A note of kindness

It started with a note.

“Be nice to others. Not everyone will look like you. Learn to spot the unique and special things in other people. You have the power to touch someone’s life! Love, Dad.”

As unlikely as it seems, those 31 words written on the side of a sandwich bag would forever change the relationship between a father and his then 9-year-old daughter and set in motion a whirlwind of unexpected events, including a book, dozens of messages from strangers, and an appearance on the TODAY Show. 

“I had no idea that it would become what it has,” recalled Chris Yandle about that first handwritten note made out to his daughter one morning before school. “Honestly, I thought I would only write a handful of messages to Addison, but when she told me not to forget her note one morning when we were running late, I knew then I couldn’t stop writing them for her. She may not read every one, but showing up is what counts.”

Yandle’s quest to make life a little brighter for his now middle school-age daughter began nearly four years ago following a move to Louisiana. Yandle’s daughter, Addison, had just started her fourth school in five years and he could see the telltale signs that something wasn’t quite right.

So Yandle decided to cheer his daughter up with a lighthearted note that he tucked away in her lunch bag.

“After the first two days of middle school, I could tell she was anxious about starting a new place again,” Yandle said. “While I was making her lunch, I grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled a note on the Ziploc sandwich bag. It was meant to remind her that I was here and that it was going to be ok.”

Yandle spotted the signs of anxiety in his daughter because he too had experienced them as a child growing up in Louisiana. His father moved around a lot for work, leaving him without a place to settle down and call home. It was a difficult childhood for a self-proclaimed introvert, a life Yandle promised that he would never replicate with his own family.

But life has a way of disrupting even our best of intentions.

Dr. Chris Yandle is a public relations professional from Mandeville, Louisiana. He earned his bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2004 before traveling to Huntington, West Virginia, where he earned his master’s degree in sports administration from Marshall University. He later earned his Ph.D. in higher education leadership from Mercer University in 2019.

After graduating from Marshall in 2007, Yandle began a nearly 10-year career in college athletics, working in sports information and athletic communications offices at universities across the southeast, including Louisiana, Baylor University, University of Miami, and Georgia Tech. As a communications expert, Yandle quickly ascended the ladder. He earned a number of recognitions in the sports information world, culminating with his being named one of the youngest directors of communications in Division 1 athletics in 2012 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

He credits much of his success in the industry to his time at Marshall and one very special person at the university.

“I owe my path to Marshall University to fellow Herd alumnus Randy Burnside. I was struggling to find a master’s degree program that came with a graduate assistant position. After months of searching, I found a job posting for a graduate assistant position in Marshall’s athletic media relations,” Yandle said. “I had never been to Huntington before moving in July of 2005. I put all my trust in Randy, and he didn’t let me down.”

While in Huntington, Yandle had an opportunity to work directly with the Thundering Herd athletic programs, and even take in a few unique firsts, including being on campus during the filming of the movie We Are Marshall.

“Working in the athletic department, there were many late nights and long weekends, but my favorite memories were traveling with the Marshall football and softball teams,” Yandle said. “My graduate classes seemed like a blur, but Randy, former athletic director Bob Marcum, and former softball coach Shonda Stanton stick out as important mentors during my time at Marshall.

“And who could forget being a student during the We Are Marshall movie production. I attended the green carpet premier at the Keith Albee, which was a unique experience to say the least.”

One month after graduating from Marshall, Yandle married his wife Ashleigh whom he had met on a blind date while attending Louisiana as an undergrad. Before long, the couple welcomed daughter Addison and son Jackson into the world and Yandle became a rising star in college athletics.

As quickly as Yandle’s career in college athletics took off, however, that journey came to an abrupt end less than a decade later when, in 2016, his contract as a senior staff member at Georgia Tech wasn’t renewed.

While the experience was devastating at the time, Yandle used it as an opportunity for reflection and a chance to grow in his relationship with his daughter. In January of 2017, he moved his family back home to Louisiana and began a career working in K-12 communications with the St. Tammany Parish Public School System.

For the first time in his career, and in larger part his life, Yandle found an opportunity to settle in one place and start fresh.

Not long after, he wrote that first note to his daughter. And then another. And another.

“I thought she was indifferent at first,” Yandle said. “It wasn’t until the morning we were running late for school, and she reminded me to write her note. That meant the world to me. And, I know she reads some of them because some of the messages I’ve written have been used against me! I’m now starting to get a slight smirk from her on some notes, so I think I’m getting better.”

The inspiration for his notes come from a number of different places, including books, quirky sayings, dad jokes, and even a few life experiences.

“I’ve always been an introvert at heart, and I have always found it easier to communicate via writing than speaking,” Yandle said. “For me, I found that what I read resonated more than what I heard. I could hold on to something and refer back to it if I needed a reminder. I can always share my thoughts clearer through writing than I could if I were speaking.

“For me, everything is an inspiration. Some messages come from things I was told growing up. Some messages come from my personal experiences or situations I have faced. There have been times I’ve read a book and found something that resonated, so I jotted it down. Everything I write Addison has some parallels to our life and what we’ve faced. I always try to make it relatable – except for my occasional dad jokes. Those are just terrible.”

Before long, word got out about Yandle’s inspiring notes and he was being contacted about turning his project into a book. In 2018, Lucky Enough: A Year of a Dad’s Daily Notes of Encouragement and Life Lessons to His Daughter was released to the public.

That book eventually led to appearances on radio and television, culminating with a segment on the TODAY Show on NBC in early 2021 talking about his book and the inspiration behind it as part of the “Dads Got This” segment.

“A few days before Thanksgiving, a producer with the TODAY Show contacted me about my story. We recorded our interview in early January, and it aired on January 28. I had no expectations of what would happen due to the story, but I was surprised and overwhelmed by the response,” Yandle said. “I’ve done interviews before, but this one was special for me because I got to do part of it with Addison. That was the best part for me.”

Yandle’s story has clearly resonated with viewers, as he has been contacted by a number of individuals looking for advice or simply to tell him what a great job he is doing as a father. It has been a humbling experience, and one Yandle hopes to continue to share with others.

“Over the last few years, I’ve had people DM me on Instagram or send me an email. It’s humbling to read that what I write to my preteen daughter resonates with other parents or that they’ve bought my book for their daughter,” Yandle said. “What I’m doing isn’t something unique. I know other parents do it or have done it, but I hope that how I do it will help parents connect with their kids in their own way.”

Of course, the one question that Yandle gets asked the most, is exactly what he wants people to take away from his story? His response is not all that complicated.

“That parenting is hard,” Yandle answered. “Parenting during a pandemic is almost impossible, but we do the very best we can for our kids as parents. The past year has brought us closer together as a family, and it has reinforced the idea that it doesn’t matter how we show up for our kids or what we do. They just want us to be there. Listen to them. That’s all they want. Just be there for your kids.”

While daily notes from your dad might not be the “coolest” for a teenager trying to find her way in the world, Yandle continues the tradition each and every day with the hope that one day his children will look back fondly on the daily messages and little notes of encouragement before each day.

Of course, even Yandle admits that he hasn’t been perfect in his daily journey.

“Oh, I definitely haven’t had perfect attendance,” Yandle said with a laugh. “If I miss a day here or there, she doesn’t complain. I think it is me giving her a break from me.”