Posts tagged JFK

Letters that transform

Letters that transformI have several handwritten cards saved from as far back as when I was a boy. They’re heavy stock 3-by-5 cards with the initials JFK at the top. These notes are golden … treasured. I loved getting them and I saved them to read again. I still read them. They assured me I was significant, I was valued, I was loved.

No, they didn’t come from the president, but someone much more important to me. The writer of these notes was a congressman, an athlete, my dad – Jack French Kemp.

When I was a boy I’d find these notes on my pillow or in my spot at the table. My dad continued to send them well into my adulthood. I valued those notes not for what they said about him, but what they said about me. He loved me. He believed in me. He was proud of me. He encouraged me.

Dad was a busy man who traveled too much, perhaps. But even in his absence he communicated love, and he took the time to leave it in ink on paper.

Most of us get too busy to write down in notes and letters our love and admiration for our parents, our wives, our children, or our grandchildren. But when we take the time to write them, our letters of love change the lives of our loved ones because they put to words what often goes unspoken — how much they mean to us. Children, especially, are desperate to know what their parents really think of them.

In case you think I’m overplaying the significance of these kinds of notes, it’s happening this year in the lives of single parents and their sons on a Los Angeles high school football team.

It all began when a 32-year-old coach asked the parents of all his players to write a letter of affirmation and love to their sons. Masaki Matsumoto had actually picked up the powerful idea from a coach near Seattle, but it resonated with him. Having been raised by his mom, Masaki knew how stretched single parents are. He also knew how hungry teenagers are to know how much their parents love them.

Coach Matsumoto asked the parents to get these special letters to him by the beginning of the practice season.

When 45 varsity football players arrived at the school’s gymnasium in July, they anticipated performing conditioning exercises. Instead, each was handed an envelope and told to find a quiet spot where he could read what was inside and reflect. What happened next took everyone by surprise. For the next 15 minutes or so, wherever Matsumoto looked he saw players sobbing — against walls, in corners, bent over in chairs.

The letters built connection. They brought everyone together as family.


I love stories like this because every one of us can replicate it. Not the football team part of it, but the letters are a gift we can give to our children, our grandchildren, even to our parents.

I’ve gotten letters like this from my dad … and I’ve written them to my sons. My wife has prompted my sons to write them to me for a special occasion and I’ve challenged them to do the same for her.

Whether you are the President or a congressman, a high school coach, a parent or a grandparent … I challenge you to schedule time this week to write a letter to a child or grandchild. Put yourself in their shoes and tell them what they want and need to hear.

Start by drafting a bullet point list of their positive character traits. Build on it by affirming their talents and dreams. Declare your love and pride in them. Apologize for your shortcomings.

Write those letters that transform — that will unleash your love and confidence. They may be the words that change a relationship.

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