Published on December 8th, 2016 | by Zach Ellis


DEAR VIVIAN: Zach Ellis Pens a Letter to His Daughter in RAD FAMILIES

I’ve had to learn a thing or two on my own about how to be in this world. I don’t want to parent you like I was parented. I want you to have the things I never had (self-esteem and confidence, for example). I used to wish for a guidebook that would tell me how to act in certain situations or how to deal with unfamiliar things. I hope that I can be that guidebook for you to share some of the important things I desperately needed my mom and dad to tell me when I was growing up. I hope it helps you if you ever need it.


1) 7–11 is not a restaurant. I don’t care how much allowance you have saved, you are not allowed to count a Slurpee and a bag of Doritos as dinner. Blueberry Slurpees do not count as a serving of fruit, and the orange stuff on Nacho Cheese Doritos is not actually cheese and therefore does not count as a protein. Anything in a box with the word “Helper” tacked on is also not dinner. If you need a helper to make you dinner, you let me know and I will gladly help you.

2) I wanted to raise you as an indoor child. It’s true. I didn’t want the world to hurt you. Forgive me if I hover too closely at the park when you’re climbing on the play structures or utter the phrase “Is that safe?” once too often.


“Colorful Language” by Vicky TH / Flickr Creative Commons License

3) There will probably be a time, or four or five, when I embar­rass you. I’d like to think it might be because I know the lyrics to so many musicals or because I still can’t remember if it’s Snow White or Sleeping Beauty that eats the poison apple, and have to ask you why Sleeping Beauty has three names anyway. I worry a lot that what will embarrass you most about me is that, like you, I used to be a little girl. I know that having a dad who understands “that time of the month” is probably not something that you would have chosen. If and when you become embarrassed by me because I am transgender, I want you to know that I will understand. I know how it feels to want normal. I might not be able to teach you about princess­es or fairies, but I can teach you how to be brave. There will be times when you have to stand up for yourself, when you have to make choices that you know other people might not understand or agree with, but you have to act because your heart and soul and guts tell you to. I hope that when those times come, you will remember to call me and I will tell you about bravery and remind you that no matter what, your life and happiness are worth standing up for.

4) Just because I understand “that time of the month” all too well, don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about Midol or cramps. I would freak out if my father had done that to me, regardless of his biological origins.

5) There is no rush to be an adult. You only have one childhood. There will be plenty of time for schedules and anxiety. This is the time to play with your toys. To be fascinated instead of embarrassed. To be excited about anything that’s new. The words “hip” and “cool” should only refer to body parts and temperature at your age. Like whatever the hell you want to like, even if it’s Disney princesses. You’re allowed.


“Memories of Summer” by Alison Benbow / Flickr Creative Commons License

6) I go to AA meetings because I have a strong suspicion that I would completely suck as a father if I were drinking. That said, if I ever have to take you to an AA meeting, I promise not to make you memorize the slogans hanging on the wall. I will get you as many cups of hot chocolate as you need (one), and if there’s a cake to celebrate someone’s sobriety anniver­sary, I will always share my piece with you.

7) I have dreams that include traveling to England someday. I enjoy opera, though I don’t always understand what’s being said. I like Masterpiece Theatre, doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, using a bookmark rather than dog earring a book, and I happen to know a shocking amount about a group of women referred to as “The Real Housewives.” I promise not to push any of my interests on you. There will be a time in your life when you might not have a clue why I enjoy the things I do, and I will equally scratch my head at whatever interests you. That’s just part of what parents and kids do. I loved KISS when I was young (I’ll explain them to you another time) and I’m sure my parents did not under­stand why I wanted to paint my face like a cat when I was learning to play the drums.

8) Love your body despite what the world might say. Your value has nothing to do with the shape or size of your body. Value has to do with the heart and the mind, and kindness and love. You are perfect from head to toe.


It’s all good. Photo by Hina Ichigo / Flickr Creative Commons

9) I have loved you from the moment I knew you existed. I couldn’t speak for almost fifteen minutes after you were born. You should know by now that for me to be silent that long is pretty unusual. I was silent because from the first sec­ond I saw you, I couldn’t believe that I would get to be your dad. There were no words to equal the joy I felt when those big brown eyes of yours looked at me. Please try and remem­ber, when you’re a teenager and feeling like a misfit or feeling unloved for whatever reason, that no matter what, you were wanted and hoped for, and I am so grateful for you.

10) Ask me anything without fear. I won’t leave. If I do, it’s prob­ably just to go to the next room to find a book that might have the answer if I don’t.

11) Princesses can fall in love with other princesses and have just as good a time at the ball.


Reprinted, with permission, from Rad Families: A Celebration, edited by Tomas Moniz.

“Rad Dads, Rad Families, Rad Children. These stories show us that we are not alone. That we don’t have all the answers. That we are all learning. I’ve never been a parent before. Here are stories to learn from. Here are the stories that I need.” – Nikki McClure, illustrator, author, parent

“I love this book! Wonderfully written, tenderly honest, unabashedly hilarious, deeply important stories from the messy beautiful world of real-life parenting. Thank goodness it exists.” – Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave (and founder of MUTHA!)

It’s RAD FAMILIES WEEK at MUTHA! We’ll be running other excerpts from the collection this week—so stay tuned and you can check out our interview with Tomas Moniz.

Read on, then head to your local indie store or ask your local library to order it….. OR you could also win a copy! How? It’s our first ever MUTHA giveaway contest (woo)!

Get on it: 1) follow MUTHA on twitter/Facebook, and then 2) tell us quick why your family is one of the #radfamilies, too, or why you’re starting parenting with that goal in mind, and be sure to 3) use that hashtag (#radfamilies) to (help promote indie publishing!), and to tag MUTHA. I WILL FIND YOU, then I’ll put you on the list from which a random selection will be be sent a gratis copy. Bonus points if you’re a new follower. Love and STAY RAD – Meg Lemke

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About the Author

Zach Ellis writes lives in Portland, Oregon and writes creative nonfiction. He is the dad of two eight year-old girls, which keeps him very busy and provides endless story material.  He is the author of “Being,” a memoir published by Instant Future. His work has appeared in Rad Dad, The Gravity of the Thing, The Nervous Breakdown, Nailed, as well as the new anthology “Rad Familes: A Celebration,” published by PM Press.

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