A Letter to the Dad Who Didn’t Have a Dad (or a Good Dad)
Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?
It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know.
Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes.
And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.
Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.”
So what do you do?
You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.
One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away.
Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.
It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.
Other helpful blogs:
How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent
4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent
How to Teach Your Daughters The Importance of Consent
I’m a dad of daughters. And like other parents, I would do anything to protect my girls. Anything. From harm and from bullies. From being taken advantage of. And from pubescent boys with only one thing on their mind (and I’m not talking about video games…).
But I also know I can give my girls greater gifts: the skills and confidence to protect themselves. A big part of this is teaching them the importance of consent. I call it having consent conversations.
Now, I know the term consent is often a buzzword, especially when sexual harassment, date rape, molestation, and other horrible abuses are in the news. And, good heavens, we need to teach our daughters to guard themselves.
I’d like to suggest that consent conversations are more than protection from these sorts of sexual abuses, although they certainly include them.
At its core, talking to your daughter about consent is helping her identify, establish, verbalize, and guard her boundaries. What will she allow to go on around her in a given situation? At what point does she take a stand? And how does she go about taking that stand?
Even further, consent conversations help your daughter recognize and respect others’ boundaries. As a friend’s son said very well, “Consent isn’t just about dating; it’s about respecting people.”
Consent conversations help your daughter develop self-respect and assertiveness as well as respect for others. It keeps her safe emotionally, physically, and sexually. It gives her a vocabulary to use for upholding boundaries. And it lays the groundwork for having healthier relationships in the future.
So, consent conversations are kind of a big deal.
How do you teach your daughter the importance of consent? Here are five questions you can use to engage your daughter in consent conversations.
1. In a given situation with another person, what are you OK with?
And what are you not OK with? Help your daughter think through different scenarios — with friends at school, around other adults, at a friend’s house, with someone they are dating. Ask, what could happen that would be OK or not OK with you?
2. When someone wants to do something with or around you that’s not OK, how will you respond?
Talk about when to be polite, when to be firm, and when to be forceful with her no. What are situations she needs to walk away from? And if someone keeps doing or saying something despite her objection, let her know she needs to separate herself, go somewhere safe, and call a trusted adult.
3. How do you read the situation for danger signs?
Teaching your daughter how to be aware of what’s going on around is a critical skill. How are people acting around you? Can you trust those you’re with to have your back? Be sure to discuss the role alcohol and drugs play in certain situations and how they can break down awareness and inhibitions.
4. If there’s a situation you feel you can’t escape, what’s the plan?
You don’t want to frighten your daughter, but you do want to prepare her. Teach your daughter to always have the means to get out of a situation. Know where the door and a phone are. Where’s the nearest place with other people? What’s the quickest way to get in touch with someone you trust? It might also be worth enrolling her in a self-defense course or a martial arts class (or better yet, do that together). It can boost her confidence and give her some good skills.
5. How can you tell if someone is OK or not OK with your actions? What do you do if they are not?
So here’s the flip side of consent. How can you be aware of your own words and actions and have a general respect for those around you? When should you ask someone if they are OK with something? And when should you back off?
Consent conversations are important. We as parents are responsible for teaching our children how to protect, assert, and stand up for themselves (and others) when someone pushes the boundaries. I encourage you to start age-appropriate consent conversations this week!
Other helpful resources:
Dad, Here Are 5 Things Your Middle School Daughter Needs from You
How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?
What All Daughters Need to Hear From Their Dad
Five Reasons Teen Girls Stop Talking to Their Dads
You and your daughter used to be “besties.” She was your princess; you were her knight in shining armor. Y’all were like peas and carrots, PB and jelly, Gronk and Brady…
Then KABLAM! She turned into a teenager. Which resulted in radio silence…
Been there, currently doing that, wearing the proverbial t-shirt at this very moment.
And if that t-shirt were for real, it’d have a sad face on it. Because as a girl-dad, it’s a horrible feeling to think you and your daughter don’t talk as much as you used to.
I’m sure the questions have run through your mind: How did this happen? Is this normal? Did I do something wrong? Am I just uncool?
These are all valid questions, except for that last one.
From one girl-dad to another, I’m breaking it to you: Yes, you are uncool. That time you picked your daughter up from school blasting Vanilla Ice? Uncool. When you walked by her Zoom call wearing a cowboy hat and bathrobe? So uncool. (Although you have mad respect from me.)
But I digress… Without further ado, here are five possible reasons teen girls stop talking to their dads:
1. It’s normal.
Seriously. As a teen, your daughter is in a stage of developing her independence. Her brain is prepping her for the day when she’s on her own. (Grab the tissues, Pops.) All teens go through it to some degree. And what results is a necessary pulling away from her parents. (Learn more about this here.)
2. She doesn’t feel understood.
Sometimes I forget that just because I’m her dad doesn’t mean my daughter feels like I’m approachable. Teen girls need to feel safe with their dad in order to open up and talk. If I’m in the habit of giving her advice when she doesn’t want it, or I tend to be more critical than supportive, she’s going to feel misunderstood.
3. She doesn’t know how to get closer to you.
“Wait,” you say, “but we used to be close!” Yes, but that was before teenhood struck. Here’s what research tells us: most teenagers say they want to be closer to their parents, but they aren’t sure how. For your daughter, relating to dad as a child was different than it is as a teen. You might be the same, but she’s changing (as she should be). For her, this is all unexplored territory—not just being a teenager, but being a teenage daughter.
4. You don’t know how to get closer to her.
When your little girl starts turning into a young lady, it’s sometimes hard for a dad to know how to connect. It’s easy to think, “I’m not sure I know how to relate to her anymore. She’s so different than when she was little.” Maybe this is a time she needs her mom (or another mom-figure—and not me). As a result, many dads react by pulling away.
5. There’s more to it than development.
As dads, we don’t want to think about this, but we should be aware. Withdrawing from friends or activities, falling grades, or constant irritability may indicate a deeper issue. In this case, monitor what you see. Let your daughter know you’re concerned for her, and seek professional help if needed. (Read How Do I Know if My Teen is Depressed?)
Fellow dads, let me encourage you! Your teen girl still needs you in her life. She wants to talk to you, even though she might not come out and say it. And if she’s stopped talking to you, it’s not hopeless. Stay in the pocket, keep engaging, let your daughter know you support her. Let her know she’s still the Gronk to your Brady, no matter how much Vanilla Ice you play in your car.
How To Be The Best Dad For Your Daughter
FACT #1: There’s nothing like being the dad of a daughter.
FACT #2: To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad.
I’ll be honest: both times my wife and I were pregnant, I was hoping for a boy. I was an only child, and I had no idea how to navigate the world of tutus, dolls, fingernail polish, or Disney princesses. But after my first daughter was born, and even more so after my second, I can tell you I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
There is truly a special bond between a dad and daughter. It’s hard to explain. To know what I do—my presence, my attention, my support, my compassion for my daughters—will be carried with them through their entire lives is both a massively overwhelming mission and a wonderfully great privilege.
And if you were to look up the research on dads and daughters, you’d find a warm, affectionate relationship between the two does indeed help a young girl thrive and develop. Fathers leave a legacy with their daughters which positively informs their identity, confidence, body image, assertiveness, mental health, and problem-solving skills. Not to mention, being the first man in your daughter’s life, you are the one who teaches her the level of respect, love, and treatment she deserves from the opposite sex.
Fellow dads out there, we’ve got a mission.
How can a dad foster a strong connection with his daughter? Here are five ways to be the best dad for your daughter:
1. Be present.
Not just in the same room or in the car picking her up from preschool. I mean, be truly present. Engage with your daughter. Talk, interact, ask questions. There’s a big difference between sitting on the same couch and directing your attention toward your daughter. She needs to know you are interested in her. She will beam when you ask her questions and show an interest in the things she is interested in—tutus, Disney princesses, and all.
2. Take your daughter on dates.
I can’t stress this enough. Even when they are barely walking, daddy-daughter dates hold a special place in her heart. These are the opportunities for your little girl to experience “out there” with you, at the pizza place, the park, the movie theater, fishing, the hiking trail. It gives her the experience of seeing how you operate and behave outside the home, with other people in other places, while knowing your attention is solely on her. So much positive development and socialization results from this kind of quality time with you.
3. Hug, cuddle, and hold hands.
Your daughter needs a positive, comforting touch from you. She gains a sense of warmth, protection, and security when you wrap your arm around her or give her a big goodnight smooch at bedtime. Many daughters love tickle fights and wrestling matches. (Dads need to be wary of how far these go; always give them an easy “way out” of a pin or hold so they don’t feel trapped. Otherwise, the touch turns from feeling protective to overly vulnerable.) There’s power in a dad’s touch which can be used to strengthen the connection with his daughter.
4. Build her up.
Never miss the opportunity for genuine encouragement, compliments, and praise. Just like there is power in your touch, there is also power in a dad’s words. Your daughter loves to impress you, whether it’s with her artwork, her dancing skills, or her knowledge of Disney princesses. Showing your accolades helps her to develop confidence and esteem. Encourage her to keep trying when she can’t quite get something right, like tying her shoes, learning how to spell a word or learning to jump hurdles; this helps her to build grit and determination.
5. Tell her “I love you,” often.
Dads, your daughter can’t hear these words enough. As my girls have gotten older, I’ve come to realize I don’t tell them this because I necessarily want them to know it in the moment; I tell them I love you because I want them to remember how true it is when I’m not with them. These words give your daughter security and comfort, especially when you are away. Make a habit of telling them this in the most unexpected moments.
To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad.
You are one-of-a-kind to her, the first and most important man of her life. Yes, the mission is daunting. But you’ve got what it takes to be a great dad. Your daughter believes in you, so go out there and prove her right. And don’t be afraid to wear a tutu while watching a Disney princess movie every now and then. (You might even get your fingernails painted for free!)
Image from Pexels.com
Four months into our pregnancy, we were eager with anticipation and excitement to find out whether we were having another boy or a little girl. Our son, three at the time, was excited to find out as well. When the doctor showed us the ultrasound of our little girl, we were ecstatic, overjoyed, and couldn’t wait for the journey ahead. Secretly, thoughts raced through my mind: “How am I supposed to be a dad to a little girl?” “I never had a sister.” “What do I do?” “Is she gonna paint my nails and do my hair?” “Will we play with dolls?” Quickly my thoughts turned a corner as I thought, “What will my daughter need to hear from me, her dad?”
As a dad, I want to be my daughter’s first love. I dream (and am scared by the idea) of walking her down the aisle one day. I want to be the one she comes to when she needs help or advice. But how do I build this relationship from the start? Thankfully I had a few other girl dads in my life who gave me some wise advice. I can’t say I always live it out but I try daily. They told me to speak words of life and truth over her. Words she needs to hear from her dad.
“I love you.”
Life isn’t going to be easy. Our daughters need to hear often the words “I love you” and she needs to hear them from her dad. I want my daughter to know I love her, not because she has done anything or because of anything she can offer me, but solely because she is mine. The world can often infer the idea that love is transactional, we are loved for what we do or what we offer. Our daughters need to know they are loved for who they are. It is important to let them know nothing they do can change the love we have for them.
“You are beautiful.”
She will hear she is beautiful many times, but she needs to hear it often from dad. There is something special when a dad says these words to his daughter. You can also add words like smart, funny, etc. The truth is you are building her confidence. Your daughter will know she is beautiful because her daddy says so. The world will try to tell her she needs to look a certain way, wear certain clothes, or buy certain products to be beautiful but if you have instilled in her from an early age the truth, that she is beautiful, it will resonate with her. Take the opportunity to tell her often.
“You have value.”
Telling my daughter she has value comes from many of the same reasons why I tell her she is beautiful. I want her to know she has value, not because of anything she has done, but because she is mine and I love her. As with beauty, the world will try to skew this one, to say value comes from what you offer or what you do. This is not the case: she has value because she is an individual. I want this to be a constant reminder in her life. Value comes not from what you do, what you offer, or who you are: you have value because you are.
“I’m always here for you.”
A girl needs someone in her corner. Someone she can confide in, share dreams with, and find safety in. Hopefully, this is her dad. The bond between a father and daughter is special. It’s hard to explain, but if you have a daughter, you know this to be true. There is nothing better than when my 4-year-old crawls in my lap, holds my face and says “Daddy, I love you.” My response is most often, “I love you too sweetie and I am always here for you.” I want her to know she can always come to me. In a few years she won’t be crawling into my lap. She may be holding my hand or just offering a hug but the truth will remain the same: I will always be here for her.
“You can tell me anything.”
I read a story recently about a dad who wrote a note to his daughter and put it in a drawer. The note said “If you’re scared to tell me something, just bring me this note as a reminder that I’m here to support you. I won’t get mad; I will work with you on a solution.” I love this and I want this for my kids. NO MATTER WHAT, I want my daughter to know she can always come to me. She can come to me because I have told her she is loved, she has value, and I am always here for her.
By speaking words of truth and life over our daughters, we earn the respect and the trust to be the person they can lean on. My daughter will grow up knowing no matter what she does, good or bad, her dad is right here for her to lean on and confide in. There are things all daughters need to hear from their dad. This is just a starting point. What do you want to instill in your daughter? You’ve got this, Dad!
For other ideas of how to be the best dad for your daughter, check these articles out:
- 7 Ways to Embrace Being a Girl Dad
- Tips for Dads of Daughters
- A Fathers Love
- 7 Things A Girl Needs To Hear
- What Daughters Need To Hear from Dad
- Crucial Things Daughters Need To Hear From Their Dads
Image from Freepik.com