I have been married for almost twenty-seven years. You’d think by now that I’d have this marriage thing down pretty well, especially since I spend so much time writing and talking to others about building a strong marriage. In fairness my wife tells me that I have improved over the years. I’m grateful for that. But, she recently shook my paradigm with a single sentence. She looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “Remember, that I am also a daughter.”
I have one daughter. Her name is Kyrsten. As she goes through her teen years at a pace that just feels too fast, I already lament the day that she will soon bid us farewell. Where has the time gone? I place tremendous value on the importance of fathers spending quality time with our daughters. Fathers may be the single most influential person in the daughter’s self-perception.
In her important book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 secrets every father should know (affiliate link), Dr. Meg Meekers says “Whatever outward impression she gives, her life is centered on discovering what you like in her, and what you want from her. She knows you are smarter than she is. She gives you authority because she needs you to love and adore her. She can’t feel good about herself until she knows that you feel good about her. So you need to use your authority carefully and wisely. Your daughter doesn’t want to see you as an equal. She wants you to be her hero, someone who is wiser and steadier and stronger than she is.” A daughter wants her dad to be her hero.
I didn’t need a doctorate in psychology to tell me that. We can see the affect of father absenteeism in so many negative social trends, including teen pregnancy, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. Much of it has to do with low self-esteem. In fact,
Since my daughter was a young girl, we have had our dad-daughter dates. Whether enjoying college basketball games at my alma mater Temple University, going out to dinner and a movie, or riding around the streets of Philadelphia on Segways I have been intentional in carving out time to spend with my daughter. When we go out, I open the door for her. I’ll often buy her flowers or a card. I tell her how beautiful and intelligent she is. I affirm her gifts. I tell her how blessed I am that I am her father. And, I listen to her.
Why am I so consistently intentional about affirming my daughter? It goes back to Dr. Meekers finding. I know that I need to be her hero so that she believes confidently in her beauty and value. I don’t want any other guy to be the first to be her hero. That is my job by consistently paying attention to the things that matter.
And, one day I expect that she will meet a guy. And, I will carefully watch him to see if he is prepared to be her hero. If he isn’t, he (and she) will hear from me. No doubt about that. A daughter deserves a hero.
So, you can see my mindset about my daughter.
My wife heard me talking to friends about why I do all of these things for my daughter. It is in this context that she reminded me that she is also a daughter. She asked me if I understand how her dad is also her hero. My wife’s implication of course is that she also wanted her man to be her hero just like her father was. She challenged me to consider if I have been as intentional in being her hero as I am with my daughter.
I didn’t see that one coming. The truth is that I haven’t thought about being my wife’s hero as much as I had thought about being that for my daughter. Why? Maybe I’m just an insensitive lug. But, it is also because I think of my wife as an adult who already has her self-esteem in tact. Maybe its because I know my wife is always going to be there while I’m counting down the days that I have before my daughter leaves home. But, the bottom line is that I too often put away my hero cape when it comes to my wife.
That has been a mistake.
But, better late than never. So, based on my engagement with my daughter, I’ve come up with four behaviors on how to be more consistently attentive to being my wife’s hero. Using H.E.R.O. as an acrostic, here’s my plan to keep my cape on.
Four Actions of A HERO Husband
H — Help Out
My wife’s love language is service. She is touched when I pitch in and help with the tasks that she normally takes care of. When I help out with those everyday tasks such as doing laundry, picking up groceries, and taking my daughter to piano she feels loved. In my busyness, I often overlook these mundane things. Being my wife’s HERO means that I don my cape to help out with the small things instead of just waiting for the big occasions (e.g.., Valentine’s Day, birthday).
E — Empathize
I am getting better. But, sometimes it is just so hard to really put myself in my wife’s shoes. Honestly, the things that bother her sometimes just don’t bother me at all. Because they seem minor to me, I’ve often dismissed her feelings and just told her things would be OK. And, when something just didn’t seem fixable, I really didn’t know what to do other than tell her that she just has to push through it. When I did see a solution, I would readily give it to her. Of course, this rarely seemed to have the warm affect that I hoped.
She, like many wives, just wanted me to really listen well. She wanted to know that I understand how she feels. Being my wife’s HERO means that I pull out the cape and listen closely for her feelings while affirming her that I’m there for her in those high and low moments.
R — Romanticize
My wife likes to be romanticized too. It isn’t like she needs that everyday. But, she enjoys the surprise of flowers or a card especially when there is no string attached. The things that I did to woo her when we met are still the things that touch her heart today. Just like I tell my daughter, she wants to know that I find her beautiful. She enjoys when I tell her that she looks nice when she dresses up. It touches her heart to know that she is still my sexy woman.
But, I struggle sometime to make a big deal about what she wears. Anybody who observes my personal fashion sense know that I don’t pay a lot of attention to attire. And, my wife gets annoyed that she has to keep reminding me that she really likes that splash of cologne on me when we are having those intimate moments. I just keep forgetting. Being my wife’s HERO means that romance is a regular goal rather than a sporadic occurrence.
O — Oblige
The last of the HERO actions is a little more subjective. It honors the fact that sometimes you must just defer to your wife’s prerogative. I haven’t been very good at this. I always wanted to hear a sound rationale that made sense to my analytical mind. If she wanted or preferred that something be done a particular way, she needed to prove to me why that made more sense than alternative approaches. I rarely accepted that she just wanted it that way.
But, sometimes, Superman just accommodates Lois Lane because well he loves her. Sometimes, going along with what my wife prefers even if it doesn’t make perfect sense to me is just the right demonstration of my love for her. Being my wife’s HERO means that sometimes when she expects resistance from me that I just put on my cape and like the Burger King slogan say “have it your way”.
Some wives had HERO fathers with big capes that we have to model (or exceed). Other wives crave that HERO that they never saw growing up. Regardless, we husbands have to remember that our wives are just grown up daughters. They want us to be their HERO. We protect them from the bad forces of the world. We help them feel secure in a threatening world. We are the object of their dreams.
OK. Gotta go. I think it’s HERO time.