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.”
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