The truest of statements appears in a fiction book. In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom writes: All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped.

Five words that absolutely stunned me; all parents damage their children.

As a father, my first reaction was to pound the table and confidently declare, “Never! Never would I damage my daughters!” But then I read on:

Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.

Wow. If that doesn’t challenge parents I don’t know what will. It’s not fair, but the situation we’re born into goes a long way to determining how hard our road will be. We all know adults still dealing with their smudges, maybe you’re one of them. This time of year I often hear people talk about their parents and how they hope to escape the holidays without new smudges or having old wounds re-opened—the first cut is the deepest.

I never want that for my family.

I think of my daughters as delicate blank canvasses; pure potential thirsting to take colorful shape. Polly and I are providing all the supplies they need—a strong foundation on which to build. We’re helping them hold their brushes. Eventually we will let go and allow them to flourish. Along the way we will listen, love and laugh. Parents need to realize that when they hurt their children with their words or their actions, they’re standing in the way of exquisite works of art. Smudges on the canvas.

Tennis-great Andre Agassi was badly smudged by his father. He writes about it in his autobiography, Open. It is, at times, difficult to read. He writes: I never doubted my father’s love for me, but I wish he would have been softer, listened more, and had less rage. Smudges.

Agassi has forgiven his dad and vows to do better with his own children. I admire him more for that than for his incredible tennis.

You don’t even have to be a parent. If you have any contact with a child; aunts, uncles, teachers, mentors. Listen, love, laugh; be softer. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers.