Splashing in Puddles: How to Be a Father to Your Daughter

Advice from a father of five daughters: Prioritize your daughter’s interests as if they were your own, and you will succeed at parenting.

This is an excerpt from Splashing in Puddles: How to Be a Father to Your Daughter, a new book by David B. Van Heemst from Kirkdale Press.

 

It was the spring of 2001 when I told our car mechanic that we were expecting our first child. I’ll never forget his reaction. He smiled. Then I told him we were having twins. His face really lit up. Finally, I told him we were having twin girls. His countenance changed. He got a concerned look on his face, grabbed my arm, and said, “It’s okay, David. You’ll get your boy next time.”

You may never become known for your deeds at work, your accomplishments, or your great contributions to volunteer organizations. What if instead, you became the hero you always dreamed of in the relationships that matter most—at home with your family as a dad?

I walked away stunned. I hadn’t been sad. I wasn’t hoping for any particular gender. I was thankful that April was pregnant and excited that we were starting a family. Our mechanic was probably getting at something like this: Men typically want a son to carry on the family name. They want a son because dads have a special bond with their sons. They can hunt, work on the car, and play baseball together.

His thinking represents the twentieth-century idea that dads raise boys and moms raise girls. But the twenty-first-century idea is this: Daughters need their dads. In fact, I feel called to be a dad to daughters. I believe that God has used many experiences in my life to shape me into being the type of man that girls need. I am thankful to God for my girls.

The view regarding dads and daughters instead of dads and sons is one part of a seismic shift going on in the United States today. The requirements for being a good dad have quintupled, and they continue to rise. As dads, we can feel blindsided. Our daughters want us to bond with them, and culture’s expectations of dads have changed immensely. Long gone are the days when the dad was the provider and authority figure who was largely irrelevant for the actual rearing of the child.

It feels as if the expectations have mushroomed overnight: become intimately involved in your daughter’s life, practice her ballet moves with her, take her to soccer practice, help her with her algebra homework, show her how to change a tire on the car, develop her financial sensibilities, and still provide discipline. We are expected to be involved throughout the many stages of her life while she lives at home: change her diaper, assist her with her piano songs, work with our wives in guiding her through puberty, emotionally support her in her first dating relationships in high school, and encourage her in the process of getting into the college of her choice.

With our newborns, no one in the hospital ever asked me if I wanted to change their diapers. The nurses (and mom) simply handed me the diapers. There I stood, expected to know how to change the diaper of a human baby. What if I messed up? Where were the pins? (Didn’t my mom use pins to close the cloth diapers?) And we’re still supposed to provide as well. The rules of the game have changed, and no one told us.

♦◊♦

Our culture’s expectations for fathering are nowhere close to what they were for our dads—and they’re light-years away from what they were for our grandfathers. We have gone from being the one who helped give life, put food on the table, taught life skills, and played the role of supporter for our wives to becoming a co-parent—someone who is expected to help out equally in the actual raising of our children. Today, dads are not only changing diapers, pushing the stroller, cuddling, and getting up in the middle of the night, but they are also expected to be heavily involved throughout her adolescent and young adulthood years. And no one told us. And on top of that, we never received a manual on how to be a good dad for our daughters.

Be Her Hero

All of us want to be heroes. As kids, we had heroes like baseball players, musicians, G.I. Joe, and movie stars. As adults, we know that many of our heroes were really just celebrities who were created by the entertainment industry. But you can become something much more.

There is no magic formula—in fact, there isn’t any formula at all. But over time, you can become a good dad by turning yourself toward your daughter and connecting with her. Girls need to bond, and so do we. Your daughter not only needs you, she wants you. You may never become known for your deeds at work, your accomplishments, or your great contributions to volunteer organizations. What if instead, you became the hero you always dreamed of in the relationships that matter most—at home with your family as a dad?

Becoming a hero this way is counterintuitive. For so long, we thought that accomplishments, achievements, plaques on the wall, and trophies on the mantel place were the visible recognitions of our greatness. But here’s the thing: Your daughter could care less about your office size, your job title, or the number of people you command. What she does care about is you and the way you look at her, talk to her, and act with her. Someone should’ve told us a lot earlier that the way to become a hero isn’t by doing anything; rather, it’s by being and becoming the person that our daughters need us to be. Being replaces doing as the road to heroism.

One of the funny things about becoming your daughter’s hero is that it doesn’t happen by working hard. We are programmed—maybe even hard-wired—to set goals and work toward them. Yet this goal setting formula doesn’t work with becoming a great dad; instead, we must shift our thinking away from working to accomplish our goals. There is no self-centered orientation in becoming a great dad. Instead, the key is to live out these challenges:

  • Can I become so utterly other-centered that my focus becomes the well-being of my daughter?
  • Could I begin to care for her well-being the way I used to care about mine?

Let’s put this another way: The key to becoming a hero is to turn toward your daughter. You deeply value her and your relationship with her. If you turn toward your daughter in the way that you devote yourself to your job, working out, or growing your 401(k)—if you invest yourself in her fully, holding nothing back, and make your daughter a priority—you will become a successful parent.

How you turn toward her shapes her. The way you talk to her, make demands of her, listen to her, how much time you spend with her, and how deeply valued she feels in your eyes—all of these bonding activities—will shape her core character in deeply significant ways. These activities will shape how she turns toward you. Her interactions with you will be an indicator of how you’re turning toward her. As she grows up, the way she’s been shaped will influence the way that she interacts with others. It’ll affect how she interacts with the world as a grown up.

Bergman makes a similar point by highlighting the significance of bonding, the reciprocal interaction between father and daughter, with the term “mutuality.” Mutuality emphasizes the give and take, the interplay, between daughters and fathers and between daughters and others. He explains, “We have to put our shoulders against the status quo, with the faith that if we create mutual connections, all good will accrue to the selves in that connection. This is what both girls and boys have experienced in the first years of life, and what all of us, boys and girls and men and women, want.”

♦◊♦

If you want your daughter to grow into a woman who feels secure and significant, one who is bathed in those things instead of the performance death trap, then you need to give that security and significance to her. If you give her a life saturated with security and significance, you’ll be giving her unconditional love.

 

Buy Splashing in Puddles: How to Be a Father to Your Daughter from Kirkdale Press at a special discounted price, with coupon code GOODMEN. Also available from Vyrso, the Christian bookstore, or from Barnes & Noble. Also available on Kindle.

Read 25 Failsafe* Rules For Dads Raising Daughters, By Marcus Williams and Joanna Schroeder

Photo of little girl in a puddle courtesy of Shutterstock

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About David B. Van Heemst

David B. Van Heemst lives in Kankakee, Illinois with his wife, April, and their five daughters. Maggie and Ellie are ten years old, and Anni, Libby, and Jessie are four years old. They enjoy bike riding, going to the park, reading books, and playing games.

Comments

  1. wellokaythen says:

    I wonder if trying to be her hero for the rest of her life is the best approach. That could set up a very unhealthy dynamic and set up incredibly unrealistic expectations for yourself. You can’t be a superman. Of course there will be moments when she needs you, and moments where she looks up to you. But, you still get to be a human being. In fact, you have to be a human being. You have to accept that some day in her development she will no longer think of you as infallible and will start to see you as a person with flaws. My concern is that, if someone has an overly romanticized view of fatherhood, there can be a huge letdown when reality rears its ugly head. Some dads may go in for the ego boost of being a child’s hero, which is setting themselves up for disillusionment later.

    No, I don’t have kids. This is speculation on my part. I could actually be right about this anyway, despite my handicap.

  2. I think that by operating under the belief that as children develop and recognize the infallibly of fathers, that it somehow lessens the “hero” is flawed. The day I realized that my father was imperfect wasn’t the day he stopped being my hero. In fact, realizing that being my dad in actuality was not as simple as I believed made me admire him all the more. It also helped me to understand that imperfections did not stop me or anyone else from being the “hero.” In my opinion, the idea that heroes, regardless of who they are, need to be perfect is more damaging then the idea that my parent could be a hero. Its much like the phrase, “Being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid” only in this case it is “being a hero doesn’t mean not making mistakes”. This is only my opinion, as a daughter of a single father, who watched him struggle through being a parent more often then simply gliding through. But to me, the effort and the fact that he cared enough to try is what makes me idealize him. It taught me that same work ethic as well as the knowledge in other relationships, that my partner may not be perfect but as long as he is trying, what can be more admirable.

  3. Great writing …. I have a daughter and a son. Strange that the “hero” came into play in your writing. My 28 year old daughter said just that in her Father’s day card to me …. That I am her hero. Wow, it threw me in that I never saw myself asa her hero. She’s my “pinkin” and will forever be my little punkin. My life changed when my daughter was born, she is very special to me, I just never saw that anything I’ve ever done would warrent the “hero” status but what ever I did, I’m glad I did it.

  4. Don’t sweat over what ‘being a hero’ means. Just get in there, be there. You won’t be able to help it. Here’s the thing, though: Now my daughter is grown, 31, a woman I admire and respect. She’s taken the hard trails and stayed true to her heart. Now, my daughter’s MY hero. ~J

    • My name is Ronald i have a four month baby and i love her sooooo much and i thank God to give me her and a gorgeous woman but i need types of to be their for her

  5. Tim Salinger says:

    I guess I’m the grump here, but I don’t see anything in this article (book excerpt) besides the admonition to be a reasonable human being. Does anyone really need to be told to pay attention to their children? (to “turn toward her” and “make her a priority,” in the author’s words). Do I need to read a book to learn to “value” my daughter? Apparently this author did, as he complains –twice!– that “no one told us” what to do. Welcome to parenthood, David! No one told our wives how to be mothers, either. (And no one told our parents, or their parents, etc.)

    Has masculinity so transformed the experience of being a man that we forgot to be reasonable human beings, and subsequently we are surprised to discover that paying attention to our kids is a good thing? I don’t think so. Does Mr. Van Heemst really think that our fathers didn’t care about our sisters? That our grandfathers didn’t care about our mothers and aunts? David presents a straw man — a straw father– and so that he can congratulate himself for outperforming it.

    As I embark on my journey of raising my own daughter, it would be helpful to hear real-life examples of challenges faced, mistakes made, triumphs shared. But this treacle is worse than unhelpful — it tries to make us feel great for just showing up. Now, showing up is an important first step, but it’s not nearly enough, to be considered a “good” father. It is the baseline– that which allows you to call yourself a “father” at all. Michael Chabon does a good job describing how very low the bar is set, for being considered a good father. We don’t need the bar lowered any further by Mr. Van Heemst, to include simply “being there.”

    I don’t doubt that the author is a good father, but I’m saddened that he thinks that his “goodness” is a function of not being a lousy person. Try harder, David. The rest of us already are.

    • No I completely agree with you Tim. I thought it was pretty much fluff. ‘Be a hero’ and ‘put your kid first’ – well yeah. Bonding is important – again well yeah.

      He’s parenting kids under 10. I don’t think he has a ton of examples of serious issues faced.

    • I completely agree with you. As a woman, I have always been expected to make my children a priority, WHILE kicking ass at my job, WHILE looking like a model, WHILE fawning over my husband like a pornstar would. The problem is, no one told me how to do it. It was a study for me, it took time, energy and determination. It took me losing sight of what I wanted from life. This poor man, all of this is expected from him now that he is an adult with children. Someone should have given him a baby doll when he was a little boy and told him it was his job to keep the doll safe, clean, and happy but that he also had to get straight A’s and make everyone he ever met adore him. Someone should have taken away all the fun he got to have to “teach him the ways.” Then he might be prepared for the challenges of adulthood – or fatherhood. How about we try our best? Love ourselves and love our children. My dad is not a hero. He is a dad. And he is a phenomenal one. “Hero,” to me, implies an element of fiction. There is no fiction in the mistakes my dad made and continues to make. There is human nature and love. That’s what a little girl needs.

  6. Great article. A quick response to those questioning the hero idea… It really is quite important. I am one of the few people of my own generation who grew up with a great father who was my hero. This article easily could have been about him. Now that I am older and have my own child, I do see him as the human being that he is, however, that makes me think even more highly of him. Having a father who is not just a great father but a great husband to my mother has given my sister and I a huge advantage over those women we know who did not grow up with that support. Neither of us rushed into marriages, despite plenty of offers, both of us are confident and more than willing to pursue the things we love; we value ourselves and even more importantly, we are not afraid to stand up for ourselves the way our father stood up for us in the past. Far too many women in our age group really cannot say the same.

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