by James Meldrum, Father of 2 and Whole Kids Founder.
Often conversations about the role of fathers revolves around their relationship with their sons. Just as significant is the role of dads in influencing the lives of their daughters, often in ways that fathers are not always aware of. As the first (and arguably the most important) male reference model in our daughter’s life, we can influence her values and attitudes on a wide range of perspectives: her self-esteem, confidence, academic effort, work ethic, relationships and wellbeing, just to name a few.
Mostly we walk through the door of parenthood unprepared for what the future may hold. When my daughter Chloe was born, I held her in my arms and that’s when the reality of fatherhood really struck me. But when she opened her squidgy eyes and I looked into them, I experienced a wave of emotions and a burning desire rose up inside me that I needed to love, care for, and guide this precious little person through whatever path in life lies ahead. I wanted to be the best person I could possibly be for her. And do to that, I started to reflect on what sort of person I had become up to that point, and what things I needed to change so I could show and teach her how to lead a meaningful, beautiful life.
As Chloe grows up (she turns 9 years old in a few months), I’m realizing more and more than fathers and daughters share a magical bond. Chloe and I can look at each other and know what the other person is thinking. More than that, I believe that a dad that is present and actively involved, both emotionally and physically, in her daughter’s life can profoundly influence her view of all men, and even her view of life in general. Research has demonstrated that women who have a more supportive, emotionally connected and close relationship with their dad are often less anxious, stressed and have a more positive self-image and view on life compared to those who experienced a more troubled, erratic and conflicted relationship with their father.
“How Dad approaches life will serve as an example for his daughter to build off of in her own life, even if she chooses a different view of the world,” says Michael Austin, associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.
The critical role of fathers in their daughter’s lives is getting increasing awareness in our communities. A quick search on Google brings up heaps of lists of “Top Ten Tips for Dads and Daughters” and “How to be the Best Dad for Your Daughter” and so on.
So what should dads do to build a stronger relationship with their daughters? Here are some common behaviours:
• Model your behavior as if she’s always watching (and, more often than not, she is watching!).
• Be respectful to all women, and the most important woman to respect and treat positively is her mother.
• Inspire her to reach her goals even if you may not always agree with them (these are her goals, not yours. Teach her to live her life, not someone else’s).
• Make time for your daughter and enjoy activities together, no matter how busy you are (or think you are). Childhood is a special, and fleeting time, and the years pass too quickly. You can’t get those days back.
• Take her on special trips and outings – just you and her.
• Encourage her to be adventurous, take risks and explore the world around her – build her confidence, independence and resilience through developing new skills, trying new sports or activities, and learning new things.
• Be firm and consistent with rules, discipline and boundaries.
• Understand that you are human too, with all the frailties and imperfections that comes with that. If you let her down, ask for her forgiveness. She also needs to learn how to forgive others and your behaviour will set a precedent.
• Make her feel valued. Listen, really listen, to what she has to say and to her opinions. Even if you disagree with her view on something, respect her right to hold that view. Treat her as an intelligent, interesting and valued human being.
• Always love her, no matter what choices she makes in life. Let her know that she is a beautiful person inside and out, and your love for her is unconditional.
I’m reminded of what White House photographer Pete Souza said about US President Obama’s time in office. Souza wrote: “People are always asking me to choose my favorite pic of the President. But I just can’t do it. So let me tell you about my favorite day…Washington was underside with snow. I slept in my office overnight, knowing I probably couldn’t drive to the White House the next day. And then I guessed…and yes, hoped…that the President of the United States would be a dad and play with his girls in the snow. And he did.”
Photo credit: @petesouza Instagram
Times like these are what your daughter will fondly remember forever even when you have long passed from this world. And you don’t have to be a President to be the “best dad ever” in the eyes of your special little girl. Just be there for her. Love her, care for her, and let her know that even when she looks up to the stars at night that you will always be by her side through life.