As I do every Father’s Day, I spent time thinking of what my daughter could do for her dad. When she was little, she would draw pictures and make cards and crafts. She would help me make breakfast for him that he would eat – no matter what was in it or how it tasted. Now that she’s older, I’ve spent more time thinking about what he’s done for her. Dads can sometimes feel a little unskilled as their daughters get older, but their impact is far-reaching and important, so it’s quite valuable to look at what daughters want and need from dear old dad.
I’m pretty sure if it weren’t for her dad, my daughter would have never been allowed to go down the slide at the park by herself or swing from the monkey bars. She also would have been the undisputed Candy Land champion of the world since I always let her win. He was the one who convinced me that she would gain confidence (and have fun!) by going down the slide by herself, that if she fell off the monkey bars she would (gasp) be okay and try again, and that he didn’t want to see the result of a kid who never had to learn to lose a game. We had a pretty good balance in those years: I was the one who insisted on vitamins, coats in the winter, dentist appointments, and healthy foods, while he was the one who let her try more things, let her fail more often, and threw her higher in the air than I would ever dare. Of course it’s not that black and white – I was fun and played with her as well, and he fixed her healthy snacks and zipped up her coat. But the point is, we each brought something to the table.
As she got older, it became harder for my poor husband. He did not want to hear about the need for bras or anything else of that nature. He was confounded by the girl drama that surrounds the tween years. And he certainly did not want to know anything about boy-craziness other than the promise that she wouldn’t date until she’s 35. This is totally normal, but I told him, and I’m now telling you, that he still plays a vital role in her life. Here’s how:
Her future romantic relationships. In some psychology circles, the saying goes that moms teach their daughters who they will become, and dads teach them who they will later choose. Daughters watch how their fathers treat their mothers and other women, they learn quickly and early on what to expect in a partner. Daughters who have a positive role model in their fathers generally go on to have more fulfilling, emotionally stable, and happier marriages themselves.
Her future career path. Did you know that in the world of politics and other high-achieving fields women with no brothers are more prevalent than those with brothers? Many of these women report being encouraged by their fathers to be tenacious, ambitious, motivated and successful. Researchers attribute this to the fact that these women received promotion of their academic success in fields traditionally filled by men. Some of these traditional notions still exist today, but thankfully the tide has turned and many men encourage their daughters without gender roles in mind. The impact of a father who is involved in his daughter’s academics and shows her that he believes she can do anything is immeasurable.
Her future in general. As if what I’ve just described isn’t a tall enough order, I have to point out that daughters who have a caring, supportive, and communicative relationship with their fathers have reduced rates of everything from early drug use, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, and abusive relationships. In short, if a girl doesn’t have a solid guy to go to in her father, she will look to someone or something else – and usually make the wrong choice.
When my daughter was little, there was the typical “mommy do” phase. Even with dad standing right there, it was only mommy who could fill a sippy cup, make a boo-boo better, and play with dolls. Dad was, however, often requested to read stories because his voices of characters were way better than mommy’s. A new phase replaced this in the tween years. When boys talked about having a crush on her, they always expressed concern over doing something wrong because they were afraid of what her dad would do. What? I volunteered at the school for years, I ran forgotten lunches up to her, I did carpool… I was a lot more visible to her peers, why was no one afraid of me? The point was that even if her dad was at work and not seen as often, it was widely known that his presence looms large. The protection that our daughter feels from her dad is well known to her, and by extension, everyone else.
It’s okay if dads feel out of their depth when dealing with all that comes with the tween years (and beyond). He doesn’t need to suddenly be entrenched in the reasons that Susie will no longer sit with Ashley at lunch, or take over conversations about puberty. If he hasn’t plugged into her life, it’s time, and he’s now got all the motivation he needs. But he has hopefully already found a niche in her life, participating in her sports, helping with homework, or having a favorite show that they watch together. Find or continue ways to connect with her that are comfortable and enjoyable for both, and know that the role he plays in her life will ultimately shape her future. No pressure.