nearly impossible to figure out.
  • Celebrate Her – it’s your first time, so you have all these weird expectations about how it will go, most of them deep in your subconscious. She’ll do things that will blow you away and make you proud, then things that will make you scratch your head and want to throw in the towel. She’s not a project, she’s a human. So celebrate her, right where she’s at.
  • Invest Your Money in Experience – when she’s 15, she’ll look back at pictures not Christmas presents. She’ll talk about trips not toys. See things with her. Go places together. Spend your money on experiences. Stuff gets tossed aside pretty quickly.
  • Love Her Mom – at times, marriage will feel easy and full of love. Other times, it will feel like the Cold War. But she’s watching. And probably listening. How you treat her mom will give her an indication of what she wants in a boyfriend or husband someday. Or scarier, what she DOESN’T want.
  • Love the Hell Out of Her – you’ll fail (and succeed) at so much. But never let her go to bed not knowing where she stands with you. That you love her. Not for the things she does or the friends she has or the sports she plays or the things she said or the way she acted. But just because she’s yours and you love her.
  • Save a Few Bucks for Therapy – life is hard. And unless you want to tell her to pretend it’s not, she’s going to see things in your home and in her own life that she’ll need to deal with. Send her to therapy, it’s not bad. It’s really good actually. And it’s money well spent.
  • You Won’t Be Perfect But You’ll Be There – it will be unavoidable at times but put her big things on your calendar in Sharpie and don’t miss them. You won’t be perfect but be there as much as you can.
  • It’s Insanely Fast and Insanely Rich – you won’t believe it when she’s in the backseat of the Montero. Or in your lap in the rocking chair. Or climbing into your bed when she’s scared. Or holding the first day of kindergarten sign. Or she’s a touch short to ride the roller coaster. Or playing her first game. Or singing her first solo. Or touching the ocean the first time. Or having her first sleep over. Or getting her braces. Or putting on her first Homecoming dress. Or getting her letter jacket. Or the million other things that you’ll experience but never be able to recall again. Because it flies by. And I know how old I sound, and I know how much you won’t believe it because it feels like time is standing still right now because it’s so new and so hard. But it’s not. She’ll be three years away from college before you know it. And you won’t know how it happened. But it’s better than anything you could have ever imagined. You just can’t go back to slow it down.

The list could go on and on. We’d probably have to have a few beers to cover it all. We’d ask God to help us because he loves her far better and far more. We’d maybe cry. We’d surely laugh. We’d remind each other of things we didn’t discuss. We’d look at each other in disbelief. And wonder. And gratefulness.

And I’m sure in 15 more years I’ll tell him something entirely different. Like maybe how to handle driving and hard friendships and graduation and college and job interviews and heartbreak and marriage and kids and death of ones she loves.

But even at 30, she’ll be his little girl, his baby actually. And he’ll be her daddy.

Even if he’s not driving the Montero still.

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