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Where You Go
Life Lessons from My Father
Foreword by Vice President Mike Pence
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I was always certain I would write this book.
I was not certain anyone would read it other than my family.
This book has evolved from the inclination I first had when I was seven years old to write about my father. Back then, in a small notebook, I wrote Dad’s biography, scribbling words about his childhood and career—how he had grown up one of six kids, fulfilled his dream of becoming a lawyer, and became a talk radio host, and later a congressman. In the book, I included tiny drawings of our family (and there was probably a Capitol dome among the illustrations). I was excited to give Dad this gift: I believed that he saw me as a storyteller, even from the time I was a child. Dad indeed cherished my gift, and he always encouraged me to pursue my dream. “You’re a writer,” he said. Often, during special times with family, Dad would wink at me and say, “You’ll put this in a book one day, Booh” (his nickname for me since I was little).
When I was in middle school, I gave Dad a homemade gift for Father’s Day—another book, whose cover read, The Lessons You Have Taught Me. It was tiny and nondescript, and I had scribbled on each page a different sentence or phrase to name a lesson that Dad had either spoken or shown to me throughout my childhood. To this day, he keeps it in the top drawer of his desk and I hope he sometimes pulls it out and flips through it, perhaps on days when he needs a reminder there are people who are watching him, who see him, and who love him.
The lessons inside that little book are as follows:
1. Lead by example.
2. An animated movie is always a good idea.
3. Ride horses every chance you get.
4. Never shout. Anger does not inspire.
5. Three things: Devotions, Studies, and Exercise.
6. Call cashiers by the name on their name tag. See everyone.
9. The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.
10. When you miss your chance to climb that Irish hill again, go back.
11. Love one person deeply and truly.
12. Be honest in all things—especially the small things.
13. Never end a good conversation short.
14. Check on people.
15. Learn from history. Know your idols.
16. Believe in your dreams. A cornfield to the Capitol.
17. If you lose your family, nothing else will matter much.
18. Never be too busy for yardwork and a nap on Sundays.
19. Take long drives.
20. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t.
That was where it ended the first time around, but over the years I made some additions:
21. Be fascinated by things. Never let the invention of an airplane be something that you are not impressed with.
22. Know where you come from.
23. At an airport, always go to the gate first.
24. Never stop believing in magic.
I often say I am more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. This is true of writing as well, and I have spent my life observing those around me and oftentimes writing it down. This is especially true when it comes to lessons I have learned from my family members, and my dad, in particular. His words of wisdom remain in my memory, but over the years, I have felt the need to write them down too. Those observations, thoughts, and pieces of advice eventually found their way into this book I write now.
I hope to shed some light on who Dad is as a father, a leader, and a person. I hope also to share some of the inside stories of our family, so that you, too, can learn from them. Dad often says that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—in that order.” It is my desire to detail just what that means in our family—not only through his political role, but also in our day-to-day life. As I have continued to develop this craft of writing from a young age, the story of our life has only gotten more exciting. The plot has resulted in much more than I could have imagined, and the example he and Mom have been for me throughout all the twists and turns has been essential in shaping the person I am today. I hope to shed light on who my parents are, what they have been for me, and the lessons Dad has taught me. He not only inspires me through his role as a public figure, but also, more importantly, through my interactions with him as a daughter who could not have asked for a better dad.
In college, my parents were the kind who actually encouraged me to pursue subjects I was interested in, even ones that could have made other moms and dads nervous. I double-majored in creative writing and screenwriting. When I considered studying abroad, Dad suggested Oxford, “because C. S. Lewis went there.” I remember laughing, insisting, “I can’t get in there, Dad,” but I applied and was ecstatic to be accepted and to spend a year living in that wonderful ancient city. When my parents encouraged me to believe in myself, it made my dreams seem attainable. I had the experience of a lifetime where I studied alongside the talented students I met and was challenged by the great professors of Oxford. I also spread my writing wings and wrote for local publications and enjoyed working in the St. Catherine’s dining hall in the evenings.
My parents encouraged me to go after my dreams, and they taught me to focus my passions to make a positive difference in the world, just as I had grown up watching them do. In college, my love of stories led me into documentary filmmaking, where I was most inspired while chronicling the lives of people who were dedicated to helping others. They helped me understand how even our smallest actions can be truly powerful. Motivated by this example, and using my own voice, I hope to uplift those who need it by sharing the pieces of wisdom from the man, and the woman, whom I admire most.
This book of “lessons from my father” is not complete—and not even possible—without lessons from my mom, too. Any memory of Dad and me inevitably includes Mom. She is forever there, right beside him, and she is the necessary and subconscious steadiness that keeps our family close no matter what. My parents are a team, two people who act as one, and there is no lesson I have learned from my dad that is not from my mom as well. They better each other with their differences and make one another stronger in their similarities. Mom is the ever-present guiding force, the ultimate protector, and the shining light when the path is uncertain. And the lessons I have learned from my father are completed by her constant presence, her unwavering support, and her faithful, candid spirit. I hope to be like her, to emulate her courage, strength, and compassion in every choice I make. Both of my parents continue to teach me the lessons of this book every day with the lives they lead and through the words they pass on.
Through writing this book, I attempt to pay tribute to the impact both my dad and mom have had on my life, but I won’t stop there. I will try to thank and honor them through the life I choose to lead and by passing their wisdom down to my own children one day.
The stories you will find here are primarily from the life-changing months of July 2016 to August 2017. However, some accounts extend back into the parts of my memory reserved for childhood experiences, and some reach closer to the present, to what has taken place since my father became vice president of the United States.
As fate determined, some of the most pivotal events of my family’s life fell directly after I graduated from college. My father was nominated to be Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate; he accepted the nomination and assumed his place on the campaign trail. As a result, summer ’16 to ’17 turned into a gap year for me, a year off in between college and officially entering the full-time workforce. I lived at home, working remotely part-time, and joined my parents as they campaigned across America. We all adjusted to the new adventure together.
It was all unplanned, the path unknown, and I wouldn’t go back and change it for anything. For a lover of stories, my family, and my country, it was the ultimate experience.
While on the campaign trail, Glamour magazine reached out to me to write a story about my travels across America with my parents. I wrote about Dad and the lessons he taught me on that journey and throughout my entire life. Published in October 2016, the article was called “Mike Pence’s Daughter Reveals the Lessons Her Father Taught Her.” In a way, that article ultimately led me to write this book.
Like an expansion of my childhood tribute to Dad, The Lessons You Have Taught Me, I drafted this book over the last year, composed from memories, my journal writings, scrap paper notes, thoughts, and stories told to friends and later transferred to the page. I have been writing it much longer than that, though. It has been waiting to be written for decades, even before I was born.
These accounts are about my family and our life, the ordinary and extraordinary experiences we’ve shared, and what we’ve taken from them. I hope you will apply our memories to your own and see the comparisons where they lie. I believe we are not all that different from one another, and I hope these stories will encourage you, as they have me. They have inspired me throughout my life. They are the jumping-off point from wherever I start. They are the places I land when I need to be reminded of the magic in the world and of the love we have for one another no matter what. Every life lesson from my dad, every moment we shared on his journey to the White House, every memory from my childhood, every conversation I’ve had with my brother and his wife, every adventure taken with my sister and piece of advice received from my mom can be found in the fabric of these pages. I hope the same influences will also be evident in every other part of my life and work.
These stories made me who I am. They led my family to the journey that began in 2016, to the new chapter we’re now writing within our lives, in the day-to-day decisions and moments we share, and they will continue to lead us beyond.
I have faith in these stories. I have faith in God that He will lead us where He wants us to go, and my family will embrace the adventures He takes us on even when the road seems uncertain.
This collection is for us, but it is for you, too.
Come along with me, and I will show you.
But first there is something you should know about us.
Where You Go
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.
Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
This verse, commonly quoted in the Pence family, holds the truth of how we navigate life and all it brings. It is our beacon. It has defined our vision, led us forward, and kept us from turning too frequently sideways or backward in the midst of struggle. It comes from the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. In this story, Ruth is a young woman whose husband dies shortly after they wed. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, tells Ruth to leave, to have her own life, and not to come and live with her anymore, but Ruth won’t leave the elderly woman behind. What would have become of her? Ruth tells her that they are family, they are one unit now, and therefore wherever life takes Naomi, Ruth will follow.
The implications of this action were so grand because Ruth essentially saved Naomi’s life by staying with her and promising to provide for her in her old age, but that also meant Ruth had to leave her own culture and people forever. Ruth pledged to provide Naomi with a new family and a means of prosperity while leaving comfort behind. Staying with Naomi, she would be in a place where she was considered an outsider, an immigrant in a foreign land.
Tim Keller gives a sermon on this passage, in which he says, “[Ruth] suddenly realized, ‘If I obey God I may not have the life I expected, but I will have a better one. If I give up my definition of “good,” God will give me back—maybe not the “good life” I wanted—but the great life.’”* In this ancient story, told in hindsight and passed down for generations, Ruth’s choice may appear easy because we know everything works out well for her. The truth is, we never know in the individual moments how our decisions will impact the future. We cannot be sure that if we follow what we believe to be God’s calling and plan for our life, things will be fine. In fact, we know the opposite is true, which makes these decisions all the more difficult. No matter your religious affiliation, I believe Ruth’s courage can be admired and emulated in all walks of life.
Like Ruth’s story, this book is also written in hindsight. It is a culmination of the months and years of after, with observations of during, and lessons from before. It attempts to provide a firsthand account from someone who witnessed the 2016 presidential campaign from the trail and how it impacted the Pences as a family—as my family. From an outside perspective, another vantage point than ours, it may seem as though everything fell together seamlessly or our movements were perfectly placed, as is the inevitable result of my retelling what we’ve already lived. But I would ask you, the reader, to remember this: The end result of anything is simply a combination of small decisions made along the way that are often overlooked or forgotten. The times in our lives when we can either remain where we’re comfortable or step out in faith toward the unknown, while difficult, can often be the most powerful and rewarding.
These stories share what happened to my family, who when faced with monumental decisions, went forth in faith and little else.
When thinking about a title for this book, I had a few in mind. They were all winks to my family members, inside nudges that I hoped would translate as a warm embrace in their hearts when they read them. But as I continued to think about what needed to be said about my family in this book, what creates the foundation for the stories I share with you and other readers, it was Ruth’s promise to Naomi.
It was essentially what we told one another when Dad became a candidate for vice president of the United States.
It was literally what I told my parents when it was finalized they would be traveling for several months on the campaign trail.
It was what I said, again, when we won the election and were transplanted back to Washington, D.C., where we had lived while Dad served in Congress.
It is what Mom says to Dad with every knowing glance.
It is what he says back when he reaches out his hand.
It is what we say despite the arguments, the disagreements, the debates, and the struggles we have, along with every other family in the world.
It is what we do.
Where you go, I will go, too.
Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For your promise is loyal
From seed to sequoia
—Hillsong Worship, “Seasons”
I wouldn’t have minded growing up in one house, on one street, with one yard we would adjust, improve, plan, and landscape all our lives. My parents envisioned this, too. They planned to live it. In the backyard of the little house they built in Indianapolis, Indiana, Mom planted a dogwood tree for each of her children when we were born, perhaps envisioning her grandchildren playing beneath them. But that was not to be. The trees are full grown now, and I hope some big or little kid found shade beneath them at one point in his or her life, or jumped in their leaves on a crisp, Indiana fall day.
Thinking back on my childhood, times of transition are often marked with moving, with leaving homes, and with traveling someplace unfamiliar and discovering uncharted territory.
When Dad was elected as an Indiana congressman in 2000, we followed him to live in Washington, D.C. My parents sold the house they had built in Indianapolis, and we headed east to start anew with no family or friends to go with us. Many congressional families decide to stay in their home states instead, but we didn’t want Dad to travel back and forth so much. The best thing about growing up was not that Dad was in Congress. It was that he was home for dinner almost every night. We got to see him; we knew him.
Although my parents sold the first Indianapolis house when we moved to Washington, D.C., there was another little place we got to call home in southern Indiana, in Columbus. There we kept a one-story ranch house surrounded by miles and miles of farmland as far as the eye could see. This was the Indiana house we called home, heading back to it for holidays, summers, campaign events, and family reunions. Even though my parents had to leave the house they had imagined raising their children in, God provided another home where we would make our memories. The truth is, the importance was never found in the houses or the cities in which we lived. It never has been or will be. We found our value and strength in one another and time spent together.
When Dad ran for governor of Indiana in 2012, however, we finally let go of the Columbus, Indiana, home, too. We sold it and followed him to Indianapolis once again, where we rented a home during the election. As always, it was important for us all to be together. He and Mom said a final goodbye to the Columbus house we had been raised in, remembering the little Indiana home and D.C., too. Dad held Mom’s hand as they drove away, everything packed up and gone.
“Thanks for coming with me,” he said. “Thank you for not letting me miss this.”
What he meant by “this,” was “us.” He didn’t miss watching his kids grow up. We were a part of his life as much as he was a part of ours—and that included his political life and all it would eventually become.
A few times growing up, we went back and saw the trees Mom had planted at that first house so many years ago. We looked up the hill we learned to ride bikes on, remembering it to have been a mountain peak of terror at the top and a roller coaster all the way down. Through adult eyes and in adulthood reality, it is just a slight incline on the street.
Each time we were near the Indianapolis home, my parents asked, “Should we go see Sun Mountain [their name for the neighborhood]?” And we did. It must have been hard for them—to see the place in the driveway where we had once left our handprints in wet cement and sketched the date underneath. Back before everything had begun—the run for Congress, the move, the move back, and the race for governor. They must have looked at each other with knowing smiles, being the only two with a clear memory of the little ones we were back then.
Now that I think back on it, I remember us only visiting the cement handprints one time. We stuck our hands in the indentations our toddler selves had made, our fingers spilling over the sides, and Dad took a few pictures before we went on our way. Whenever we drove past again, we didn’t stop to put our hands in the prints to see how much we had grown. We looked at the house, we waved to the neighborhood, but if we stopped, we stayed away from the indentations. It was probably not intentional, but maybe subconsciously we knew we couldn’t do it again. Simply seeing the house was enough to bring us all back, to remember what could have been if my parents had stayed there and Dad had continued his radio career instead of running for Congress. I know the high school I would have gone to, and I have a good idea of the friendships I would have developed, because I had already made some of those friends before we left.
And the handprints might just have been too much. To see how we had grown larger than them, outside of them, we would have had to acknowledge how much we had all changed, and splintered, and torn as we discovered ourselves in a new fated environment, that we were no longer the people we used to be—both physically and emotionally. My parents had taken a chance on Dad’s dreams, and it had pushed us into the unknown. We had been challenged; we had grown up. To go back to the handprints more than once would have been to realize this change more fully and perhaps a little forlornly. Our physical bodies would have taken up more space than the impressions our former, younger selves had left behind to be remembered by. So, we offered a farewell to what our lives could have been and paid homage to the memories that would have taken place in that home, in that life.
We could have stopped there—and ended the sentiment with a sense of sadness, with memories and feelings of “what could have been.” But to do that would be to miss the point—to miss the grand possibilities our lives can turn into if we chase our dreams, if we run into the open field of unknown futures and we trust in the faith that guides us forward. This was what my parents did, and I will be forever grateful to them for this.
Now all I can do is thank Karen Pence of 1994, who planted those saplings, and Mike of 1995, who got his three toddlers together in the backyard on a Saturday afternoon to giggle and squirm and feel the mush of the drying concrete beneath our fingers as we left a permanent wave into the future, a greeting and a goodbye. They showed me how to remember the sweet memories of the past, but also how to forge ahead fearlessly into the future, holding the hands of the ones you love.
While I honor the treasures of these early 1990s memories, I am even more thankful to Karen and Mike of 1999, who took a chance on another dream, who brought their children with them, who taught them they could be anyone they wanted to be and who didn’t let material items and set plans determine the future direction of their lives. When thinking back on this time, Jonah 2:8, often quoted by Mom and Dad, comes to mind: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” My parents often quote this verse to me when material possessions, relationships, or worldly ambitions begin to seep into my consciousness and distract me from the ultimate truth: God has a plan for us that is greater than any we may have for ourselves. We need only to trust Him and follow where He leads.
The ’90s versions of my parents, Mike and Karen, are the ones who made the stories. And ours are the stories I tell. These stories are the culmination of many small decisions along the way, yes, but this specific one started on a mountainside during a family vacation in 1999. If not for one moment, one conversation with Mom, our lives may have turned out quite differently and Dad may have never run for Congress at all.
There is a legend often told in our family. To understand this book, you must understand us, and to understand us, you must hear it. It is the reason, the calling card, the driving force, the backdrop, and the answers to the “whys” you will undoubtedly have. Every friend, confidant, family member, and staff member of the Pence family has been told this story at some point in their interaction with us. Now you are one of them; you are part of the family, and so you must hear it, too.
Dad often quotes Reagan, who said, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,” and so growing up whenever we had the funds, the time, and Mom let him pick the spot, he always made a point to take us where there were horses, woods, and log cabins.
Family vacations are some of my favorite memories because I was (and still am) a kid with a big imagination. In the summer of 1999, my family vacationed on a ranch in Colorado. We hiked or rode horses on trails during the day, cozied up to campfires at night, and spent time exploring together. When we went to the ranch, not only was it exciting for me to be in a place that so resembled Narnia, but I was also able to come up with my own stories there—the world was whatever I wanted it to be, and time stood still once we entered the great outdoors. Perhaps I caught some feeling in the air on that particular trip, too. My subconscious tapped into the possibilities the future held for my family on those mountainsides and it never really let go.
As the legend goes, my parents were on a trail ride when they stopped to look out at the view together. Dad had been considering something big for their future and this trip was supposed to help both of them clear their minds to make a decision. Unbeknownst to us kids, this was when our lives changed—things were never going to be the same again.
The Mike Pence Show was a syndicated radio talk show in Indiana at the time, and it was really taking off. Dad called it “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” and so it was. He held interviews with esteemed individuals, politicians, and local authorities, and he discussed the present-day issues facing Indiana and the nation. It was good practice for where his career was headed—even though he didn’t know it at the time. He loved it, too. He always had a special place in his heart for the media and still does. He had fun at that job. He was truly himself.
- On Sale
- Oct 22, 2019
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Center Street