The Habits of Good Fathers that Build Strong Daughters
By: J. Frederick Robinson
No matter where you look, this world is attempting to consume our daughters - our little girls. Whether it's the iron fists of cyberbullying, the dripping fangs of vampiric devices and screens created to manipulate their emotions and attention, or the crushing weight of beauty standards and expectations that accompany the parallel lives that exist online. Suicide rates are at their highest, mental issues are common and begin at earlier ages, and the world that awaits them is more expensive, exhaustive, and destructive, so, as fathers, we have to invest heavily and, above all, with intention into our relationships with our daughters.
By implementing these critical habits, we can help lay the bricks in building strong daughters who are able to face a confusing, chaotic world in constant flux while maintaining their spirit, smile, and sense of self.
Respect. Aretha said it, and as men, we live with respect as a core tenet and primary love language, but in the father role, sometimes we forget that our children are people too. They have wants and needs, experience moods, emotions, and need their alone time, and have personal space and boundaries that require respect. Keeping respect in mind will take us from the tyrannical fathers that maybe our fathers were, and raise daughters who set healthy boundaries and don't shrink or silence themselves - especially for men.
Be a gardener. Even when we discuss the concept of "building" strong daughters, what we are really doing is building an environment that cultivates character, strength, and self-respect. A gardener isn't like a carpenter or artisan, trying to carve a sculpture from their vision and imagination. The gardener only wants to provide a healthy environment where seeds grow and are watered to blossom. This has been one of my most challenging lessons as a father: provide an environment where your daughter can become the best version of herself, not the best version of your imagination.
Listen. As simple as this sounds, fathers have a hard time listening - and by listening, we mean actively listening. Our habit as fathers is to dictate, direct, or lecture, and even if it comes from the best intention of providing lessons, direction, and guidance, our daughters need to know that they are equally heard. Daughters are exceptionally intuitive, so they pick up when our conversations are one-sided, and if so, they will retreat into themselves in silence. The last thing you want is to ruin the communication between you and your daughter.
Set the example. There's a wonderful stoic quote from Epictetus that says, "Don't explain your philosophy, embody it." Fathers are prone to lecture and discuss and explain, but our children don't learn by being told what to do; they have to see it. If you want them off their phones, then they can't see you walking around scrolling. As benign that this may seem, if your actions don't align with your words, you will look like a hypocrite - like a liar. They say daughters end up marrying their fathers, so reflect on the model of manhood you are setting.
Watch your tone. I don't know what it is, but there's something different about a father's posture and tone that affects our children differently. Always remember that. The mom can yell all day, and the kids will be fine, but if the dad has a gruff in his voice, a ting of anger or frustration, or even a look, it can be a crushing blow to your daughter's self-esteem and how she internalizes your interactions. You don't want to learn years later that all your firm fatherly instruction and direction was internalized as harsh judgment and excessive criticism and that your daughter's new negative self-talk sounds like you. We want to uplift and empower our daughters, not deflate them.
Breaking old habits is hard, especially if they've been ingrained in us since birth and supported and perpetuated by our society. But breaking old paradigms is the only way we, as fathers, will create new and better relationships with our daughters so that we water their potential, stand out of their way, and help them become who they were always destined to be.