Ask Your Father

Why I Am Teaching My Kids What It Means To Fail

"[...] just because you don’t get it right the first, or second, or millionth time, doesn’t mean you should stop."

We live in a rural Oregon town about 45 minutes from the closest large bookstore. I packed my two girls in the van and drove there to buy a copy of my new book I'm Sorry... Love, Your Husband on release day. We were half way when Norah, my 8-year-old, asked why we were driving "forever and ever" to buy a copy of my own book. "You have like, a whole box of them at home" she said. Then she gave me an epic eye roll. And sure, she was right. I did have a box of my book at home that the publisher sent me a few days earlier. But that wasn't the point. This wasn't a trip to buy something I needed; it was to experience something I'd worked very hard for. But I didn't really know how to explain that to her, so I paused for a moment. I collected my thoughts as she sat in a car seat, leg in rainbow tights bouncing, arms folded across her "I Love To Dance" T-shirt, and waiting for an answer.

Finally I told her that for years I've gone to bookstores and imagined seeing my own book there, and buying a copy. (I don't know if all authors do this, but it's something I've always wanted to do.)

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“I’ve never been able to do it, so it’s kind of a big thing for me,” I said.

She asked why again.

So I told her about all the people who told me, "No." Hundreds (perhaps even thousands by now) of editors, agents, and publishers. But I kept trying. For years and years I kept trying. I told her how I'd gotten up before the sun almost every day for close to 10 years to write. How I'd been writing for two hours a day every day during that time. I told her how I studied writing in college. I told her how I'd waited a very long time for this moment, and during that time I wasn't really sure if it would ever happen.

She laughed and said, "You're crazy, Dad. I'd have done something else." I could see her in the rear view mirror, her brown eyebrows up, lips twisted to the side. It was the face she often gave me when she felt she had a very simple answer to a very complicated question. But that's the funny thing about 8-year-olds; they are very aware, and feel like they have the answers to ALL the questions. They don't, by the way. And that's the really complicated part as a parent: helping them understand that their assumptions and obvious solutions might not be correct, without stomping on their curiosity and audacity.

I laughed. Then I said, "Sometimes when people tell you no, or say that you aren't good enough, you can't use it as a reason to stop."

"You have to use it as a reason to try harder. Sometimes that’s the universe telling you to be better. Life is like that sometimes. It took me a lot of rejection to figure that out.”

Clint Edwards

She smiled at me. Then she looked out the window, and I couldn't tell if she still thought I was crazy, or if what I said got to her. Sometimes with kids, in moments like this, you never really know. But what I can say is that I'd never really told anyone about my dream of being in a bookstore, or about all the rejection, or all the early mornings. At least not all at once, that's for sure. It's kind of hard to talk about all that hard work and that much rejection in one sitting. But there was something about sharing it with my daughter in an attempt to get her to understand what it means to fail and try again that made it not only tolerable, but in some unexpected way, rewarding. I honestly wanted her to learn this lesson, to realize that just because you don't get it right the first, or second, or millionth time, doesn't mean you should stop. Particularly if it something rewarding that you are passionate about.  

We made it to the store. My 4-year-old Aspen had a meltdown over a Shimmer and Shine toy, a Peppa Pig action set, and some candy. Norah brought $15 in change to buy a stuffed horse, and so we awkwardly counted it out at the register as Aspen screamed, and I paid for my book. For some reason I assumed that the world would slow down on release day, but ultimately it was a typical outing with small kids. I eventually dragged Aspen out under my arm, surfboard style, kicking and screaming.

I didn't really have time to savor the moment.

But I must say, once we found my book on the shelf, and Norah pointed at it, jumped, giggled, and asked if we could take a picture with it, I felt proud. And when we got back into the van, and Aspen was calmed down, she pointed at my book resting between the front seats and said, "That's daddy's book." Norah looked over at her blonde-headed sister strapped into a bright pink car seat and said, "Yup. A lot of people told him 'no', but he kept trying. Now daddy's in book stores." She raised her eyebrows in a confident, I'm impressed, sort of way. Aspen nodded in approval. I started the van, feeling confident that I'd made an impact on my daughter. And although I'd never shared all the details of my struggle to publish a book with anyone, I was grateful that I'd shared it with her.

Clint Edwards is the author of  I'm Sorry. Love, Your Husband, and the funny and insightful No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog. He is a staff writer for the very popular (and awesome) Scary Mommy. His work has been discussed on Good Morning America, The View, The Talk, and The Today Show. Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Sharon Osbourne to Kathie Lee Gifford has agreed with his take on parenting and marriage. He's also a parenting contributor to the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Disney's Babble, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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