COLLEGE GROVE, Tenn. — When Jeff Atwood's daughter began her senior year of high school, he started texting her life advice every morning. That daily ritual turned into a book years later.
"When she got to the beginning of her senior year of high school, it caught me by surprise, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is sort of our last lap. Does she know what she needs to know?' I mean, it really was one of those things, where as a dad, you're like, I mean, 'This is—she's gonna go out into the world here and have I done my job as—my wife and I—have we done our jobs helping her?" recounted father of three daughters Jeff Atwood.
A very hands-on dad, he decided he would meet his 17-year-old daughter where she was.
"I decided, you know, that for her senior year of high school. I would just send her a text every morning of just something I thought she needed to know," explained Atwood. "Some of them are sweet and some I thought were pretty sturdy. And then you know, some are silly and that sort of thing. But it really was for me a chance to sort of say, 'these are the things that I need to make sure that you know. I'm your dad, you know, these are things that mom and I have talked to you about for 17 years, and I literally just have to put them in writing or in a text so that you know that these things are so important to us, and we hope that they're so important to you.'"
Atwood said during his daughter's senior year, he traveled a lot for his job.
"I thought 'Gosh, I gotta get up. You know, if I'm on the West Coast I gotta get up really early to send it to her before she goes to school,’ because it kind of became part of the rhythm of her senior year," explained Atwood.
Throughout that year, friends and family started hearing he was sending his daughter the texts.
"I would talk to my friends about it, 'You know what, man guys, this is it. This is our last go-round. You know, it doesn't matter if they're going off to school at a town or if they're gonna stay here and work or go to trade school or whatever. This, you know, even if they're still here, once they get that diploma, it changes and your role changes. And so, you know, I want to do all that I can to make sure that that stuff just sort of sits in her heart and in their mind.’"
He said other dads and parents kept asking him what he was sending in those messages and before long, he decided to write a book.
His book, "Need to Know for Graduates," which came out in Spring 2022 compiles his texts and even includes a page for the gift-giver to include their own words of wisdom for their graduate.
His daughter, McKenzie who received all her dad's texts her senior year said she remembers thinking, "It's a very Jeff thing to do. You know? It's a very on-brand thing."
She said they always had a close relationship and that year of messages was really further confirmation of that special bond.
"It made me really happy to just hear all these different pieces of advice and wonder whether the next one was going to be, you know? Some were serious career advice, or one of the fun ones that's like, ‘Can't go wrong with a chocolate chip cookie’ and I'm like, 'Yeah!' You never know what you're gonna get," recounted McKenzie with a smile. "My number one, though, and this is one that a lot of my friends know is ‘just show up.’ And ‘opportunity follows availability.’"
However, she said it is the very first page that is the most important.
"‘You are loved always forever no matter what. Everything else you need to know is secondary to knowing that you are loved.' Because that is just like a great, like an important place to start," explained McKenzie. "All of the advice and everything all of that comes from love. So I think that I've always enjoyed that that's the first one. It sets the tone and explains why the rest of the book exists."
Now the father of a 25, 24 and 23-year-old girl, Atwood said he hopes other parents do not feel they need to send a daily text but encouraged them to think about how they speak to their children in their youth and adulthood.
"You have to communicate with people the way they're used to being communicated to," he explained. "And so whatever is the rhythm and your family is. If the rhythm in your family is texting, do that. If the rhythm and your family is writing something on a whiteboard, if it's calling, if it's, I don't know, the carrier pigeons or hieroglyphics or whatever it is that your family does to communicate, do it and you have to do it frequently."
He explained through his experience as a father of three and his professional work, he learned it is not as much about how you do it, it is that you reach each child and know it is never too late.
"They have to know that you love them unconditionally. So be so intentional about it. Sit down with them, look them in the eye and say, 'I love you. And it's not because of what you do, or your grades or what you do in sports. I love you. I'm your dad and I love you.' And just be that intentional about it," Atwood said.
To read more about or buy Atwood's book, you will find details on his website.
This story was first reported by Claire Kopsky at WTVF in Nashville, Tenn.