5 Rules for Fathers of Daughters

I mentioned before that I was a teenager in the 90s.  This was a bad thing even for those with an innate fashion sense and wads of cash.

Oh, how I wish I could forget….

For those of us who were nerdy, broke posers, it was catastrophic.  I distinctly remember buying a worn-out pair of Umbros at a thrift store because Maia Matthews wore Umbros and she was awesome.  I had pink flannels from Caldor and chunky heels from Payless.  And I’m pretty sure I wore them all together.

I think my best outfit of that cringe-worthy era was a fabulous combination of oversized men’s jeans with a cropped tank top.  Oh, and because showing your boxers was cool for boys, I bought plaid underwear to sag my jeans over.  Pretty much, I was awesome.

I think I was going for something like this.  Yes, always take advice from “Married with Children.”

So that my 13-year-old pudge could be admired by as many people as possible, I would get all dolled up in this outfit and ride my bike around the neighborhood.  It was a disaster.

And my father thought I looked beautiful.

Okay, objectively he was wrong (and probably ought to have told me to put on more clothes).  But my daddy always thought I was beautiful.  Until I moved out of the house, I modeled every new outfit for him.  And every time, no matter how ridiculous the ensemble was (why did I WEAR terrycloth?), his jaw dropped and he said, “WOW!”

Now, I’ve had my share of body image issues.  Like every teenage girl I’ve ever met, at some level I hated myself.  But let me tell you: at the deepest level, I knew I deserved to be loved.  Because my daddy loved me so well.

Gentlemen, you are hands down the most important person in your daughter’s life.  Forget moms (sorry moms–you matter, too), friends, boyfriends, teachers.  Aside from God, there is no more important relationship.  I mean, no pressure, but so much of the woman she becomes comes down to the way you treat your little girl.  So in honor of my daddy and fathers everywhere, I want to give you my top five rules for dads based on years of working with teenage girls and even adult women who are, largely, as broken as their relationships with their fathers set them up to be.

1.  Love her.  I know this is obvious.  Hopefully it goes without saying.  But guys, you’ve gotta love that little girl like your life depends on it.  Because hers does.

I sure hope you’re captivated by her.  I hope you think she’s beautiful and smart and clever and worth cherishing.  But if you don’t, learn to.  Love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.  If you don’t think your little girl (whether she’s still in the womb or 60 years old) is incredible in every way, figure out how to.  Make a list of everything you love about her.  Sit down with an album of pictures of her and marvel at how she’s grown.  Write down all your favorite memories.  Pray for her,  Every day, without fail.  You can’t always be who she needs you to be, but you can always pray.

If your daughter is older and has hurt you, I’m sorry.  But I’m going to need you to be the grown up here and learn to forgive.  It’s hard to love a sullen teenager.  Believe me, I know.  That’s what I do for a living.  But this isn’t just feelings–this is a lifelong battle for the everlasting joy of the little girl you created.  You do what it takes to love that girl.  Because if you don’t, she’ll find someone else to.  And unless you’ve set a high standard, whatever man she finds to to love her like you were supposed to is just going to crush her spirit more.

2.  Tell her you love her.  I don’t care if you think she already knows.  Tell her.  Tell her every day.  Really, a woman can’t hear it enough.  My mom says she wanted to tell her kids she loved them so often that it was commonplace.  “Sure, Mama, whatever.  Can I have 10 bucks?”  And there were times when I found it annoying as a child.  But when I didn’t have a date to homecoming, I knew somebody loved me.  When I put on the freshman 15, I knew somebody thought I was beautiful.  And as much as I love my mom, it wasn’t her affirmation that I remembered.  A woman needs that affirmation from a man.  Blame the Fall if you want, but the fact remains that a man’s words mean much more to a woman than another woman’s words do.  If you don’t give your daughter this love, she’ll do whatever it takes to get it from some other man.

So tell her you love her.  But tell her in a thousand different ways.  Tell her she’s beautiful.  You don’t have to go all awkward goo-goo eyes on her (and please don’t ever, ever use the words hot or sexy to talk about your daughter), but tell her she looks nice in that sweater.  Tell her she has a sick jump shot.  Tell her you love her drawing or her dimples or her poetry or whatever.  Don’t limit your affirmation to her appearance–girls need to be more than pretty–but compliment her appearance.  Most men don’t need to hear that; most women do.  Don’t just compliment her on things she’s accomplished, either.  She needs to know that your love doesn’t depend on her corner kicks.  Do NOT call her names–even behind her back.  You say positive things or you say constructive things.  Then tell her you love her again.

Buy her flowers.  Write her a letter.  Write her a poem if you can.  I roll my eyes every time my dad writes me a poem (I told you he was amazing) but I keep them because they tell me what I’m worth.  Sometimes, just look into her eyes and tell her she’s everything you ever wanted in a daughter.  When she’s little, she’ll just run off to play.  When she’s a teenager, she’ll probably roll her eyes.  But those words will change her life.  She needs to know that you love her always and forever, no matter what.  She needs to hear you say it.

3.  Show her you love her.  It doesn’t matter what you say to your little girl if you don’t put your money where your mouth is.  So hold her while she’s little.  I don’t care if you don’t like to cuddle.  If she likes to cuddle, you cuddle that child.  Carry her when she asks.

Pack her up and take her with you if you have to.

Show up to everything.  Every game, every recital, every awards assembly.  No meeting is as important as her debut in the school play.  Cancel whatever you have to cancel–your vocation is not to make money.  Your vocation is to love your daughter.  Nothing is more important than being there for her.  You never know how long you’ll have with her.  No regrets.

And while you’re at it, don’t just show up–do something!  Take her on a daddy-daughter date.  Go to a zoo or a museum or just the playground–just you and her.  When she gets older, take her on her first “real” date–show her how a date ought to treat her.  When she moves out, call her just to talk.  Chicks love that.  Show up to help her move.  Treat her like a lady–holding doors and carrying things–so she knows that’s how a gentleman behaves.  Convince her not to waste her time with worthless men.  Listen when she complains and don’t try to fix it for her.  Most women just want to be heard, not to be solved.  She’s a person, not a puzzle.

Take the freaking ballet class with her if that’s what it takes!

Hold her when she cries.  Hug her often.  Kiss her on the top of her head.  Buy her presents that mean something.  Do NOT try to buy her love.  Change her tire or teach her to change her oil or let her give you a makeover or play ball with her in the driveway or take her fishing or read books together or take her to see the Rolling Stones (how are those guys not dead yet?) and then go with her to see Taylor Swift.  There will be moments in there that are boring or awkward or awful but what she will remember is that you loved her that much.  Get to know your little girl and love her the way she needs to be loved.  She deserves nothing less.

4.  Love her mother.  John Wooden is famous for saying, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”  The relationship you have with your daughter’s mother sets the standard for every relationship she will ever have with a man.  She needs to know that a woman deserves to be cherished and protected and adored.  So if you yell at your wife or roll your eyes or demean her, stop.  Right now.  Maybe yelling has to happen sometimes, but not in front of your kids.  You need to treat your wife the way you want your daughter to be treated.  If you wouldn’t want your daughter to marry a man like you, be a better man.

This kid’s a fan.

Showing her how a woman ought to be treated also includes romance.  Take your wife on dates.  Kiss her often–in front of the kids.  Don’t be gross, but let them see that love can stay alive in a marriage.  A friend told me recently that her 2-year-old niece saw a picture of two people gazing at each other and said, “Dada and Mama!”  The picture looked nothing like the girl’s parents, but when she saw love, she thought of her parents.  Your daughter deserves to see marriage as beautiful and romantic.  And she needs to see that the place for romance is in marriage.  Make her believe that her knight in shining armor won’t just slay the dragon and ride off into the sunset, he’ll kiss the princess awake every morning afterwards.  She deserves to believe in fairy tale love.  Your wife deserves it, too.

I know this is a complicated world and maybe you’re not married to your daughter’s mother.  You can still treat her kindly and talk about her respectfully.  If you don’t have custody, you fight for all the time you can possible get with your baby.  If there’s a stepmom, treat her like a queen.  If your daughter’s mom has passed away, you can tell wonderful stories and explain how much you loved her mom.  She identifies with her mom, whether they have a good relationship or not.  She needs to know that you’re not going to stop loving her if something terrible happens.  The mother of your children deserves to be respected in front of them even if that respect doesn’t go much further.  Do it for your kids.

5.  Love all women.  Treat every woman with dignity.  Every one.  The cashier, the obnoxious little girl on the playground, the politician on screen.  You’ve got to be consistent in the respect you show for women.  This means especially that you run from anything impure.  If you’ve got a problem with pornography, get help now.  Even if she never finds out (and she will), porn makes you look at women differently and she’ll start thinking men ought to see women as objects.  No porn.  Change the channel when something inappropriate comes on TV.  Talk about the positive things you see in women–and mention their beauty even if they’re heavy.  If you only think skinny girls are pretty, your daughter will think she’s fat and ugly even if she’s a size two.

Basically, I’m saying be this guy to everyone.

Open doors for all women, not just pretty ones or old ones.  Step up and be a servant.  Look at women like they’re human beings–you’d be surprised how many “decent guys” can’t even look kindly at a stranger.  If you can look at every woman the way you look at your little girl, she’ll know what a real man is and you’ll be a saint.

 

This is a lot to ask.  I know it is.  But not only do you set the standard for her relationships with men, you set the standard for fatherhood.  Christians have been taught to call God Father; I’ve met too many women who can’t love God because they’ve been so hurt by their fathers.  Don’t do that to her.

This daddy thing isn’t something you can compromise on.  It will take the rest of your life to become the kind of dad your daughter needs.  It’ll take a lot out of you.  But don’t you think she deserves it?

 

P.S. Happy Father’s Day–I love you, Daddy!

P.P.S. This list gives some great thoughts.  This article, too.

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About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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16 Responses to 5 Rules for Fathers of Daughters

  1. Natasa says:

    This post made me cry. My dad is nothing like what you describe. Nothing. The only positive thing he has ever done for our family is that he earned money. Father’s day is always close to my dad’s birthday and both days are very sad for me because I’m not in contact with him anymore. I am surprised that I have decent self-esteem and that at one point I recognised a good man and married him. I am grateful to God for being my real Father. My husband is a wonderful guy and he is, and will always be to our children what you describe above.
    Thank you for this beautiful, touching post.

    • Kelly says:

      Natasa, in the old days, that’s all men knew how to do is go to work and earn for their family. That’s a lot. You can pray through work as well. They didn’t know any better because their fathers were like that and their mothers didn’t teach them any different. I don’t know your circumstances but give your father a call. He does love you. I know that because I had to wait 30 years to hear my dad say I love you to me. He said it because I told him that I would like to hear it. But it was genuine. He just didn’t know. He’s 62 years old now and I just had my third child. I cannot believe the change in him. He didn’t bond much with my previous two but this one, he carries around and cares for her and asks about her. There comes time for everything I guess. And, of course, pray for your father. It will help him and yourself.

    • Ramin says:

      Natasa, many parents, especially from the old days, didn’t know how to be that great parent. Nobody taught them how to be one. It went from generation to generation, one learning from the other, and, unfortunately, they were learning the wrong way. And in your case, at least your dad was there and earned the money for your family, and perhaps was there to share some wisdom with you. My father, however, wasn’t even there to share the wisdom with me, or wasn’t there to care for me or to protect me. And I’m not even talking about all that fatherly love I miss. Nonetheless, just like an adolescent male lion, who was chased out of the pride by his father and grew up to be a powerful lion himself, I too, despite adversity, grew up, am just as powerful, and a much better parent than him. Still, though, whenever I chat with my half-sister over the email since we’re a whole world apart (I’m in the US and they are in Russia), I ask her to wish him happy birth day from me and regularly ask her to say hi from me.

    • Sharon says:

      Natasha…..I know your EXACT feelings with regards to my dad being NOTHING like what is described and the only positive thing being that he earned money to support the family. Father’s Day is very close to my dad’s birthday also. I am VERY thankful to have a wonderful man in my life that cherishes me and a strong relationship with God. Those things combined helped me to feel more confident and build my self esteem. My guy is to my daughter everything that is described and if he isn’t I let him know. :) Hugs Natasha. Blessings & Peace that we are stronger women because of what we went through.

  2. Sharon O says:

    This is a good read and I really thank you.
    I was a daughter who was raised without a dad. I know the ‘emptyness’ of heart and the questioning… and the not so sure moments. Dad’s DO play a vital role in the health of a daughter, as mom’s do for a son too.
    I shared this on my facebook page.

  3. Dana says:

    Thank you so much. I am fortunate enough to have a daddy like this- and this made me appreciate these qualities in my fiance. When we have children someday, I know he will be this kind of a dad. He was worth waiting for.

  4. John says:

    First let me thank you for this essay – if your picture is up-to-date you clearly have wisdom beyond your years. That said – I have a problem with the list I would appreciate your thoughts on. 1-3 no problem. 4 and 5 I am having trouble with – particularly “If you only think skinny girls are pretty, your daughter will think she’s fat and ugly even if she’s a size two.” My wife was objectively beautiful, smart, kind, holy, etc….the whole package when I married her. I loved her then and I love her now – but since then she has gained a lot of weight and honestly I am not really attracted to her (nor any other overweight women for that matter).

    This goes beyond simple physical attraction. Excess human body fat is governed by two inputs – calories in through eating and out through exercise. I respect all humans and their dignity for being human and as God’s creatures – but that level of respect is more or less the same I have for animals (e.g. I treat everyone kindly and don’t go around kicking dogs). I base my real respect for others on their actions – what they do…whether it is take care of the poor or their own bodies. I lose real respect for people that can’t keep their own house or bodies in order.

    In my wife’s case the weight problem is causing affiliated health problems…as it does to pretty much everyone who is obese or ‘morbidly obese’. I have not confronted her with it not wanting to be a stereotypical husband upset with his wife getting fat. I have tried most of the obvious ways of encouraging health (e.g when I shop it is only healthy whole foods – no junk food, I try to encourage things like family hikes and bike rides, etc.). However, none of this works – when she shops the house fills up with junk food, after I cook a healthy low-calorie meal she goes right for the icecream, stops by McDonalds on the way home from work, sits down with a bag of chips after a hike, etc. Recently we were at a potluck with a bunch of vegetarians – couldn’t have asked for a better more healthy meal – and my wife is the only one to go for a whole second plate.

    This just isn’t about her — I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that she is only pretty if she is like the skeleton models – but I don’t want her growing up thinking it is ok to be obese either. I want her to be healthy and happy.

    What to do?

    • Meg says:

      Oh, this is tough. Let me address it from your daughter’s perspective first, since I know infinitely more about being a daughter than I do about being a wife.

      If your daughter is over the age of 10, I’d be willing to bet that she thinks she’s fat, whether she is or not. It’s almost impossible in our culture for a young woman to think it’s okay to be obese. She’s going to be dieting and working out (or lamenting the fact that she isn’t) whether she thinks you approve or not. Being overweight is a cardinal sin among girls.

      What you *can* impact is how she feels about her *self* as opposed to her body. If she sees you loving her mom despite her mom’s size–or commenting (carefully) on the beauty of women of a healthy size (say a size 10 or 12)–she’s going to learn that being chubby (or healthy, as the case may be) doesn’t make her unlovable. If you can keep telling her how beautiful she is no matter her size, her efforts to be thin will be healthier. God forbid you should have a daughter who understands the health risks of obesity and becomes anorexic instead! As her father, it’s not your job to moderate her weight (although it sounds like you’re taking great steps to encourage a healthy lifestyle), but it is uniquely your job to strengthen her self-image and teach her that her beauty is not bound up by the numbers on the scale. If you look at her mom like she’s beautiful, your daughter will begin to see that her size doesn’t dictate her worth.

      As for your approach to your wife, it’s not what you asked and it’s not what I know about, so I’ll email you about that.

      I’m praying for you and your family–a lot!

      • Meg says:

        Oops–I just figured out your email address. Any way you could give me one that does work? I don’t think the whole internet necessarily needs to be part of this conversation :)

  5. {Kathy} Thank you so much for this commentary. As a mom and a wife (and previously a daughter), you have hit some tender issues here with candor and humor. Good job! I am going to share this with my husband who pretty much does everything you have mentioned–but it’s always good to know you are doing as good of a job as possible.

  6. Meg,

    This is an amazing post…I started out critiquing the job my dad did with my sister and ended up hearing a lot that I can do to love my wife better and be a better example of a godly husband to my daughter…We have been gifted by God with four children, the latest addition is a daughter and I hope and pray she turns out like you…God bless you and keep up the good work!

    Viva Christo Rey!
    Jason

  7. Jessica says:

    John,

    Your wife knows that you are not attracted to her. And she feels like crap because of it. She eats because she feels defeated and she finds comfort in food because it doesn’t judge her. You have said that you treat her with the same kindness that you treat an animal. And you wonder why your wife does not seem to take an Interest in her body.

    You really need counseling. I encourage you to seek it before more damage is done.

  8. Leigh says:

    Eh. My father is an awesome man and I certainly knew he loved me, but my sense of worth didn’t come from him. AT ALL. It didn’t come from him showering praise on me regarding my accomplishments, activities, or appearance, because that didn’t happen. My sense of worth came from knowing I was made in the image and likeness of God, and infinitely loved by Him – and nowhere else.

    Yes, fathers can contribute to that by reflecting their share in the Fatherhood of God. But making a girl feel like the center of the universe is just as bad for her as it is for boys. Love her. Share in her joys. Pay compliments now and then. But don’t put her on a pedestal or make her feel like the world revolves around her or she will be totally unprepared for life outside of your home, and a narcissistic brat that few can love as much as you do.

  9. Leigh says:

    Hey, John – your wife likely has one of the following:
    a) Firmicute/bacteroidete imbalance. Look it up. It may save your marriage to realize these things are beyond our control.
    b) Calcium or other deficiency leading to excessive Neuropeptide Y activity. Google it. Wikipedia’ll do.
    c) Neurotransmitter deficiency, especially endorphins, leading to a true biochemical addiction. This is almost certain.
    d) Yeast overgrowth.
    d) All of the above.

    I know from personal experience that what science has found regarding sweet food (that it is as addictive as heroin for those who are biologically susceptible thanks to generations of processed food intake leading to inherited health problems, and thanks to massive quantities of antibiotics leading to grossly imbalanced gut flora) is absolutely true. I have seen that when my neurotransmitters are replete (from a combination of heavy protein & natural saturated fats (namely, lots of animal foods) 3x/day plus taking numerous amino acid supplements), my cravings for excess food ABSOLUTELY GO AWAY, and when they’re not, I can’t think of anything but filling that second plate (and the third, and the fourth). (As you may have guessed from what I just wrote, and contrary to my expectations, I have found that vegetarian food is far from “as healthy as you can get” for me, *especially* when it is rich in grains, sweeteners, or pseudo-food made from processed soy.)

    Pray for your wife. Pray for the strength to love your wife even when you are not physically attracted to her (notice I am not blaming you for not being physically attracted to her). And get a copy of The Diet Cure by Julia Ross to learn how to support your wife in regaining her health and possibly saving her life. (You can find it at the library, although I strongly recommend getting the newer edition, not the one from the 90s.) (Do not give it to her. READ IT YOURSELF. Then pray about what you might do next. Telling her what she should do is almost certain to fail. Your example and unconditional love and support and prayers will open her heart to what she needs, over time.)

    I will pray for both of you, as well.

    I have been where she is. I have slowly gained massive amounts of weight thanks to the factors I mentioned above, and after years of research, learned about those factors and started focusing on the *content* of my calories instead of the amount, and (with ZERO exercise, thanks to chronic fatigue caused by the same Standard American Diet that caused the cravings and weight gain), lost all of that weight slowly and steadily over two years. Throughout it all, my husband was my rock, my stalwart, and even when I couldn’t imagine he could possibly find me attractive (and maybe he didn’t, I don’t know), he told me emphatically that I was beautiful and he loved me with all his heart. (He is the opposite of me – he has no cravings for sweet foods, ever, always eats just the right amount and the right kinds of foods with no one telling him to, and is slim, fit, and very energetic & athletic at 41, just as he was at 31 & 21.)

    Without his support, I am positive that I would never have made it, and that I’d be dying of diabetes today.

  10. Pingback: A Daddy's Love | Held By His Pierced HandsHeld By His Pierced Hands

  11. Sharma says:

    Meg,

    Don’t you think you are a bit biased instead just coming from a daughters point of view? We took 9 long years through tough times getting through at least caring about our family by earning together. We agree the socioeconomic conditions and the culture vary massively here in West and in typical Asian country, India there where we wife and husband are from. Leaving my birth country and at last after these 9 years we brought our daughter reunified recently and I have a strange feeling. My daughter is taking time to find me, to find her dad and its like we are two aliens under one shed.

    I am finding particularly difficult in finding time for her. Weekends are just not enough and week days are expensive as we dare cannot afford for a day-off. Though being in the profession we love I and my wife are scientists and never paid well and that is just not enough. Today we are as of what we wanted to be since we both were classmates since our uni days. We still love each other lot and we always loved our 2 daughters.

    I watch mirror to find myself a alien in the eyes of my daughter who has been raised all these years by my in-laws. I never had reluctance to change something of my manner since I love my sweetie more than anything. But this gap that my daughter don’t care what I saw and don’t come nearer that I cuddle has been dwelling me lot.

    Do you have a say for this desperate father?

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