As Marisol Santiago wrote, “A girl’s first true love is her father.” A father has the power to make his daughter kind, clever, confident, and brave.
He sets the example of love she will look back on for the rest of her life. He can build her up, or he can break her down. A truly great father can make his daughter so much stronger than she ever could have been on her own.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Sweep the floor once in a while.
Do the dishes. Change a diaper. Cook a healthy and delicious meal. Full-time working women in America are still doing way more housework than their husbands are. Unfortunately, this is true even if they work more hours and make more money than their partner. As a result, ambitious women – women like your daughter will someday become – are doing too much. They are stressed, they are exhausted, and they are burning out. It is up to you to change this for your child.
Your daughter is forming expectations for her future husband, and she is doing it by watching you. Show her that the man she marries should help with the housework, and that he will be no less masculine for doing so. This will give her the freedom to pursue a career someday without guilt or unrealistic expectations.
2. Be Yourself.
Lead by example, and own your identity with pride. Dare to be different from your friends and family members. Encourage others to do the same. Show her to embrace the person she is. Teach her that you will love and accept her regardless of her personal choices. Simply by being yourself and accepting others who do the same, you are making it safe for her to forge her own path. Go after what you really want in life, and be proud that she is watching you do it. You are showing her how to go after her own dreams someday.
You are teaching her to do this even if her ambitions are different from yours. You are also teaching her that people who have different goals and personalities can still love and respect one another. Everyone is valuable in their individuality. This idea will open her eyes and give her an expansive worldview. This is how you raise a leader.
3. Treat her mother – and all women – with respect.
This is easy and obvious if you are married to the mother of your children. It becomes much harder if she is a woman from your past who you would rather leave there. Your daughter’s mother may be manipulative, mean spirited, dishonest, insane, or even hateful. None of this changes her role in your child’s life. Your daughter is forming a picture in her mind of how a man is supposed to treat a woman. Like it or not, you and her mother are the people she looks to most for an example.
If you treat your child’s mother with contempt and disrespect, you are showing your daughter that this is an acceptable way for a man to treat her someday. This does not only apply to the way you interact with her directly. Saying unkind things behind her back also teaches your daughter not to count on courtesy and respect from the men in her life. Don’t give your ex-wife the treatment you feel she has earned. Give your daughter the role model that she deserves.
4. Tell her she’s beautiful – and, more importantly, that she’s kind, intelligent, and funny.
Many well-meaning fathers shy away from the idea of complimenting their daughters on their physical beauty. They worry that doing so will encourage a focus on looks at the expense of more meaningful pursuits. While this practice is sound in theory, it fails to account for the world that we live in. Unfortunately, your daughter is bombarded by messages about physical beauty every day. She needs to believe she is beautiful, and she needs to know what an appreciation of her beauty should look like.
This is in your hands, more than anyone’s. A girl who does not believe she is beautiful may grow desperate for attention and validation. A girl who does not know how her beauty should be appreciated may mistake a catcall for a compliment. Make sure your daughter knows she is beautiful. Make sure she also knows that physical beauty is one of the least important things a woman has to offer. Compliment her internal qualities twice as often as you do her external ones.
“You always had a way of making us believe we could do anything. Whether it was making the softball team or becoming astronauts or just squeezing by in that math modeling class, you never doubted that any of us were capable of anything we set our hearts to. I could never tell you how much that has meant.” The woman who wrote this to her father was a West Point graduate – a strong woman if there ever was one. Do the same for your own daughter.
Give her the support that she needs to be a woman in a world where womanhood itself is such a complicated and challenging thing. You have a unique role in her life, and a special power to shape who she becomes.