I, of course, have never been a father. I have, however, been the daughter of a father. I have also observed a wide variety of fathers interacting with their daughters over my 63 years of life. In honor of Father’s Day last Sunday, I wanted to share a few life hacks I have observed for being an effective girl dad.
Loving the mother of your girl child:
The first male/female relationship your daughter will observe will be the relationship between you and her mother. Make sure you are modeling how you hope a partner will one day treat your girl child. Don’t let her see you do things that you would never, ever want a man to do to her. Be affectionate and tender. Be thoughtful and respectful towards your daughter’s mom. When you disagree or argue, do so productively and fairly. Try not to burden your daughter with your relationship problems. If you and Mom are having a serious issue that may be triggering, find a place and time to do it that will not involve your daughter. It is okay for your daughter to see disagreements. In fact, it is good for her to learn that disagreements do not equal catastrophe. It is not okay for her to see you devalue or harm her mother physically or emotionally.
Complimenting your girl child:
I once read that a father should praise his daughter for getting an A on a math test AND for looking pretty in her prom dress. I understand and appreciate the idea behind this advice, but I would tweak it a little bit. I think a father should acknowledge and validate a daughter for achieving academically and looking beautiful. Achieving academically may not look like an A on a math test. It may look like working hard on a project and learning new skills. It may look like finding a lifelong passion. It may look like missing the mark, but learning valuable lessons. Looking beautiful may not mean rocking a fluffy pink prom dress. It may mean a bright, happy smile. It may mean looking healthy and strong. It may mean that Daddy sees in his daughter a unique beauty that is tangled and encased in a soul that is fraught with anxiety and self-doubt. I also think that a father should praise his daughter for being kind to others AND for standing up for her own needs. A girl who understands that her father truly believes she is intelligent, beautiful, kind, and valuable in her own right is likely to expect other men to see the same qualities in her. She will be far more likely to seek out a man who truly loves and respects her as a partner.
Communicating with your girl child:
I don’t know if it is true, but I have often heard men say that women are complicated. These men assert that males are easy- what you see is what you get- but, with women, you need a secret decoder ring. The same is true of little girls. There is often much more going on in their minds than you might think. It may take some mining to figure out what they really want, believe, and fear. Look for the question behind her questions. Try different strategies. She wants to tell you. She really does. She just doesn’t always know how. She just isn’t always sure you’ll still love her if she does because what is in her mind can be scary. And, as for teasing her… don’t. You may know you are teasing. She may even know you are teasing, but some part of her may always wonder if what you said in jest was your truth.
Sharing activities with your girl child:
It is important for a father to share in his daughter’s activities, even the girly ones. Some girls will enjoy activities that are traditionally more popular with men. Some will tolerate and try to embrace such activities simply for the opportunity to share time with their daddies. There is nothing wrong with that. In any healthy relationship, the people involved try to find common ground. That includes compromising on ways to spend enjoyable time together. However, it should be a two-way street. If a daughter tries fishing so that she can spend a few hours bonding with her father, it is only fair that the father joins her in playing an interminable game of Candyland. Sharing time and attention should be a mutual goal. A little girl may not be able to articulate that, even if she hates fishing and thinks worms are icky, she is delighted with the idea of spending time with her father. Still, that is what she is doing. In the same vein, a father may think playing Candyland is an activity designed to push a grown man over the boredom edge but will be delighted to do it because he gets time and attention with his little girl. Oh, and, Dads, dance with your daughters! It makes them feel cherished and beautiful and precious. You absolutely want your daughter to feel cherished and beautiful and precious… because she is.
Protecting your girl child:
There is a fine line between protecting your girl child and limiting her. You are the dad. Your job is to protect her. Don’t abdicate that role. A little girl who does not feel protected is a little girl who will grow up into a woman who is afraid she is not worth protecting. Ensure that you can financially support your girl child. Make sure she has a safe place to live and food in her belly. Anticipate possible physical and emotional dangers. Mitigate the damage. However, figure out a way of letting your daughter stretch beyond her comfortable cocoon when she is ready. Help her to be ready by talking about the kinds of things you consider when making decisions. Help her to realize that failure is not an option because nothing that helps her learn is a failure. Help her to be ready by standing by her side when she tries new things. I remember going on the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland when I was a little girl. It was one of those things I did because I wanted the opportunity to have individual time with my father, not because I really wanted to do it. My mother and brother were not fans of thrill rides, but my father enjoyed them. I would agree to go on the ride with Daddy so he would have company. As we waited in line, my anxiety and nerves would get worse and worse. Sometimes, I ended up bailing before it was our turn. Most of the time, however, I ended up riding the toboggan because Daddy encouraged me. I have a friend who is a girl dad. He set up a back-up system for his daughters as they started to have lives outside the family. When his girls were going out with friends or to another family’s house, he told them to always call him and ask if their laundry was done if they felt uncomfortable with any situation they encountered. He would know that would be his cue that there was something going awry, and he needed to come extract that daughter right away. It also meant that he should feign getting angry and “making” the daughter come home, so there would be less social pressure for the daughter to navigate. I think that is so smart and so LOVE-ly.
No girl dad is perfect. No girl dad- NOBODY- will be able to hit the bullseye all the time. In fact, just about everyone has arrows flying around willy nilly at some point in their lives. That doesn’t mean you are not a wonderful girl dad. You probably are, simply because you want to be. Every dad is going to be different, and every girl is going to be different. The only hack that is absolutely mandatory is to be there and to do your best. And any girl dad who loves is doing his best!
Happy Father’s Day! What are some of your best memories of your girl dads? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.