I recently discovered that I have something in common with President Barack Obama, Adam Sandler, President George W. Bush, Chris Rock, and Jamie Foxx.
We are all fathers of two daughters, and I’m guessing have experienced many of the same emotions, frustrations, and the highs and lows that come with being a dad.
Whoever your daughter grows up to be, she will always be “daddy’s little girl.” This relationship is unique and special in so many ways. We often hear about the importance of this relationship and the lessons a father teaches his daughters. Meg Meeker, in her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, explains why an active father figure is maybe the single most important factor in a young woman’s development. With my “little girls” having become amazing and strong young ladies, I’ve realized all the lessons they’ve taught me.
I have been blessed with these two special daughters and am at a point in life that allows me to reflect on the lessons learned. I must admit, despite what my daughters might have you believe, I wasn’t the father I should have been and they weren’t always a treat to be around.
Despite any of the downsides, I would not give up one experience with them, pleasant or not so pleasant, and look forward every day to what our relationships will bring.
To truly appreciate the nature of our relationships, it might be best explained by the quote on a coffee mug one of my “little darlings” gave me as a present, “I smile because you’re my father. I laugh because there is nothing you can do about it.” And so it goes, the special bond between a father and his daughters.
I have two daughters, and I lived to tell about it—and here is some of what I’ve learned:
1. Never forget to put the toilet seat down.
I was the minority in our family democracy. I would often tell fathers whose daughters were at or near their teenage years, “Just grab the dog, go sit in the corner, and shut your mouth.” I could not understand how one minute the emotions of a relationship with a friend, or with their mother or whomever, could be so life-altering and later that day, all was good, as if nothing had ever happened.
I did not understand this any more than I did their obsession with the toilet seat always being returned to the down position. What I learned is that I didn’t understand and I didn’t need to understand. What I needed to do was accept and appreciate them and their feelings and to be present when they needed me to be.
2. Offer support instead of trying to change their minds.
I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to deal with a problem or fix something that had gone wrong, or correcting a misunderstanding, by trying to reason with my daughters. So, a wise man once asked me, “And how did that work out for you?” The answer, “Not well.”
What I found was to take a cue from my daughters and skip the lecture and reasoning. Instead, give them a hug and hold them, it’s never a bad move. Hugs are far better than words. Daughters need to know their fathers are proud of them, so pull out the hug, even when they may have made a mistake.
3. They eventually figure it out.
As my mother, the English teacher, would ask me when I was being a “smart-arse” (yes, she made up words to avoid profanity), “How would you like to eat broccoli three times a day for the rest of your life and have what is left over stuffed up your nose?” Joking aside, message received.
The skill of replacing a profanity with another word was a skill passed down to me, which I apparently embraced. On one of the many occasions when my daughters were reminiscing about their father, it was shared that as young girls they thought the word “ship” was a swear word. Apparently, under certain conditions, banging my hand with a hammer, I would yelp the word “ship!”
When you’re trying—and sometimes even when you’re not—your daughters are watching and learning. They may not immediately show any signs of understanding or getting it, but eventually they will—the good and the bad!
4. They’re always watching.
The first relationship your daughters will experience is the one between their mother and father. It’s relatively easy to focus on your children, running from one kid activity to another. Although it’s important to be present for your daughters, it’s of more importance what they observe of the interactions between their parents.
If there is anything you take away from this article, let it be this: one of the most important things you can do for your daughters is to love their mother. Teach your daughter, by your actions, what it means to be a good man and a good husband.
5. Create memories.
An older and much wiser father and employee of mine once shared with me that he routinely had father-daughter dates with his daughter. He explained his reasoning, part of which was that it created memories.
Having two daughters, I was smart enough to realize that these “dates” might need to come in different ways, to ensure they were special for both my daughters and for me. It became much more informal at times and could be as simple as going out to lunch or taking the boat out on the lake to go fishing.
As a family, we tried to create memories that supported the passions and interests of our daughters. Our youngest daughter, from an early age, was interested in animals, the ocean, and conservancy. Vacations became opportunities to learn ways to protect endangered ocean animals, take eco-friendly tours, or just explore some of the wonders of nature.
As my daughters have gotten older, I realize the value of this advice when my girls share their memories, often with a lot of laughs and smiles.
6. Facts versus feelings.
It is just as important to recognize what your daughter is feeling as it is to understand the facts.
I heard a story once about a father who was complaining to his wife about their pre-teenage daughter. He said something to the effect of, “You would think by now she would have learned to be a little less sensitive.” To which his wife responded, “And you’d think her father, after all these years, would have learned to be a little more sensitive.”
The lesson here is to be her rock. Be there when she just needs a hug, when she needs a shoulder to cry on, and when she wants to share something exciting happening in her life.
7. It’s a special and unique relationship.
The bond between a father and daughter is both special and unique. I have never been a person who is open to sharing my emotions and feelings. I can say without exception, I allow myself to be most vulnerable when I’m with my daughters because of the emotions that you could only experience as the result of the father/daughter connection.
Embrace this relationship, because it is so special and will allow for this one-of-a-kind experience for both you and your daughter. Your daughter is seeking your approval first and foremost. And there ought not to be anyone who tells her that she is loved more than you. Make it your daily practice to tell your daughter “I love you.”
The first man in your daughter’s life is her father, and she needs your trust more than anything. Don’t deny her your confidence in her and the certainty that you will always be there for her.
As a father, you not only need to be there, but you need to be present. I cannot imagine anything that would break a young lady faster than losing the trust of the one man she needs to trust her. As a father, learn to forgive your daughters when they make a mistake.
Now, don’t get me wrong and think that you must forget also. In the wise words of Mark Twain, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Your time will come. Be patient. Wink, wink!
9. She will break your heart.
As a father, be prepared to have your heart broken a few times. Your daughter will not always understand or care what you do for her. Regardless of what she may say or do, there is probably no other person in the world who thinks as much of you as your daughter.
I’ve never worried, never prayed, and never lost more sleep over anything as much as I have my daughters. Just be aware and know that little girl you knew before she entered those teen years will return. She’ll come back stronger than ever, and the relationship will only become that much more special.
You’ll know you’ve done your job when your daughter has become a strong woman of principle who stands up for herself and for those who are too weak. I am so proud and so blessed to have two strong, independent young women for daughters.
My oldest has devoted her life to working with and advocating for children who struggle with a variety of disabilities. My youngest has an extraordinary passion and dedication to rescuing and protecting animals. She started at a young age rescuing animals and devoted her training, education, and life to protecting and championing the rights of animals.
I’ve made more than my share of mistakes trying to be a good father. There is no perfect way to do it, but what you can do is try your best, make sure your daughter knows you love her, always be there for her, and always, always, always put the toilet seat down.
All that matters is that in the end, I’m a better man because I have daughters.