TODAY, DR. CHRIS YANDLE is not being deafened by the roar of fans as his players reign supreme in a college bowl game. Nor is he campaigning for his star player to win the Heismann. He is, however, signing autographs and receiving accolades of his own while cheering on his two up-and-coming MVPs.
Like many fathers, Chris wishes for his children to dream big and follow their hearts. For over a decade, he led by example, chasing his passion of becoming a college athletics director, moving his family often with daughter Addison attending three different schools in four years. When a move to Atlanta didn’t turn out to be the career launcher for which he’d hoped, he was faced with a painful and difficult decision; continue to compete with family in tow, or make the sacrifice play and choose a better option for the team.
Chris and wife Ashleigh decided to settle in St. Tammany Parish to give their two children stability and a great education. “Addison adjusted well for third grade at Woodlake Elementary,” says Chris, whose love of academics rivals his passion for sports, “but we could see the moves and transition to middle school were taking their toll. I moved many times as a kid also, so even though she didn’t say anything directly, I knew something was up.”
Knowing her first day at school would be stressful, Chris got an idea while making his daughter’s lunch. “I grabbed the Sharpie and wrote a note on her lunch bag. ‘Addy—Treat everyone like they are the most important person you’ll ever meet. Love, Dad.’ I took a picture of it, posted it on social media, and didn’t think twice about what I had done.”
Chris says his childhood experiences were similar to Addy’s, and he wants her to benefit from that. “My difficult times as a kid are absolutely worth it now. I see myself in her and understand what she’s going through. I can give her the encouragement I wish I had at that age and teach lessons I didn’t learn until I was much older. I try to distill the lessons down to middle school level and make them relatable. Sometimes, the messages are a little over her head, but then she’ll ask me to explain and that turns into a wonderful conversation.”
What started as one impulsive act of fatherly love not only helped Addy, but also opened unexpected doors for Chris. Addy’s teacher took note of Chris’ daily ritual and shared certain messages with the class. The principal became such a fan, she suggested Chris write a book about his inspiring practice.
In March of 2018, Chris opened a Kickstarter account to help publish his book. “In six weeks, I raised $3,500, and my dream of writing a book became a reality. Lucky Enough: A Year of a Dad’s Daily Notes of Encouragement and Life Lessons to His Daughter, was published in September 2018 and on sale at Barnes & Noble in early 2019. I’ve written more than 300 notes on a variety of topics. Most importantly, they are a daily opportunity for me to tell Addison how much I love her.”
Although Chris uses wisdom and experience to bolster the confidence of youngsters, he also knows that adulthood doesn’t cure uncertainty. Covid-19 has interrupted the trajectory of his book and his academic career. Both his appearance as a headliner at the New Orleans Book Festival in March and his May PhD graduation ceremony were cancelled, and as universities are uncertain when classes will resume, his teaching opportunities are on hold. But through the disappointments, he continues, for his kids, to set examples of accomplishing dreams and seeing the good in difficult situations. He donated 50 copies of his book to local little free libraries and to those who requested them on Facebook and Twitter. “I want to make people feel better. I also have #DadNotes, a free text messaging service for subscribers. I send out encouraging messages and jokes on the adult level. It’s just about making people happy.”
As Addy enters seventh grade in the fall, she’ll rely on her father’s support even as he faces unknowns. “It’s exciting and scary for both of us. Junior high is a whole different set up and intimidating, but we have tools that can ease fears and anxiety.”
What advice does Chris have for other fathers? “Writing is easier than talking at times, but not everyone is a writer. I have writing prompts in my book, but there are other ways to connect. Just be there–physically, mentally and emotionally. Listening means the world to them. Go to their games, help with homework, watch a movie. Be there.”