My daughter is getting a tattoo!

My daughter, Alex, texted me on Friday to tell me that she’s getting a tattoo. Alex is twenty-one and can do pretty much whatever she wants. I don’t financially support her, so I have no leverage on her. Alex has a couple of piercings, ears and one in the eyebrow (which I kinda like) – but she doesn’t have any tattoos. I guess I was hoping that she’d make through life like me, without one.

I don’t what it is about tattoos. Maybe it’s the permanency of it. At least with piercings – you can take them out. But with a tattoo … there you are, it’s yours forever. I just have this vision of Alex getting this thing she’ll regret in a week.

Rather than texting her back with the standard parental rant – “No you’re not getting it,” which would have been of no value – I waited to catch my breath. “What’s the tattoo going to be,” was my response four minutes later. “It’s going to be Phoenix on my arm,” replied my daughter. “I saw it and I couldn’t resist getting it.” “It’s me, especially after what I’ve gone through.”

Alex's tattoo scretch

If you’ve read any of my other posts here, you’d know Alex spent a good portion of her high school living in motels and a tent as we went through some rough times. And the year and half with her mother before then was even worse. She didn’t let it get her down, at least outwardly.

In fact she’s used those times to strengthen herself. Heck she got hired by Apple right after she turned eighteen. It’s kind of the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Alex is an embodiment of that. Alex is turning out great – mentally, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t be more pleased. She’s even a contrarian like me 😉

A lot of parents have a hard time communicating with their kids when they’re around this age. You never really know how they’re doing. They may say they’re good – but in reality they’re not. More times than not, they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. So if something bad happens – you have no idea it’s coming till it’s too late. It’s the “I had no idea” thing.

Well … my daughter told me an awful lot in that tattoo that she’s getting.

By definition, a Phoenix is the mythical bird that rose from the ashes to become stronger than ever.

What this tattoo tells me is that Alex went through a lot in high school, probably more than I thought. Just because I didn’t mind sleeping in a tent in the Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach, doesn’t mean it didn’t take its toll on Alex. More than ever I realize that.

But what I also realize is that now she feels strong, stronger from the experiences she’s had (good and bad). She’s in a very good “place” right now, and if she’s willing to brand herself with that fact … then I couldn’t be happier.

She has the perfect positive totem when times looks bleak and she’s not on her game. All she has to do is look at her arm. After all she’s a Phoenix.

“All’s good in the hood.”


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16 thoughts on “My daughter is getting a tattoo!

  1. Clay, hopefully the first session went well and wasn’t too painful for either of you…

    This is really a great post. The thing that comes through quite clearly is that you have done a great job avoiding the urge to be reactive. The immediate urge to admonish something like a tattoo surely doesn’t come from concern. You might be concerned but that is never what motivates an emotional reaction.

    I’m sure it also must have been a relief to find out that the plan didn’t call for some cliche stamp on the lower back 😉

  2. 4 hours later the outline and background is all done! Must say, it’s beautiful! Nervous about my mom finding out… But besides that, no regrets, I’m proud of it and love what it means to me. Thank you everyone for your support, and thanks most of all to my dad… You rock, can’t explain how amazing it feels to know you support me 🙂

  3. Good for her! Seems like will have some meaning to her and will be a constant symbol of her courage and growth.

    I got a phoenix tattoo also just last August. My first at 48 years old. It is my own personal badge of courage and symbol of strength for the transformation process I have been through in the last 4 years. It is so true. What does not kill you, makes you stronger!

    I did a blog about it:

    1. Debbie, thank you for joining this important dialogue. We can never have enough discussion on recovery and helping the next generation. Your post reference is so relevant considering my daughter’s mother went down the same dark path you went down at one time in your life.

      As always you are an inspiration to all of us.

    2. After reading one of your books with in the last year, and re-reading this post from 2011 – it makes your comment all the more relevant. And it makes me love you even more. 🙂

  4. I loved this post and Alexandria you would make any Dad proud. Clay you did a great job bro. Respect to you Sir. Sending my very best to you.

    Hat Tip.

    1. Thank you Kenny. I’m very flattered you would say that.
      I only wish my mother could see all this in the same light, unfortunately I can’t even imagine how upset she’ll be when she finds out what I will have done. When I told her about it her reaction was very similar to what my dad said would be the standard parental rant… Though that doesn’t mean there isnt a place for that kind of parenting, but realistically she should know that by my age, with my level of independence, anything she could say to try to dissuade me has already been worked through and thought about in my head. It get monotonous to hear the same speech every time someone decides it’s their place to judge my decision. Though I try to remind myself that my tattoo is for me, and they are only saying all this because they care.
      I go in tomorrow to start the process… I am very excited, though quite nervous… But someone very close to me is going to be there to keep me company through the 4 hour first session of the outline.. I’ll keep you all posted 🙂

      1. Parents got a love em 🙂 I should know I am one them and I did have parents once 🙂 Seriously. I have a tattoo it is cool, it looks good and it means something to me but to other people it can confuse them. And in their context they often make judgments that are completely wrong unless I explain the background and history behind the reason I got the tattoo. And I have been in numerous situations where I have had to do that. It can get boring but I like to put people at ease. I am that kind of guy. 🙂 Once you get one the problem it is difficult to get it removed. And in truth I would like to change it. Not because I don’t like it but because of the hassle it brings.

        As a parent I would discourage my children from having one based on my experience. But the truth is our children are not us and we have to let them make their own decisions and live on their own terms. I think if you want one it is up to you but I understand why mom and pops 🙂 may be a little concerned. They did a great job of helping you turn into a bright, independent adult. I hope it turns out to be a beautiful piece of Art and something you celebrate and enjoy for the rest of your life.. All the very best to you.

        And Dad great job Sir. Respect.


  5. Thank you for your post Dad… This is a very important thing to me and your opinion on this is great to hear. Of course not everyone will understand why I want to get a tattoo, especially some thing so visible and hard to cover, but for me… It’s part of who I am, and I’ll wear it on my sleeve (figuratively and literally). If people can’t accept a tattoo on my arm then they’ll have considerably more to deal when knowing me than some ink on my skin. I want to wake up every morning and be reminded that every day is a new day, and every situation can be turned around or changed no matter how grim. Every event makes us who we are, no matter how painful or ugly it may be. It makes us beautiful and strong and helps us live to see another day and grow.
    A tattoo to me is to remind me of my past, to keep me grounded and remind me of how I was feeling when I decided to get it (at this point in my life, very happy, though nothing is without it’s hardships), and help me remember the harder times so I can be proud of who I am and how far I’ve come. If I could overcome those times and take them and create something positive, than I believe there is nothing I can’t find a way through. And my little mythical bird, with its powers of reincarnation, and flight, will remind me there is always a way up.

  6. Some lyrics from Ani DiFranco:
    “i had to leave the house of self-importance
    to doodle my first tattoo
    realize a tattoo is no more permanent
    than i am”

    I think I can relate to Miss Alex in this instance. Granted, I have 6 tattoos and a couple are less inspiring than others these days. My Eye of Ra tattoo is certainly my pheonix – it represents the Egyptian god of protection and healing. I chose to get it at a time in my life when I’d felt like I had gotten through some horrific darkness and felt like a renewed sense of urgency to tackle life (rather than letting it tackle me) had come over me.

    Perhaps it’s permanence that’s viewed differently by the younger generations and those of the tattoo culture?

  7. I have three kids – the eldest is a boy 18. He plays rugby so even if he was interested, piercings are out thank heavens! However, rugby in Australia attracts a lot of Pacific Islanders and tatoos feature heavily in their culture so I guess it’s something I’ll be dealing with too.

    We could ask what it is about tatoos in general. They seem to be everywhere. There’s even shows on TV about them (scratches head).

    Like you, I dont have any myself. I’ve never felt the need to make a display of anything.

    I can understand why your daughter wants to wear a symbol of her triumph I just wonder what it is about tatoos that make young people want to deface their bodies with something so permanent regardless of their motivation.

    1. I know what your saying Paul. I just can’t get into the tattoo culture either. But I’m not going judge someone because they do. I would guess the normal parental response would be to object to Alex’s prospective tattoo because, well just because.

      My mission as a father has been and will continue to help my daughter learn to think critically, to look at the world with a compassionate eye – and not to follow the crowd just because everyone else is. If she follows these tenants – then who am I to say what her “Perfect World” is. Alexandria’s happiness and contribution will depend on her living a life that she creates (with my help) … not one I create for her. And for better or worse, I guess the tattoo looks to be part of it.

  8. Though my daughter is only 13, I empathize.

    After reading about your daughter, my opinion would be to let her make the decision. The only thing I’d tell her is, “Be sure it’s exactly what you want dear, because it won’t be going away.”

    Also, sounds as though she’s picking the right tattoo, considering her past and achievements.

      1. As someone who can personally attest for how hard teenage girls can be… I would have to agree with my father, be patient, be honest, be understanding, but more than anything, talk to your kid. Thats the most important thing my dad did for me, was just be there to talk to and support me and trust me.

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