7 Tips for Dads of Daughters
If you’re a father or a stepfather, I’m going to ask you to do one thing today. One. This one thing is for the little girl in your life. Whether she’s a baby, is “toddlering” around the house, navigating middle school, working on a college degree, or has started a family of her own: It doesn’t matter. She’ll always be your little girl.
You know the saying: A son is a son ‘til he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.
I recently read something by Mat Johnson that was so profound it froze me in my tracks. I had to sit down and let it sink in. (Full Disclosure: I was already seated. But the rest is absolutely accurate.) Mat is a professor and prize-winning author of fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novels. He is also the father of two little girls. Here’s what he said that hit me like a ton of bricks:
A man’s daughter is his heart. Just with feet, walking out in the world.
That’s powerful stuff. I don’t know how much Mat is into family research, but in just 14 words, he encapsulated decades of studies on the impact a father has on his daughter’s life. It’s worth breaking down and looking a little deeper.
A Man’s Daughter Is His Heart…
I’m about to share a bunch o’ findings from a bunch o’ research. (I’ll link to it at the end for your perusal.)
First, understand that you’re always directly or indirectly impacting your daughter. She’s watching, listening, and taking mental notes. (Like, how does Dad treat Mom, me, and other women?) Remember: It’s not about just being around. The goal is to actively engage with your daughter from birth onward.
Daughters who have a dynamic, secure, warm, comfortable, conversational, and loving relationship with their father gain all sorts of advantages they carry throughout their lives. Your life is molding hers.
…Just With Feet, Walking Out In This World.
What dad doesn’t want these things for their daughter?
Actively engaged fathers help their daughters become more:
- Intellectually developed – from IQ to better grades in school.
- Confident and assertive. (And more likely to feel better about themselves.)
- Likely to pursue higher education.
- Likely to have higher career achievement & have a higher-paying job.
- Likely to experience better emotional & mental health.
- Likely to have healthy romantic relationships up to, and including, marriage.
⇨ Your Relationship With (Your Wife) And Daughter Also Provides A Critical Buffer ⇦
Daughters with actively involved fathers are less likely to:
- Develop eating disorders and a poor self-image.
- Engage in “delinquent” behavior as an adolescent.
- Become pregnant as a teenager.
- Experience dating violence or be coerced into sex.
- Be resilient and navigate obstacles & stressful situations.
How do you get started? According to research, technically, it begins with being present and involved in your daughter’s birth. (You’re probably past that.) Check out these pointers on being a great girl dad for an infant or toddler.
Keep these general principles in mind:
- Listen to girls. What are your daughter’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings and dreams? Don’t just focus on how she looks. Make sure she knows she’s beautiful and valuable on the inside, too.
- Encourage her strength and celebrate her savvy. Help your daughter learn to recognize, resist and overcome barriers. Help her develop her strengths to achieve her goals.
- Respect her uniqueness. Urge her to love her body and discourage dieting. Make sure your daughter knows that you love her for who she is. See her as a whole person capable of doing anything. Treat her and those she loves with respect.
- Get physically active with her. Play catch, tag, jump rope, basketball or go for walks. Studies show that physically active girls have fathers who are active with them.
- Involve yourself in your daughter’s activities. Volunteer to drive, coach or host.
- Talk to other fathers. There’s a lot you can learn from each other.
- Help make the world better for girls. One time, while I was walking through the mall with my teenage daughter, I made a point of watching the eyes of the people we passed. It was disturbing. This world holds dangers for our daughters. Overprotection doesn’t work. Make sure your daughter is over-prepared to navigate the world.
So, what’s the one practical thing you’re going to do today to work on bonding and building up your daughter? Even if you don’t live with your daughter, you still make a difference.
Dads, we can’t do it all in one day, but we can do that one thing today, then one other thing tomorrow. Our daughters need us for the rest of their lives.
- American Psychological Association: Father-Daughter Physical Activity Programs
- Direct and Indirect Effects of Father-Daughter Relationship on Adolescent Girls’ Psychological Outcomes: The Role of Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction – ScienceDirect
- Father Involvement, Dating Violence, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among a National Sample of Adolescent Females
- The Influence of a Father on a Daughter’s College Decision
- Talking to Daddy’s Little Girl About Sex: Daughters’ Reports of Sexual Communication and Support From Fathers
- How Dads Affect Their Daughters Into Adulthood | Institute for Family Studies
- Strengthening Father-Daughter Relationships
How To Be The Best Dad For Your Daughter – First Things First
5 Steps I Took to Be a Better Dad – First Things First
What All Daughters Need to Hear From Their Dad – First Things First
7 Ways to Embrace Being a #girldad – First Things First
The Encouraging Science of Fatherhood and the ‘Father Effect’
How Kids Benefit from Involved Fathers
Ask any child: Nothing compares to a father’s love. Kids benefit from involved fathers.
Out of 20,000 essays by school-age kids about what their father meant to them, there was a common theme. Whether their father lived in the home or not, they all wanted time with their father.
The CDC released findings from a nationally representative sample of 3,928 fathers aged 15 to 44 about their parental involvement. It looked at four specific areas of involvement that have been linked to positive outcomes for children: eating meals with their children, bathing, diapering or dressing the children, playing with and reading to their children.
The findings indicate that 1 in 6 fathers does not live with his children. Also, non-residential fathers are less likely to spend regular time with their children. This is disturbing when you consider that father involvement has been proven to positively affect child’s well-being in many areas, including: increasing chances of academic success and reducing chances of delinquency and substance abuse.
Furthermore, children whose fathers assumed 40 percent or more of the family’s care tasks achieved better academically than children whose fathers were less involved.
For children under age 5:
- 96 percent of residential fathers ate meals with their children every day or several times a week compared to 30 percent of non-residential fathers;
- 98 percent played with children (39 percent for fathers not living with their children);
- 90 percent bathed, diapered or dressed their children every day or several times a week (31 percent for non-residential fathers); and
- 60 percent read to their children often, compared to 23 percent of fathers not living in the home.
The differences in involvement were also evident for school-age children. Fathers who lived with their children were twice as likely as nonresidential fathers to think they were doing a very good job in their role. Studies show that children can thrive without a father, BUT life is much more complicated and the chance that children will struggle is significantly greater. The last two decades have produced significant research indicating that fathers play a very important role in their kids’ lives.
Children who live apart from their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to:
- Be poor,
- Use drugs,
- Experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems,
- Be victims of child abuse, and
- Engage in criminal behavior more than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
Research also indicates that 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 63 percent of young people who commit suicide* are from fatherless homes.
Whether you live in the home with your child or not, don’t deceive yourself about your impact on their lives. The father-child relationship is a gift.
What would happen if you intentionally tried to build this relationship? Would fewer children live in poverty? Would unwed pregnancies decrease? Might there be less involvement in gangs, criminal behavior, risky sexual behavior or drugs and alcohol?
Your children are worth the investment of time and energy. Be more engaged with your children today.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
In his booming voice, Dr. Rick Rigsby, author of Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout and former professor and coach at Texas A&M, recently spoke. He asked, “Are you living the kind of life that’s worthy of somebody following?” Everyone is leaving a legacy. That legacy is either “It’s all about me,” or “I’m going to make excellence central in my life so I can leave something worthy of someone else following.”
Rigsby learned his most important life lessons from a third grade dropout: his father, who dropped out of school to help on the family farm.
“My father, the wisest man I ever knew, told me, ‘Don’t expect other people to do for you what you can do for yourself.’ If you don’t have somebody teaching you, you aren’t going to know that. He also taught me, ‘It’s not about you.’ Can you help other people? My father had nothing. But he did leave a legacy on my life.”
For 30 years, Rigsby’s father left the house at 3:45 a.m. to get to work by 5 a.m., even though it was only a 15-minute walk. One morning his wife asked him why he left so early, and he replied, “There may be a morning when my boys see me get up, and I want them to know that showing up on time is the basic minimum. I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.”
Rigsby challenged us to raise our expectations and grow our hearts for the disadvantaged. “The goal is to die broke after giving your best. When I was a child,” he said, “we were required to eat together at the table…at the same time. Expectations were high. That time was a blessing. What are you going to do with the blessings you have received? My mom would tell us, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
During Rigsby’s teen years, his father told him, “I’m not going to have a problem if you aim high and miss, but I’m going to have a real problem if you aim low and hit.”
His father also taught him to stand and be a man. To make his point, Rigsby shared this story: “When I was 16 years old, I had an Afro so big I couldn’t fit into a VW. I came home with an attitude one day. I told my dad, ‘Dad, that white man told me I had to scrub toilets. Daddy, I don’t scrub toilets. I fry French fries. I make hamburgers.’
“My father responded, ‘Son, what does the color of one’s skin have to do with you displaying excellence?’
“I realized this was not going to go the way I thought. He asked me, ‘Who signs your paycheck?’
“I told him and he said, ‘As long as he signs your paycheck, you do what he tells you to do. When you own your own restaurant you can do what you want. I want you to leave your car in the driveway. I want you to walk back to Jack in the Box and tell your boss your daddy said you are honored to volunteer for an eight-hour shift and all you want to do is scrub toilets. And when I see your boss later in the week he better tell me you’re his best employee.’”
That exchange between Rigsby and his father still impacts Rigsby today as he raises his own children.
Here are some of the other life lessons about leaving a legacy Rigsby learned from his father:
- Look for opportunities to help people who need help the most. Not everyone has the luxury of having healthy role models. The goal is to give your all so you can give somebody else the opportunity to grow.
- Challenge yourself to be the best you can be every day. Great people are always stretching, growing and doing things that other people don’t. Ask yourself how you can be great today, not for yourself, but to get others to go where they will not go by themselves.
- Give people a reason for which to listen to you. When you go beyond the chains and shackles of your own sense of self-importance and commit to inconveniencing yourself for the sake of others, people will listen to you. We aren’t drawn to people who think it’s all about them.
- Tell the truth, do what you say you’re going to do, and think the best of people.
- Be a servant and make sure you have a smile on your face because somebody’s day might need uplifting. It’s not about you.
- How you do anything is how you do everything. You are what you repeatedly do, therefore excellence should be a habit, not an act.
- Don’t ever be on time again. You will grow your influence when you show up early.
- Don’t judge people. Evaluate yes, judge never.
“I have been all over the world,” Rigsby said. “We look at somebody different than us and decide whether or not we will connect with them based on our limited perception of them. How can you help somebody that you have already deemed unworthy? If all you see is what you see, you don’t see all there is that needs to be seen.”
As he concluded, Rigsby shared about his first wife, who died of breast cancer. He said that a dying wife taught him how to life and be a man. His third grade dropout daddy, who wept as he stood with his son over the casket, told his son, “Keep standing. Just keep standing.” His father challenged him every day to put first things first.
Through the grief, Rigsby continued to stand. Eventually, he found new love with his wife, Janet. Together, not only are they building a legacy with their own children, they are also challenging others to seek to do the basics of relationships and leave a legacy better than anybody else.
“Don’t quit. Keep standing. Pride is the burden of a foolish person. You will never impact anybody if you make it all about you. Serve at the most inopportune time.”
We can all demonstrate a healthy and responsible fatherhood model for our community. Pass this information along to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.
With friends and in your own family…
- Participate in marriage and family enrichment programs and encourage friends to do it, too.
- Honor the covenant of marriage and be an accountability partner for fellow married friends.
- Help mothers to be supportive of fathers’ involvement with their children, and ask your wife how you can be more involved with your own children.
If you’re an employer…
- Create personnel policies and work environments that respect and encourage the commitment of fathers, and that enable parents to be more involved with their children.
- Research the effects of relocating families and find ways to make the transition as smooth as possible for employees who must move.
If you’re a civic leader, elected official or community organizer…
- Promote community organizations that model fatherhood and male responsibility.
- Strive to develop neighborhoods that are stable and supportive of family life.
If you’re a religious leader or organizer…
- Challenge fathers to assume moral and spiritual responsibilities.
- Offer a broad program of teaching, supporting, counseling and training fathers in their vital role.
- Encourage and recognize involved fathers, and provide opportunities for men to learn from each other.
If you’re a mental healthcare worker, healthcare or a family life educator…
- Begin with a view in favor of fatherhood within the context of a marriage relationship.
- Guide fathers to both accept and appreciate their unique roles within the family.
- Provide continuing education on fatherhood and its responsibilities.
If you’re a family law attorney or judge…
- Promote accountability of all fathers for each of their children.
- Reassess current trends in family law and be an advocate for responsible fathering.
If you’re an educator or childcare provider…
- Encourage fathers’ involvement in the classroom and invite fathers or father figures to participate in school activities.
- Educate boys and young men concerning their potential influence as fathers.
- Train staff about the father’s crucial role in a child’s developmental growth.
If you work in media or journalism…
- Promote articles, research and organizations that address and offer solutions to fathering issues.
- Discourage advertisements or programming that reflects irresponsible fathering practices.
Image from Unsplash.com
Dad, staying involved matters. Here are just a few reasons why.
Teenage girls who are close to their fathers are far less likely to become sexually active.
Teenage girls are twice as likely to stay in school if their fathers are involved in their lives.
“Fathers dramatically underestimate the importance of themselves in their daughters’ lives. They withdraw much too quickly, doubt their significance and influence, and grossly misunderstand how very much their daughters need and want to have a good relationship with them.” – Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. Fathers have a direct impact on the wellbeing of their children.” – noted sociologist Dr. David Popenoe
Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get in trouble at home, school or in the neighborhood. –Yeung, W. J., Duncan, G. J., & Hill, M. S. (2000). Putting Fathers Back in the Picture: Parental Activities and Children’s Adult Outcomes.
Image from Unsplash.com
Jeff* celebrated his first Father’s Day when his daughter was 9-months-old, and he is thankful for that day with her. Jeff is an involved single father who shares custody of his daughter with his ex.
“Our relationship ended shortly before our child was born,” says Jeff. “Things were crazy. I am an industrial engineer and teach people how to build cars for a living. I knew nothing about going to court and all that would be involved with being able to see my child.”
Since he wanted to be an active father even before his child was born, Jeff took a class for new fathers through First Things First, along with other classes.
“In spite of the circumstances, I did not want to be an absent father,” Jeff says. “My ex was very nervous about me taking care of our child by myself. There was a lot of tension in our relationship. Through a series of events, I ended up in the Dads Making a Difference class. That was a real game-changer.”
In addition to learning communication and conflict management skills, Jeff found out more about the importance of a father’s involvement with his child. Plus, he learned what it meant to protect and serve both his child and her mother.
“From the time I began the class to now, the transformation in the relationship between me and my ex has been amazing,” Jeff says. “A personality inventory we took in class helped me to understand her better, which led me to handle situations differently. The response surprised me. We have moved away from supervised visitation. In addition to getting more visitation time with my daughter, she spends every other weekend with me and that is pure joy.”
In Jeff’s opinion, being a first-time father and learning about caring for a baby has been a steep learning curve, but worth every minute.
“I love spending time with my daughter,” Jeff says. “I want to nurture her in a way that will allow her to thrive. Being an engineer, I love math and science but I also love art and music. I sing to her a lot and enjoy playing with her, and watching her develop her motor skills. I can’t wait for her to walk.”
Believe it or not, Jeff is an exception to the rule.
In 2014, 17.4 million children in the U.S. were growing up in a home without their biological father.
Moreover, data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey indicates that a third of non-residential fathers had no contact with their child five years after birth. Jeff has no intention of becoming a part of this statistic.
Through various circumstances, including divorce and unwed births, there are many men who are missing out on the gift of a relationship with their child. While it can be complicated, unnerving and extremely challenging, don’t underestimate a child’s need for a healthy father’s involvement. Literally thousands of credible studies show that children need mom and dad engaged in their lives.
So, if you’re actively involved with your children, consider yourself blessed. On the flip side, if you are estranged from your children, remember that you can still make a change regarding that relationship.
For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book, “Why Being a Dad is a BIG Deal.” Download Here
The Value of Father-Daughter Relationships
Beth, a 26-year-old secretary was in a particularly good mood. She was actually glowing when a friend asked if her boyfriend had proposed to her.
“Her response took me by surprise,” says Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father. “She told me her father initiated a phone call to her for the first time in a very long time. I noticed she had flowers on her desk and I asked who sent her flowers.
“With a huge smile, she told me her dad sent them to her for her birthday. Beth’s response to her father’s attention made me realize something. Even grown women hunger for love, attention and affirmation from their father.”
Research from Canterbury and Vanderbilt Universities shows that from birth on, a father’s activity and presence uniquely benefits their daughters.
“Many men operate off of the premise that if they were uninvolved in their daughter’s life as she was growing up, it is too late to make a difference,” Canfield says. “Thinking that the die is cast or the deal is done because our children are grown is something we must re-examine. It simply is not true. In a parallel vein, research shows the devastating impact of divorce affects adult children deeply. Contrastingly, the continued investment in your child’s life even when they are parents of your grandchildren will reap tremendous benefits for you and them.”
Studies reveal that men tend to spend more time with their sons than they do with their daughters. In fact, fathers tend to back away from the father-daughter relationship during pre-adolescence and adolescence. However, a girl’s need for attention and affection during that time period is even more important.
“When a father abandons a relationship with his daughter, she can become frozen in time relationally with the opposite sex,” Canfield says. “A 50-year-old woman may look like an adult, but on the inside she is still working on issues that should have been attended to by a healthy, engaged father.”
Based on research, we know a few more things about these relationships. Without a healthy relationship with their father, girls will find other ways to contribute to their development when it comes to relating to men.
“When you are frozen relationally, it is difficult to know your place and how to develop a healthy relationship. It’s because you are working from a point of need instead of working out of a position of co-equal,” Canfield says. “There is a void in her life. The search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships, which usually result in some really poor choices.”
According to Canfield, limitless healing and restoration can take place in father-daughter relationships. Here are Canfield’s tips:
- Initiate communication with your adult daughter. Affirm her for the positive contributions she has made to your life or in the lives of others.
- Consider asking for forgiveness. The three toughest things for fathers to say are: “I was wrong, I am sorry, and will you forgive me?” Use these to deepen your relationship with your daughter.
- Ask your daughter for three ways you can support her in the coming year.
- Ask your child’s mother (who is an adult daughter) to describe how her father influenced her most significantly.
- Affirm your daughter’s femininity by being sensitive to her emotional highs and lows.
Cultivate an atmosphere of “no-strings-attached” love in your home. Be ready to listen to and support your children in every challenge.
For decades, research has indicated a strong correlation between involved fathers and child well-being. A 2009 study published in Child Development specifically continues this trend for preventing risky sexual behavior.
Researchers led by Boston College Associate Professor Rebekah Levine Coley surveyed 3,206 teens, ages 13-18, annually for four years. They asked teens from two-parent homes about their sexual behavior and their relationship with their parents.
The study assessed this group of teens two different ways. Here are their conclusions:
Mom plays a role in preventing risky sexual behavior, but dad has double the influence. The more a dad engaged with his teen, from knowing their friends and activities to knowing their plans and encouraging family activities, the more dramatic the impact on decreasing risky sexual behavior.
The chances of a teen engaging in risky sexual behavior decreased when actively engaged fathers knew their teen well and participated frequently in family activities.
Young people involved with risky sexual behaviors reported lower levels of parental knowledge and involvement. Results actually showed that one additional family activity per week resulted in a nine percent decrease in sexual activity.
“We have known for a long time that fathers bring a unique set of parenting skills to the table,” says Dr. Cheryl Robinson, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Child and Family Studies. “This study is significant because it was conducted with teens in two-parent homes. The findings were no different than the vast amount of research with high-risk teens, those living in divorced or never-married homes. Children need father involvement.”
This doesn’t seem like rocket science, but the reality is that many fathers struggle with their role as a parent.
“The message to both moms and dads, but especially to dads is, be involved with your child,” Robinson says. “Just because they grow up and get taller than you does not mean they are adults. You have to continuously stay involved with them. Involvement gives you the opportunity to teach them, to help them develop good decision-making skills and to transmit values. You can talk all day and tell them not to do something. But if they are with you and see your behavior, they understand why they shouldn’t do those things.”
Dad, your teen may be outwardly sending you messages that make you think your parental involvement doesn’t matter. Don’t let them fool you. Intentionally engaging your teen at every level can dramatically enhance his life.
“Don’t be afraid to set expectations with your teen concerning family time, knowing their friends and how they are spending their time,” Robinson says. “They may roll their eyes, but you are providing a safety net that will help them navigate life’s treacherous roads for years to come.”