Many of us seem to know inherently what to do but often there are not specific actions attached. For example, if someone said “one of my goals is to lose some weight.” That is a highly worthy goal (provided you are actually overweight to begin with) but just knowing that you should do something is different than actually doing it. Same thing with fathers and daughters. We know we should be a good parent and that our daughters look to their fathers see what makes a man, and to see what kind of man they may want someday. But how do we be a “good parent.”
Margaret Meeker in her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, says that there are five specific action steps that you can take.
- Words. One of the major differences between men and women is, and we are stereotyping a bit here, women like to talk, and men don’t (Meeker 50). It is true that I can spend several hours with a guy, watching a game or even playing golf, and barely say 20 words and we will call that a successful day. But dads, you need to learn a new skill for your daughter – it is called communication. Don’t worry we will help you through it. As I’ve found out its relatively harmless. Pay your daughter compliments repeatedly (Meeker 51). Girls can be very prone to self-doubt. When she talks, she wants you to respond (Meeker 51), grunting does not count, nor does not even looking up from your coffee and paper and going, ‘uh huh.’. Don’t just always compliment her looks or her weight, or her clothes (remember, when you tell a woman that her outfit looks good, she will hear “I look good). Compliment her character, her judgement, her decision-making, her poise.When a daughter hears “I love you” from her father she feels complete (Meeker 51). Leave her a note saying that in her school backpack or on her desk at home. Girls love notes. She also wants you to be happy. This was sort of a surprise to me as well but one thing Meeker mentions is that your daughter will often act as your personal aid, doing what she can to improve things for you as you are the center of her world (Meeker 51). Talk about your daughter’s character and praise her best attributes, her sensitivity, her compassion and courage. She will start drawing a picture in her mind of how you see her and that’s the person she will want to be (this also explains how Tomboys are developed in some cases).
- Fences. This one always puzzles me as I typically think the last thing any kid wants are boundaries, but they need them. A teenager with a curfew knows that someone is probably waiting for them at home whereas a teenager without a curfew wonders if anybody cares. Meeker says that men are better at creating and enforcing boundaries than women (52). When our daughters are little we define their territory, telling them where it is safe to go and what it is safe to do (Meeker 52). We also create borders around her movements, language and behavior to keep her from getting hurt. As she gets older we start giving her more latitude to roam (Meeker 52) and expanding her borders. Hopefully, you still don’t have a 15-year-old daughter running around the house barricaded with baby gates.We often like to assume that the ‘good kids,’ will make good decisions. But you need to role play just a bit with them just to see their thought process. When they are younger, you can use the typical stranger danger scenarios, but we’ve found that more complex ones work better. Real life scenarios with repairmen, teachers or coaches and eventually, friends and boyfriends give context and variables she has to work through. Meeker tells a story in her book about how surprised a police officer was when his daughter explained that she thought it would take at least think 5 or 6 beers to intoxicate her boyfriend, enough that she wouldn’t drive with him; in reality it takes a lot less beer than that to hit impaired or even DUI. We’re also told that girls mature faster than boys and while this may be true we now know that most brains are still developing into one’s early 20s and in some sick joke of nature, judgement is one of the last abilities to fully develop.
- Silence. When your daughter senses you are genuinely interested in what she has to say it makes her feel significant, mature, self-confident, and loved (Meeker 56). But listening can be tough, particularly for a guy. Guys want to solve problems and we often enjoy telling the other person how they screwed up and then what they should’ve done instead. Your daughter does not want to hear that. They want their fathers to listen while they work through, out loud, their own tangled feelings and beliefs (Meeker 57).
- Time. It is the great equalizer. It is the one commodity where we all get the same allotment. It is socialism at its finest as everybody gets 24 hours. And your daughter, the Capitalist, wants some of yours (Meeker 57). Being a father means giving of your time without rolling your eyes, showing resentment, or that huge sigh which signals to your daughter that you have more important things to do, such as getting to work to pay the mortgage (Meeker 57). It’s not that she doesn’t care about the house payment it’s just that she expects you to figure out how to spend time with her and still make ends meet. You are a super hero after all.Meeker also cautions fathers should avoid activities that put her into competition with you. Use this time for meaningful conversation, emotional balance and for relaxing and having fun. I don’t think Meeker meant you couldn’t have a good game of golf, or tennis, or Monopoly, or some other competitive sport or game, because the frame of reference she uses in the book (p 58) talks about keeping conflict resolution out of the father-daughter fun time.
Here is the final argument on time: daughters who spend more time with their fathers are less likely to drink, take drugs, have sex as teenagers or have out of wedlock babies (Meeker 59).
- Will. Your daughter will test you. She will come home with the boyfriend you hate, the tattoo you can’t stand and the piercing that pushes you over the edge (Meeker 60). Do not stop loving her. It takes willpower. More than you may have ever used in the past. It takes discipline and grit. You may even have to step away from the situation and go do some deep breathing, but then come back. This patience and persistence will pay off your relationship with her (Meeker 60).
Meeker also warns of one of the most frequent problems with young girls – their weight. Eating disorders have become a significant problem (is anyone surprised by this?) particularly in America where many of us worship at the foot of celebrity. Many girls fantasize about being a model, posing for magazines and acting on television or the movies. They put a premium on being thinner and more beautiful (Meeker 69). There is of course nothing wrong with eating and exercising but in a healthy way, but the strength of your relationship with your daughter can have a profound effect on preventing an eating disorder or even healing one, if one has taken hold (Meeker 71). Show her healthy habits by practicing them yourself and praise her normal physique, instead of worshiping the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (yes, she’s paying attention to what you’re reading too).
Spend time with her. Do activities you enjoy together. Girls hate feeling invisible and without your attention they feel unloved and insecure (Meeker 71). Listen to her. As guys we are experts at doing two things, tuning people out and pretending to listen. You will not get away with this with your daughter. She knows when you’re paying attention. It may take some practice but you’ll figure out how to do it, just give it some time. There is a tremendous side benefit to this as listening to your daughter will allow her self-esteem to soar (Meeker 73). She will feel more attractive and think that boys who don’t want to be with her, are the ones that have a problem (Meeker 73). Let your daughter know that the person she must please the most is you. Girls who are encouraged to be strong athletically, emotionally, intellectually and physically will take over the role of encouraging themselves to succeed (Meeker 73).
Our daughters want to be loved by us – by giving of our words, fences, silence, time and will, we will not just be talking a good game, but actually showing them our love.
Meeker, Margaret J. Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2006. Print.