From the moment she took his arm to walk down the aisle, to their beautifully comfortable Father Daughter Dance, everyone could see their loving bond, I was mesmerized by it. Then in her graceful and confident toast, she proclaimed her father as “the greatest man she has ever known.”
I felt like I had been struck by lightning – I can still remember exactly where I was sitting when I heard those words… the Greatest… Wow, I want that… I want that title badly – what father wouldn’t want to known by that moniker “The Greatest Man”?
When we welcomed Jacqueline to the world, the very first thing I knew I needed was a shotgun; apparently all fathers of daughters have a shotgun, and incessantly clean it on the front porch when the boys come knocking… while I consider myself a guy’s guy, I am not really a ‘gun’ guy so instead, I thought about all the values, skills, and tools I would equip my little girl with to tackle this world.
My daughter is just over a year of age. If on her wedding day, years and years from now, I want her to feel that I was the Greatest Man she has ever known, then I just need to work backwards from that point. What do I need to do NOW??
The gifts I want to instill and nurture in my daughter are so numerous it could days to recite, but if I had to boil it down to 3, the gifts I want to help instill would be confidence (self-esteem), emotional intelligence, and resilience. I want her to know she deserves respect, and to recognize what a powerful force she will be in this world and that she can do anything she sets her sights on.
With a strong sense of self, the world and life becomes easier. To me, self-esteem is the engine that drives the car. We, as parents, can provide everything that car needs to run beautifully. But through judgment, criticism, and harsh words, we do irreparable harm to the little engine.
Let’s pretend your 13 year old daughter tells you she wants to dye her hair pink, green, and red. You, as Dad, have a myriad of different reactions to choose from; each with their own consequences. From the ineffective “Not while you are living under my roof!” and “You are so pretty, why mess it up?” to the relationship enhancing reactions such as “Oh, cool when?” (its just hair right?)
Do you realize the monumental impact YOU will have on her life? There is no question that Fathers have a huge impact on the development of boys, but the influence on their daughters can be even more significant.
Fathers influences their daughter’s lives in many profound ways – from how they feel about themselves and their perceived power to shape their own future; to what they expect from the world and especially what to expect from the men they will encounter in their lives. Don’t be afraid, don’t cower, don’t be shy – you can do this. You can’t make a mistake if you follow your heart. Here are a few ideas and tips to enhance your Father Daughter relationship…
You are the first man she will ever know and love. PERIOD. You. You are the first man she will interact with – so obviously the intention of every interaction is critical. Are you connecting or correcting? Are you helping or judging? Listening with your heart or lecturing like your old man did with you? How you interact with her will show her the relative importance of her thoughts, ideas, and values.
LESS TALK, MORE ACTION – I can talk about how much I love and respect my daughter but does she feel love in the way that I speak with her, comfort her, and listen to her? Effective dads tend to talk less, and do more. MEN LOVE TO FIX PROBLEMS – sometimes you will do more good if you zip your lips and just listen. Resist the urge to jump in with different 5 solutions.
LOVE = T.I.M.E – simple math. The time spent with you is so important – some of the best opportunities to deepen your relationship with your daughter may lie in the most boring and ordinary tasks of life – from changing a diaper to shopping for groceries or painting a fence.
BE PRESENT – for gosh sakes. Turn off your BLACKBERRY and stop thinking about the yard, your work, and all the other things clouding your life. Be present with her right now. Try it. If you catch yourself drifting, jolt yourself back. Remember how intense your attention and energy was in the delivery room when she was born, we need that intensity and awareness for the next 50 years.
If you are lucky enough to also be the father of a boy, think about how you play with him – is it different? Do you wrestle, play catch, shot hoops, and other PHYSICAL THINGS? Do you play the same way with your daughter? When you begin to see your daughter as a flexible powerful living being, amazing things can happen!
Body image in children, especially young girls, is an enormous and important topic, but Dads can help. By NOT focusing on what a body looks like, Dads can help her focus on what the body can do! Get active with your daughter – she is not a fragile porcelain doll!
In his great book, Dads and Daughters (2002), author Joe Kelly writes, “for goodness sake, wrestle with her, play word games with her, run and build things together, toss the football, listen to her, treat her like a whole person… not a vase poised to fall and break”
MEN = WOMEN – you can teach her that men are just as good as women. Compromise and thoughtful negotiations will show her that her opinion matters. When dads adopt a brickwall authoritarian position with rigid rules, rebellion is the likely outcome as men become the enemy – in your own life, how well do you deal with a boss that is a tyrant? However, if a father is fair and really listens to his daughter’s thoughts and ideas, she will gain self-confidence and pride in her own ideas and opinions.
THE GREATEST GIFT YOU CAN GIVE YOUR CHILDREN IS TO LOVE THEIR MOTHER. Daughters learn about relationships by watching Mom and Dad. If children see parents treating each other with respect, then THAT becomes the norm and expectations are set. Yelling, anger, abuse, and flared tempers teach children a much different lesson about men. If Dad is calm and gentle, a daughter will tend to gravitate towards men that treat her as an equal and steer clear of men who abuse and manipulate. Regardless of the parenting relationship/dynmaic with mom, you must strive to always respect her – everyone will benefit…
GO ON A DATE WITH YOUR DAUGHTER – demonstrate and teach her how she should be treated by a man. Start early! I spoke with several dads that began taking their daughters on dates as early as 8 years of age. Hold the door for her, ask her what she would like to order, etc… show her what a kind, polite man looks like!!!
I need to EARN her respect, not insist she respect me. If I truly believe that she will compare EVERY other man in this world to me, then I HAVE TO BE THE GREATEST! Set the bar incredibly high for all other males!!
Now I am not naïve enough to believe that everything will be rosy and sunny for our entire lives, but when the storms hit, I will need to trust that the foundations of our relationship will be stronger enough to hold – like the fireplace chimney after the massive fire – perhaps the only things still left standing is my unconditional love for her. Start the honest communication as early as you can, so that when the teen years arrive, a time when she needs you more than ever, the well worn trails of communication can be put to good use.
Will this be easy? Heck no, just like grandma said, ain’t nothing good comes easy. In writing and researching this article, I have actually scared and startled myself with the mammoth job that lies ahead of me.
I am building a lifelong relationship with my daughter. I want a close relationship built on trust, open communication, and respect – so I need to start EARLY! Like a garden, you need to WORK to reap the benefits!! Moms have a 9 month headstart so hurry up! It’s never too late to reconnect! Do whatever it takes for your daughter(s) to know how incredibly special she is to you – from having roses delivered to her school on Valentine’s day to bringing home her favourite take out dinner, she needs to know that she is the centre of your world.
In my dream world, I am my daughter’s golf caddy as she tackles the toughest golf course called LIFE – I am beside her – not helicoptering over her. I am present, dialed in, and available for advice, but I will respectfully let her hit HER shots. I will provide positive honest feedback and help her find a solution when she gets herself into a tough spot.
Mothers are role models for their daughters, providing great examples of a strong independent woman, mother, and wife. Fathers teach their daughters how to regard themselves, what kinds of relationships are healthy, what to look for in a partner, and what to expect of men in relationships. If the cliché is indeed true that a girl grows up to marry her father, or someone just like him, then I need to be at the top of my game. I am raising someone else’s mother, wife, and best friend!
Right now, when my three-year old daughter is unsure, scared, or in need of help – she runs to me – I do not judge or lecture – only comfort and soothe. Will that still be the case when she is 15 and is feeling unsure, scared, or in need of my help?
Someday your daughter may bring home a man she is considering marrying, you will hopefully find something very familiar and likeable about this man. How great a man he is, really depends on you.
If you have a great relationship with your daughter, perhaps a grown daughter, what tips can you pass along to dads of young daughters??
How bad to you want to be the GREATEST MAN in your daughter’s life? How bad? Then put down your shot gun and get to work!