As Dr. Chris Yandle was packing his daughter’s lunch one morning, he grabbed a Sharpie and wrote an encouraging message on her sandwich bag: “Be nice to others. Not everyone will look like you. Learn to spot the unique and special things. You have the power to change someone’s life! Love, Dad.”
This simple act turned into a daily tradition that sparked conversations and created a special connection between the Mercer University alumnus and his daughter, Addison, now 12. Three years later, he has penned more than 500 messages and published a book about his notes project.
How it all began
Dr. Yandle was accepted into the Ph.D. program for higher education leadership at Mercer’s College of Education in 2016. Around the same time, he was let go as the assistant athletics director for communications at Georgia Tech, and his family decided to move back to New Orleans.
Despite the logistical challenges, Dr. Yandle fully committed to earning his Ph.D. For three and a half years, he drove from New Orleans to Atlanta three times a semester so he could attend Saturday classes, while also working full time as the communication specialist for the St. Tammany Parish Public School System in Louisiana during the week.
Dr. Yandle said “it was part dedication, part crazy” as he logged more than 25,000 miles on the road before completing his degree in December 2019.
A year into his Ph.D. studies, Dr. Yandle and his wife, Ashleigh, noticed Addison was struggling with some anxiety and fear as she began fourth grade. It was her fourth school in five years, and the family was still adapting to recent life changes.
“After fighting through six months of unemployment and finding a stable job, I felt like I needed to step up and be a dad again,” he said. “So, I wrote a simple note on her sandwich bag.”
He snapped a photo of the note and posted it on social media, and he kept doing that each morning. Addison didn’t say anything about the notes for about a week, but Dr. Yandle knew he had her attention when she reminded him about the task one morning. Then, Addison asked her dad if he could start taking her and her brother Jackson, now 9, to school instead of them riding the bus, which showed she wanted to have a little extra time together in the morning.
Dr. Yandle said the notes opened up the door for conversations with his daughter, as he brought up things related to his messages and asked about her day.
“It continued to build from there on what we were sharing with each other. A lot of the messages paralleled what we were going through in life,” he said.
Some days he writes jokes for Addison and other days he pens words of encouragement or lessons he learned the hard way. When schools were closed due to COVID-19, he taped a note to her bedroom door each morning instead.
Dr. Yandle said he is going to continue the note tradition this fall — even amid the occasional eye rolls from Addision — when his daughter goes to a new school for seventh grade.
“I’m going to keep at it. At the end of the day, all we want to do is raise decent people, especially in the world we’re living in right now. I just want to give her the advice I wish I had,” he said. “All we can do is remind her that we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Dr. Yandle’s notes have resonated with other parents and received positive feedback on social media. As he connected with his daughter in a non-digital way, he made virtual connections with other parents and helped them to make authentic connections with their children.
About two months after he started the routine, Addison’s fourth-grade teacher saw one of the notes on her desk and asked to share the message with the class. The school principal saw Dr. Yandle’s social media posts about his notes and suggested he put them all in a book.
With encouragement and advice from friends, he did a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to independently publish a book on the first year of notes and the stories behind them. “Lucky Enough: A Year of a Dad’s Daily Notes of Encouragement and Life Lessons to His Daughter” was published in September 2018 and has sold 700 copies so far. It can be found in several physical Barnes & Noble stores and two independent book stores in Louisiana as well online at Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart and Amazon.
“I know there are a lot of parents, particularly dads, who may have a hard time communicating vocally. This was a way to show that you can communicate with your kids that way. They just want you to be there. You may not think they’re listening, but they are,” Dr. Yandle said.
He said the goal of his book was never to make a bunch of money but simply to share what he’s been doing with other parents. The book includes exercises and writing prompts to assist moms and dads as they bridge connections with their children.
“Our kids have a lot to say. Instead of preaching to our kids, we need to listen more,” he said. “A lot of people listen to respond rather than listening to understand. As parents now in a digital world, we need to listen to understand how our kids are feeling and what they are going through.”