I have been struck lately, through circumstances of life, people I have met in my private life or in my office, movies I have watched and books I have read, by the role a father plays in his child?s life. More specifically, I have been pondering on this strange, difficult and complicated thing that is a father-daughter relationship.
Honestly, look around: do you see a lot of young women that can say they have a vibrant, secure, loving and close relationship with their dad? To me, such girls have always been a wonder. I have always looked at them with curiosity, feeling very intrigued by seemed to have come to them so easily. I would look at this connection they had and wonder how on earth they had gotten there, and I would, I admit it, feel a little bit of envy for what they had. Sounds familiar?
I believe that father-daughter relationships get complicated right at the point when they are most crucial: when a girl transitions into becoming a woman. John and Stasi Eldredge, in ?Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman?s Soul? (2005), describe how from a very young age, a woman needs to be romanced and sought after, how she needs to ?play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure? and how she wants to be and feel beautiful. When we think of the adult woman, it is obvious that within a heterosexual context, she will seek these things from a man. And when she is a little girl, THE man in her life is her dad.
I was watching a movie over the holidays, about a man who gets suddenly ill and has to be hospitalized. As he is nearing death, he gets a video email from his daughter, who can?t be near him because she is on a sailboat in the Pacific. She knows this is her good bye to her dad and she is crying as she tells him: ?you have managed to give me your appetite for life. I don?t know how you did it. You know? The first man in a girl?s life is her father??. She can?t finish her sentence, because she is crying, and so was I as I watched the movie. What a powerful line! The first man in a girl?s life is her dad. So true, so beautiful, so powerful, and yet so tragic for so many women out there.
John and Stasi Eldredge say that little girls receive tenderness and comfort from their moms. From their dad, they need something different. They need an answer to a big Question. That big Question is at the core of a little girl?s – and later woman?s – heart and soul: ? ?am I lovely? Do you see me? Do you want to see me? Are you captivated by what you find in me?? We live haunted by that Question, yet unaware that it still needs an anwer? (p. 59). From their fathers, little girls learn that they are special, or not?
John and Stasi Eldredge report that ?numerous studies have shown that women who report a close and caring relationship with their fathers, who received assurance, enjoyment, and approval from them during childhood, suffer less from eating disorders or depression and ?developed a strong sense of personal identity and positive self-esteem? (Margo Maine, Father Hunger)? (pp. 62-63).
Dads, you have quite a responsibility on your shoulders! And you might wonder how you can provide all that and ensure that your daughter ends up being a healthy, self-secure and balanced woman who is capable of choosing the right man for the right reason and develop an intimate relationship with him? Well, it?s not that complex at first: see her, and let her know that you see her. Admire her and TELL HER. Be verbal with your love and affirmations. Lavish her with affection, be present, protect her, have fun with her. Give her a special name, take her on special dates. And when she starts changing and becoming a woman, don?t go all weird on her. Deal with your own stuff if you can?t handle her changing body and attitude, but don?t make her feel like she is too much for you. She may be the one feeling awkward around you, but chances are it?s because she senses your uneasiness. Do respect her boundaries when she becomes a teenager, evolve with her, but don?t push her away. Keep noticing her, remain curious and interested. She needs you to be at her games, concerts or dance shows, as much as when she was little. You are the spring board from which she will bounce into womanhood. And finally, love your wife and show her what it?s like to be a good man, so that when she goes out there to find her own, she will know what she wants according to high standards and good expectations.
That being said, I believe that it hasn?t been easy for men to be good husbands and good fathers. I believe those our fathers now didn?t have very good role models when they grew up, because it was a different era, a post-war era, in which survival and reconstruction was more important than emotions and soul connections. Today, we have more resources and help than ever. Do take advantage of it. Read books, go to conferences, seek help, share with your friends, there is no shame in that. Especially if you do it for your children. If you are reading this blog, you are searching, trying, investing, and for that, I deeply respect you.