The importance of fathers to their daughtersWritten by Tim Sanford
Of all the relationships your daughter will experience (with her mother, teachers, coaches, boyfriends) the father-daughter dyad has the potential to have the greatest positive impact on her life. Yes, her mother, teachers, coaches and friends’ parents will influence her greatly, yet there’s something unique, in the true sense of the word, about your role as her dad. As father, you’re the alpha male of the wolf pack called the “Smith” family, and what you say or do carries more weight than if anybody else says or does the same thing.
This position does not give you privilege or mean you’re more important than others; rather, you’re more accountable to God for what you say and do. God made it that way and it is why dad is so important to his daughter.
The biggest, number one item in your job description as her father is to validate her over and over and over and over again.
Importance of validation to daughters
Validation means to say with your words and live with your actions
- “You exist and you matter to me.”
- “You’re good enough.”
- “You belong in this family.”
- “I’m proud to be your father.”
- “I love you.”
- “You’re my favourite-est ________________.”
Your daughter will receive validation for all sorts of things and from all sorts of people; some healthy and honest, others not so much. Therefore, your important position in this father-daughter dyad sets you up to influence her more than you can imagine.
Importance of your perspective for daughters
As father, you provide a different perspective on life your daughter won’t otherwise have. You’re a male; you’re “different” from her and her mother. Your daughter needs her mother’s adult female perspective to model her own after. She certainly needs the different vantage point you have on issues she faces and will face. Having both the female and male perspectives provides her with a full and more robust database with which to interpret and navigate life’s circumstances – especially the more complicated ones. For example, your “different” perspective on things will be invaluable to her on topics such as boys and how they think, dating, safety concerns and personal boundaries. Furthermore, it will also help her develop that all-important skill of understanding and getting along with people who hold differing worldviews.
Your daughter needs both her own female perspective and yours. In other words, share your perspectives and at the same time learn to understand and validate her female way of thinking, even when it’s different; especially when it’s different.
Importance of symbolizing the Heavenly Father
God describes his relationship to us as believers as the one who is our “Heavenly Father.” Your role in interacting with your daughter provides the closest, real-life human example of the unseeable spiritual reality of how to relate with God. You can be the best example of how God is strong and protective, loving and gentle, knowledgeable and trustworthy. That is to say, as dad, you can provide that very important, intimate reflection of a God who is approachable and fun-loving to your daughter. How you interact with your daughter will be the way she learns to interact with God. Your best efforts will be incomplete and imperfect. That’s to be expected. However, your routine human interactions with your daughter provide her with an important spiritual road map of how to approach and interact with God the Father.
Being such a powerful influence in your daughter’s life may conjure up images of needing to be a superhero or completing a “to do” list so long and complicated it seems impossible. That’s not the case. Being the father your daughter needs is simply a matter of doing non-complicated, sometimes routine, things over and over and over again.
1. Be there
Be there at your daughter’s piano recitals and sports games. Be at her bedside for nighttime stories and prayer. Come to at her parent-teacher conferences. Show up frequently so that your presence becomes the norm and when you’re unable to be there she knows it’s only because you really couldn’t.
2. Do things she likes to do
Initiate doing the things your daughter likes to do. Enter into her world. Enjoying what she likes validates her and gives her a sense of her own individuality.
3. Appropriate affection
Physically hold, touch and play with her. Healthy, safe touch from you is important – especially when her body begins to develop. Accept the fact that how you hold, touch and interact playfully with her will change as she ages. However, don’t pull away from physical interactions with her. Find safe and appropriate ways to stay physically connected; ways she deems comfortable.
4. Include her
Include her in things you like to do. Give your daughter the opportunity to participate in things that interest you. Invite her into the activities that are stereotypically classified as “guy” things: mountain biking, playing drums, building or “tinkering” on things out in the garage. She might surprise you and take you up on your offer.
5. Treat her as equally valuable
Treat her as an equal . . . because she is an equal. Her femaleness is just as valued, her perspective on a matter is as viable as yours. Let her be the same as boys and different from them at the same time. Avoid purposefully – or inadvertently – teaching your daughter she’s supposed to be “fragile” or afraid of things like bugs or dirt. Teach her how to be strong: strong-minded, strong-spirited, strong physically. For instance, let your daughter know she can be tough as nails one minute and cute as a button the next.
6. Be curious
Ask questions. What’s OK for you to do or say – especially when her peers are around? Are there pet names (if any) she’s comfortable with you using? When is a hug OK? Are there things you do or say that embarrass her? Asking questions like these encourages her to develop her own voice. They provide opportunities for her to give you her viewpoint. Questions demonstrate a teachable spirit and express love and acceptance. Believe it or not, when you ask if there are things you do or say that embarrass her, you demonstrate your protection for her. That is to say, you’re emotionally protecting her from your words or actions that may cause her pain.
Validate, validate and validate some more. Validate your daughter’s efforts and accomplishments, her unique personality traits, her female way of thinking and her character. She needs to hear validation from you again and again and again.
In conclusion, being the father in the unique father-daughter dyad is an incredible privilege and challenge. While it’s a huge responsibility, it’s a very doable task. It’s built in having common ordinary interactions with your daughter day after day after day after day, even into her adult years.
Timothy L. Sanford is a licensed professional counsellor and the clinical director of counselling services for Focus on the Family in the U.S. He is also a pastor, a public speaker and the author of several books, the most recent being Forgive for Real: Six Steps to Forgiving. Tim and his wife, Becky, have two grown daughters and reside in Colorado.
© 2019 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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