The Second Line

father-and-daughterImage via Shutterstock

When I was in college, I was assaulted, and subconsciously turned to food. I quickly developed a full-fledged eating disorder.

My mother discovered my secret when I was home for the summer, and what followed when I got back to school that fall was a series of hour-long sessions with a counselor specializing in eating disorders. Dr. Lee was a tough, ex-military man with a soft heart who coached me through my challenges. I was starting to feel as though I was getting control of my life again when he said the words that sent fear into my heart: “It’s time to bring your family in.”

I don’t remember how we got to Dr. Lee’s office, or walking into the room, but I remember the rest clearly. Their faces at that moment will forever be etched in my memory: Mom, looking worried and pale; Dad, stoic and quiet; and my sister, bewildered and scared. As the conversation progressed, Dr. Lee asked me to diagram my relationships with each member of my family. One line equaled weak. Two lines equaled strong.

The first lines I drew were from my name to my mom’s. There was no question in my mind about that one, and I confidently drew two lines.

Next up: my sister. That was easy, too. We fought like alley cats when we were younger, but once we were both in high school at the same time, we became the best of friends. I again drew two lines.

When it came to drawing the lines from me to my dad, I hesitated. Tears sprang to my eyes. I drew one shaky line and put the pencil down, looking at my feet

My dad looked up at me, waiting. “Why did you draw just one line?”  Dr. Lee asked. The silence in the room stretched and pulled, filling all of our ears with a roar. “Because I never feel like I am good enough for him,” I blurted. Instantly, it felt wrong, and I wanted to stuff the words back in my mouth.

I blamed him for my confused, conflicted, messed-up teenage head. I could not see what was right in front of me: a father who was always present, who quietly took care of my family, and loved my sister and I more than he loved himself. At that moment, I was incapable of seeing the truth.

After the session, my dad’s assignment was to write me a letter to tell me how he felt about me. Days later, I received in the mail a small stack of notepad paper from the hotel where my parents had stayed when they came down for the therapy session.

Looking back, I can only imagine the effort it took for my father, a man of very few words, to write this note to me. It said everything I had wanted to hear, including that he realized the importance of telling me how he feels. He vowed to work harder to show me how much he loved me.

Someday, he wrote, we can draw the second line.

I still have that note, tucked away in a special place in my closet.

Even though it was not his fault, not even a little bit, my dad took the blame for our relationship on his shoulders without protest. He did what he has always done: Supported me quietly, lovingly, and completely.

Years later, when my marriage fell apart, it was my dad who sat down with me and helped me figure out how to set a budget so that I didn’t have to file bankruptcy. It was my dad who offered to come to Atlanta and pick me up and bring me home. It was through my experiences with my dad that I learned how to recognize love, and when I met my second husband, I was ready to see with my head and my heart and not just my eyes and ears.

See, the problem wasn’t that my dad didn’t tell me how he felt. The problem was that I expected the words to make me feel loved when in fact it was all the ways he showed me he loved me that I had to learn to see.

And this is what I will teach my son:

Love is someone who replaces your soap when it’s getting too small to use.

Love is someone who fills the gas tank in your car so you don’t have to do it.

Love is someone who doesn’t tear you down, but celebrates your successes.

Love is someone who takes your side and fights for you.

Love is someone who says, “I believe in you.  We can do this together.”

Love means that the words “I love you” are just the beginning.

Apparently, I was a slow learner, but I finally understood: My dad’s brand of true, sincere, solid, quiet love means more than all of the “I love yous” in the world.

Dad, I hope you know that I drew the second line a long time ago.

About the writer

Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year, and producer of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother show in Austin, where she is the mother of a mini Texan. You can find her on Twitter (@AustinKVS), her blog, Two Cannoli, or at The Huffington Post.


Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom 11 months ago

This was absolutely beautiful. Such an emotional read.

Thank you for sharing.

Veronica Bool 1 year ago

I never had a sad, but I hope this helps me see my widowed mom of 4 in a different light..

Star Traci 2 years ago

I love this piece. Simple love it.

Linda Druskis-Booher 2 years ago

I love this. Thanks

Jo Ann Camarco-Mara 2 years ago

That was profoundly deep!!

Michelle Bamburg Crumbly 2 years ago

I hope parents of teens read, and believe this. During those selfish, angry years we all go through, everyone gets blinded to the big picture. Hang in there. Hope is out there and you will all get through it. Teens will turn back in to normal humans eventually.

Tiffany 2 years ago

Reading this on the bus, tears flowing…and I don’t do tears. Beautiful. So glad you had the couragenot to draw the 2nd line at the time x

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Tracey Hutchison Verbakel 2 years ago

Thank you. Sharing.

Pam Tanner-Lauderbaugh 2 years ago

Buh… so many feels.

Susan Haagenson 2 years ago

Crying, Thank you for sharing.

Allison Smith Anderson 2 years ago

Love this…

Cameo Harmon 2 years ago

The good thing about being taught and learning to not be emotional is, is when I read this, I TRIED REALLY REALLY HARD to get that emotional, loving tear jerker feeling going. It just didn’t happen. The BAD thing about being taught and learning to not be emotional is, is when I read this, I TRIED REALLY REALLY HARD to get that emotional, loving tear jerker feeling going and it just didn’t happen.

Amy Jennings 2 years ago

One of your best shares ever!

Gwyneth Thompson 2 years ago

beautiful… miss you daddy and the love I always felt from you… wish I could feel that now

Alison 2 years ago

I loved this the first time I read it, and I love it even more now, Kristin. Thank you.

    Kristin Shaw 2 years ago


Kyra Weaver 2 years ago

Jeez made me cry on the train 😉

Elsa Kuhr Rock 2 years ago

:'( <3

Jennifer Killi Marshall 2 years ago

Loved this. Reminded me of the letter my dad wrote and gave me at my college graduation. Such a beautiful post by Kristin Shaw of Two Cannoli.

Amy Slate-Kesinger 2 years ago

I needed this, thanks for sharing.

Cherie Ulmer-Mulvey 2 years ago

Lucky enough to draw my second line when my pop adopted me and saved my life…crying because I still miss him after 10 years

Holly Logan Wintrip 2 years ago

This describes my dad so perfectly.

Gladys Ford 2 years ago

That is beautiful !

Laci Duke 2 years ago

That’s deep

Nina 2 years ago

Loved everything about this and shared it widely!

    Kristin Shaw 2 years ago

    Thank you so much, Nina. I admire your work and am flattered that you liked this!

Maureen Tucker 2 years ago


Kasi Ann Peters 2 years ago

Dang. Crying like a baby.

Hannah May Moran 2 years ago

Love this xx

Jamie Scarbrough 2 years ago

You know sadly alot of young girls do this and blame their father for all their problems. What’s even worse is the mothers that encourage the ill placed blame. More likely to happen with divorced parents though.

Michele Karwoski 2 years ago

A great read.

Jennifer Roberts 2 years ago

Loved it

Brandy Hayes 2 years ago

Heartfelt!! Beautifully written.

Melissa Bennett Allee 2 years ago

Great message!

Jo O’Hare 2 years ago

Urgh someones sat hiding in my livingroom with a bowl of onions.that was lovely and it makes you think.

Marilyn Terriquez 2 years ago


Tramequa Surratt 2 years ago

Well, shit…

Rhiannan Green Caraway 2 years ago

I hope to draw that second line somewhere someday!

Laura Lamb 2 years ago

That’s lovely

Adrianna Deiters 2 years ago

Wish either of my parents had shown me any kind of love. This makes me more determined to be a better parent than they were. But my 34 week pregnant, hormonal self is sobbing right now. This was beautiful!

Erin Youngblood 2 years ago

I cried a little

Erinn Hecht 2 years ago

hold on, let me get another kleenex…

Kristen Mae of Abandoning Pretense 2 years ago

I think this room I’m in is really dusty, because my eyes are watering really bad…

(beautiful post!)

Jennifer Merritt Manazer 2 years ago

Made me cry. Wish I had a dad.

Wendy Sue 2 years ago

Sob face! Words and actions are both important. But actions speak loudly!

Christy Simeon 2 years ago

That was awesome ! Nicky Johnson you better know it – cause I love you !

Rebecca Wilber 2 years ago


Arnebya 2 years ago

I love how this is a testament to every relationship we have — learning to listen and accept how others show/say they love us. Well done, my friend. It is a story worth returning to just to remind myself to listen.

    Kristin Shaw 2 years ago

    xoxo Thank you, my friend.

Stephanie Ellis Freeman 2 years ago

Thank you for this…it reminded me so much of my dad…I miss him terribly.

AbbyB 2 years ago

I feel privileged to have been able to hear you read this aloud at BlogHer ’14! I got teary reflecting on my own relationship with my dad, and how he always showed his love for me through his acts. He always filled up my gas tank too. :) Thanks for sharing this beautifully written piece.

    Kristin Shaw 2 years ago

    Abby, thank you so much for your comment. I felt the love from the stage!

Abby Rose Blanch 2 years ago

Can’…something in my eye…

Kristen Stockman Frantz 2 years ago

Awesome! Have tears in my eyes!

Channa Glenn Peters 2 years ago

Beautifully written.

Jenifer Deperro Veazey 2 years ago


MyLove M. Barnett 2 years ago

Damn these onions!

Sabrina Sabserab Lange 2 years ago

my dad was like this, shame I grew up with my mother :-(

Samantha LaRue 2 years ago

I’m bawling. :'(

Mia Mathis Puleio 2 years ago

This is so beautiful and brought me to tears!

Doni 2 years ago

I heard Kristin read this at BlogHer. So powerful. Kleenex missed a real opportunity not to have sponsored the VOTY event.

Kelly 2 years ago

I don’t even know his name but I love your Dad now too! Thank God there are men like him in the world! Sounds like the lessons you learned from him will continue another generation through your son. Hopefully with my own son also as his Daddy is a pretty great one… Yep, my husband replaces the soap too 😉

Robyn Fazel 2 years ago

My eyes have been feeling a little dry today. Now they feel fine.

Amanda Stallings 2 years ago

love this

Marnie 2 years ago

I can relate to this on so many levels, and it really touched my heart. Thank you for the great read!

Adrianne Ward Burney 2 years ago

I tried not to…..but I need to go get some Kleenex from the store now. :'(

Jennifer VanDusen Miracle 2 years ago

<3 So happy to see this making the rounds on my favorite blogs. A beautiful post by a wonderful writer!

Sarah Christian 2 years ago

dammit, you’ve been making me cry all day. don’t make me unfollow you just so I can stop being a hysterical mess at work!!!

Veronica Herrera 2 years ago

Very touching.

Ashley Russell 2 years ago

Made me Cry. I love it.

Vanessa Nguyen 2 years ago


Yvone Webster 2 years ago

This made me tear up.

Jennifer Whittemore Ritter 2 years ago

And I’m crying…

Heather Wadland 2 years ago


Jessica Avery 2 years ago

This is absolutely beautiful.

Marie Plueger 2 years ago


Melissa Desselles 2 years ago

sadly i dont have that kind of father, his love is very conditional. he hasnt even talked to me since christmas hasnt even asked about his newest grandson

    KIM 2 years ago

    I have one of those too. It’s only in the past 6 months, I’ve realized she is a clinical “narcissist” who has pulled the silent treatment on me totaling about 24 months out of my 43 years. I have finally realized that NOTHING will ever be good enough and I cannot walk on eggshells forever. Life is too short….♫ ♪ “Let it Go” ♫ ♪

Nicole Van Hoose 2 years ago

This is my dad.

Amanda Douglas-Vaters 2 years ago


Melissa Butler 2 years ago

Thanks. This reminds me so much of my relationship with my dad, who died of cancer before I truly realized just how amazing he was. Thanks for sharing.

Kim Trefz 2 years ago

Ahhh the tears.

Andrea Aponte 2 years ago

This is my dad too.

Angel Weers 2 years ago


Kimberly Griffin McKnight 2 years ago

Tears are streaming down my face…..

Eva Zee 2 years ago

Very nice!!

Jenna Stanley 2 years ago

Good stuff…

Laurie Reilly-Norton 2 years ago

This was beautiful, made me cry!!

Sabrina Hairston 2 years ago

I wanted to cry :) wonderful post.

Jaimie Mills 2 years ago

I definitely teared up. Very good read.

Adrienne Ross Manninen 2 years ago

This made me cry

Tricia Lyn 2 years ago

That was a good one

Julie Katz 2 years ago

beautiful thank you for sharing


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