This past weekend, I traveled to my hometown state of Virginia for my baby sister’s baby shower. It was a festive time with family and friends. My sister and brother-in-law are expecting a little girl in early December. Her name is Kennedy. Yesterday I rubbed my sister’s belly and talked to Kennedy in utero. She kicked for Uncle Harold. It’s exciting that another little girl will be joining our family. As I sat at the baby shower watching my brother-in-law, I thought about what a great father he will be. I’m very thankful that my sister has a husband that will be a strong presence for my niece. In fact, statistics clearly show the vital role that fathers play in the development of their daughters. But, we really don’t need statistics to understand how critically important a father’s attention is in the development of his daughter. For my nearly 17 years as the father of a young lady, I’ve sought to emphasize 10 practices that I believe are formative in her development as a young Christian lady. Many factors have impacted the amazing person that she is today. But, I believe these ten practices have played a critically important role.
Author Meg Meeker writes in her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know [affiliate link], “fathers inevitably change the course of their daughters’ lives – and can even save them. From the moment you set eyes on her wet-from-the-womb body until she leaves your home, the clock starts ticking. It’s the clock that times your hours with her, your opportunities to influence her, to shape her character, and to help her find herself.” We fathers have a short window of time to maximally influence our daughters.
I love that excerpt for its emphasis on the short period of time that we fathers ultimately have to impress important values on our daughters. In our harried lives, it is easy to take these duties for granted. But, we do so at the peril of our daughters and our families more broadly.
Sometimes, we avoid these critical moments with our daughters because of difficulties we may have with her mother, particularly in divorce situations. Other times, it is because our daughters may not share our interests in certain activities (e.g. sports) or we in theirs (e.g., fashion trends). Still other times we have difficulty relating to some of the “girl drama” that may not seem nearly as serious as she purports it to be. Regardless of the reason, the result is that we fathers often outsource the male nurture of our daughters to those who often seek to exploit her.
Across developmental stages it only takes a glimpse at the statistics to glean a truism, a father’s influence on his daughter is irreplaceable. In other words, it cannot be effectively outsourced. Can a young girl develop into a fine woman without her father’s presence? Yes, of course. But, I believe it is the herculean effort of other family, friends, and community members that make that happen. Far too often, however, those resources simply aren’t sufficiently present.
Five Barometers of a Father’s influence on pre-teen Daughters (excerpt from Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters)
- Toddlers securely attached to fathers are better at solving problems.
- Six-month old babies score higher on tests of mental development if their dads are involved in their lives.
- With dads present in the home, kids manage school stress better.
- Girls whose fathers provide warmth and control achieve higher academic success.
- Girls who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety and withdrawn behaviors.
Five Barometers of a Father’s influence on Daughters’ teenage years and beyond (excerpt from Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters)
- Girls who lived with their mothers and fathers (as opposed to mothers only) have significantly fewer growth and developmental delays, and fewer learning disorders, emotional disabilities, and behavior problems.
- Girls with fathers who are involved in their lives have higher quantitative and verbal skills and higher intellectual functioning.
- Girls with involved fathers are twice as likely to stay in school.
- Girls with a father figure feel more protected, have higher self-esteem, are more likely to attempt college, and are less likely to drop out of college.
- Girls with involved fathers wait longer to initiate sex and have lower rates of teen pregnancy. Teen girls who live with both parents are three times less likely to lose their virginity before their sixteenth birthdays
The message is clear. From the earliest age into adulthood, fathers critically influence a daughter’s view of themselves and the world in which she lives.
In that spirit, I would like to offer my own ten practices that I strive to embrace with my own daughter. As the years march on, I know my time of direct influence on her wanes. There is no time to waste.
Ten Practices for a Father to Maximize His Influence on His Daughter
Practice #1: Spend quality time with her
There is no replacement for quality time. Regardless of your daughter’s age, intentionally look for ways to spend time with her. When she is very young, this is feeding her. When she is a little girl, it’s playing dolls and house with her. When she’s a teen, it’s taking her shopping or out on a date night.
I enjoy taking my daughter on dad-daughter dates. We have a routine during college basketball season where we purchase season tickets for Temple University’s Men’s basketball. We’ve been doing this for more than ten years. That is a lot of fun. But, I also try to have more conventional dates too. And, I usually try to make it a surprise destination. But, here is the key. During that date, I treat her like I would expect a young man interested in dating her to treat her. If I’m taking her out to dinner, I may don shirt and tie for the event. Sometimes, I’ll buy her a rose. I’ll open the car door and let my chivalry shine. I do this because I’m modeling for her what she should minimally expect of any young man who is romantically interested in her. I don’t want her to be flattered because some guy pays her attention. Rather, I want her to feel like he better “come strong” if he really wants to impress.
Don’t let finances be a deterrent to spending time with your daughter. There are plenty of no and low cost options. Things as simple as going to the library and reading with her would work for a young girl. For an older teen, you can participate in her extracurricular activities or go online with her to listen to her favorite YouTube videos.
Practice #2: Hug her often
When possible, there is no substitute for physical touch. While hugging isn’t everyone’s “thing”, I believe it is important for even reluctant fathers to demonstrate regardless of your daughter’s age.
Your daughter needs to feel your physical presence. She needs to feel secure in that. I personally believe that physically and confidently hugging/holding your daughter is one of the most significant ways of communicating your love and protection for her.
While some daughters may be less accepting of those hugs during the teen years (especially if you didn’t show this affection to her when she was younger), keep trying. And, don’t make the hugging conditional (when you’re happy with her performance). Just hug her to show her you care.
Practice #3: Tell her how beautiful she is
I don’t care what your daughter looks like. To her father, she should feel beautiful. But, don’t just tell her that she is beautiful when she gets all dressed up. Tell her when she’s in sweats, her hair is messed up, and her socks don’t match.
Communicate to her that God made her beautifully and wonderfully. She is a novelty—like none other. Tell her that she is beautiful on the outside. But, you’re more impressed with how beautiful she is on the inside.
I know some of you may be wondering how to handle those situations where your daughter’s behavior is not something to admire right now. Yes, it is important for them to know that you disapprove of inappropriate behavior. But, her negative behavior doesn’t define the beauty God created within her. Encourage and hold her accountable for bringing her behavior in alignment with the beauty that she is.
At least once every week, every father with access to his daughter should sincerely tell her that she is beautiful. If you can’t talk to her live, send her an email, text, or card.
When your daughter feels beautiful, she will be less dependent on someone or something else to validate that for her.
Practice #4: Listen to her talk
Daughters are females. As females, most of our daughters like to talk a lot more than we do. So, it is hard sometimes, to listen to the cacophony of words that flow—especially after a long day’s work. And, yes, sometimes the topics are just not inherently interesting to us.
Though we may often not feel like it, it is important to listen to her talk about whatever is going on with her. If you have young daughters, by listening to them during their early years, they are going to be much more likely to talk to you during those later years.
Here’s an example. My teenage daughter loves the television show, Teen Wolf. Personally, I have zero interest in this show. But, I listen to my daughter talk about it—though admittedly I tease her some. Why? It is important to her. So, I try to make it important to me—to at least listen.
Listening communicates that what is important to her is important to you. And, yes, sometimes, it is only important to you because it is important to her.
Practice #5: Encourage her gifts rather than role stereotypes
Your daughter has gifts and strengths. It is important for a father to recognize and invest in these strengths. Sadly, we sometimes overlook these gifts because of gender stereotypes.
Here are a few examples. Sometimes, we intentionally groom our sons to be leaders while our daughters with clear leadership qualities are not given the opportunities.
We often think of our sons carrying on a family business or ministry rather than a clearly qualified daughter.
Others sacrifice financially for their sons to receive a college education but lack the same commitment for their daughters.
We fathers can sometimes become so goal-oriented and destination-focused that we fail to invest the time to discern where our daughters are truly gifted. Instead, we unfairly box them into a limited set of options. Thankfully, the 21st century has opened up a wider berth of opportunities for our daughters. And, we fathers have to champion their cause.
Practice #6: Teach her how to love well
A girl’s father should be the first man that she truly loves. This father-daughter relationship provides the opportunities to demonstrate the boundaries of love. It shows the parameters and promise of unconditional love. But, it does so within the context of a healthy and trusting relationship.
With this healthy experience, a daughter is better prepared to recognize and avoid unhealthy love advances laced with disrespect, negligence, and unrealistic expectations.
Instead, she will wait until she experiences someone who truly loves her for who she is—just like her father does. And, when she finds him she will love him without fear.
This ability to love and to be loved will permeate all her meaningful relationships. But, it started with one—the reciprocal love with her dad.
Practice #7: Protect her from abusive interactions
A daughter should see her father as her protector. A father protects his daughter from physical, psychological, and spiritual abusers. It might be someone in the neighborhood. It might be a teacher at school. It might be a youth worker at church.
As fathers we have to keep an eye out even in our daughter’s early years.
The website safehorizon.org reports that over 25% of abused children are under the age of three while over 45% are under the age of five.
One thing we fathers must be clear about is the extent to which abuse happens within our own homes.
According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), a 2005 study showed that nearly 80% of child abusers were the parents, and the next largest pool of abusers consisted of unmarried partners of the parents of child victims.
The moral of this message to us fathers is not to ourselves be the abusers. We should strive to be that “knight in shining armor” for our daughters. We won’t always succeed. But, we can always try.
Practice #8: Validate her options as a homemaker and/or career woman
Women, more so than men, tend to face a powerful (and sometimes paralyzing) question at some point in their adult lives. Will they prioritize raising a family or a career? It is a tough decision for many women.
In my own home, I thought my wife was a career-minded woman, until our first child was born. Then, everything turned upside down.
As fathers, we can have tremendous influence on how our daughters choose to balance home and career life. But, it is important to validate the importance of both—depending on your daughter’s interest.
While I personally hope that my daughter is able to use her gifts for financial security and intellectual challenge, I also want her to embrace home life as an important pursuit. Ultimately, wherever she chooses to focus, I want to be an advocate for her there rather than brandishing my own preference.
Practice #9: Treat her mother well
We’ve been focusing here on fathers and daughter interaction. The reality is, however, that mothers also have a tremendous impact on their daughters. What a daughter sees her mother go through will likely impact a daughter for life.
As a father, one of the most significant ways that you will impact your daughter is through the way you interact with her mother. Our daughters are watching this interaction. What they see as “normal” between their parents, they will see as “normal” in their own life—for good or for bad.
Therefore, raising your daughter well means modeling good behavior with her mother. But, it doesn’t stop there.
Mothers who are treated well tend to have more capacity to treat their children well. As a father, the better we are able to support our daughter’s mother, the better we indirectly support our daughter.
Practice #10: Show her faith
Fathers are in a great position to teach our daughters to believe in something bigger than themselves. We teach them to believe in a greater good.
Of course, it starts with us. Your daughter’s ability to believe in that higher purpose will be directly influenced by her ability to believe in you.
For those of you who hail from a Christian tradition, the faith connections are clear. If you are an untrustworthy father, your daughter will likely struggle to experience God as trustworthy. If you are an abusive and negligent father, she is more likely feel that same way about her experience with God.
In other words, the father is a bridge for his daughter’s faith walk. This is an amazing (and sometimes scary) proposition and responsibility. The bible makes the connection starkly evident in Proverbs 22:3. “Train up a child in the way [she] should go. And, when [she] is old, [she] will not depart from it.”
As a father you are your daughter’s model for faith. So, do it well.
So there you have my ten best practices for a father to maximally influence his daughter’s life. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to guide our daughter’s lives from the earliest days of their lives. It is a duty that cannot be outsourced. Only you can be her father. Only you.
I’d love to hear what other practices you would add to this list and hear your comments about my ten. So, definitely leave a comment and let me know.
Now, go be a great dad.