Harlan: Girls, here’s some advice for the future

Recently, as my oldest daughter and I were returning home from her tennis lesson, she asked me quite plainly, “Daddy, what are your goals?”

A strange, but profound, question from an 8-year-old.

In the surprise of the moment, I responded that I want her and her younger sister to grow up to be kind and generous people. Simple, direct and honest.

OK, maybe I punted a bit with that answer. As a parent, I also want my children to be thoughtful and collaborative, confident and empathetic, proud and giving.

As my oldest daughter’s first birthday approached, I had this grand idea of writing her an annual letter describing what I wished for her in the upcoming year. I envisioned sitting down at my desk, nursing a tumbler of bourbon while I contemplated the wisdom I would dispense. These would be the words, memorialized in my handwriting, which would help guide her in later years.

My best intentions of creating something special, personal and lasting remained just that, intentions. With another daughter in tow, I’ve jotted a few notes to myself over the years about what I believe is important.

So on this Father’s Day, I figured I’d make up for lost time and offer a few words of wisdom to my girls.

Be curious. I marvel at what my kids pick up, listening to their friends, parents, teachers, coaches or even watching TV. Observation may be a learned skill, but taking that knowledge and applying it to different contexts can be magical. While knowing a lot of information may be useful, I place a premium on imagination. Don’t stop asking why, how, or what if.

Be humble. I respect determination, not obstinacy. I know how difficult it is to ask for help (just ask my wife), but I end up making better decisions when I solicit assistance and opinions from people with different perspectives. Humility requires an open mind, respect for others and quiet regard for process. Results are important, but not at the expense of alienating and marginalizing people in the process.

Be your own best advocate. Early in my career, I was passed over for a promotion because my boss didn’t know I wanted the position. I assumed that, based on my consistently lauded performance, respect of my coworkers, and excellent relationship with my supervisor, I would be the first choice. But I didn’t directly express my interest in the job, and never made my case. The only way others really know what you think, and what you want, is by expressing it. But do so thoughtfully and deliberately.

Be courageous. Sometimes courage may be as simple as trying something new, and other times it may be more daunting, like sacrificing personal gain for the betterment of a larger group. It’s OK to question authority, push boundaries, and take a stand for what you believe. Act justly and with principle.

Be kind and generous. This one bears repeating. There’s a certain vulnerability that comes with being kind. Making that initial effort, putting yourself out there to be rejected or embraced, is a risk worth taking. More than what you actually accomplish or say, people will remember how you made them feel.

As for generosity, I’m always reminded of Anne Frank’s aphorism, “No one ever became poor by giving.” Give your time, give your support, give your love. Unconditionally.

I can’t say that I’ve lived by these words consistently, or that they’re a prescription for happiness. But I know that every so often it’s good to reflect on what’s important in your life. Thankfully, my daughters provide me with moments every day where I can guide them, and, much to my delight, they always teach me something new.

To all fathers, enjoy your special day.

JEFFREY HARLAN is an urban planner who lives on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.