When I was a toddler, my father was self-employed and was able to spend his days with me. He would let me pick out my own unmatched clothing, helping to establish my strong sense of independence at an early age, and then he would pack me in to my stroller and wheel me down to the park. On the way, we would stop for popsicles, which would melt in the hot summer sun, trickling down my chin and on to my clashing clothes. Together, we would laugh and play and enjoy a feeling of being carefree that comes only with youth and with being around people who are in their youth.
Those days remain thick in my memory. My father taught me that it was okay to go against the grain a little bit for the sake of a good time. My entire sense of self was developed in those early days with Dad at my side and no matter how our relationship changed over time, that sense of self stayed strong somewhere inside of me. Fathers are critical to shaping the women that their daughters will become one day. There are as many different types of Father/Daughter relationships as there are fathers and daughters, but at the center of them all is the development of the little girl.
The following vignettes of three different men’s relationships with their daughters serve to highlight the ways in which men can act as critical role models in the lives of developing girls. They also suggest different methods through which men can enhance their relationships with their daughters and strengthen the bonds between them. Each of these men is a composite of several men that I know who have daughters so while they aren’t exact true stories they are based on real people. Hopefully these stories will give some dads out there some ideas about how they want to help their daughters explore and experience the world as well as what types of relationships they want to have with their daughters.
Vignette #1: Father/Daughter Story Time
Childhood development is enhanced when reading is incorporated in to the every day activities of children of all ages. Most often, it is mothers who read to their children. However, dads should also consider reading to their kids, especially their daughters. John has been reading to his eight-year-old twins, Samantha and Stephanie, since they were infants and says that it is central to his relationship with them. No matter what other activities come up throughout the day, the twins always know that John will take time out to read to them. They take turns selecting stories, and as they have gotten older, they have also started reading some of the pages in their books. When asked what she likes best about reading time with her dad, Samantha grins a missing-toothed grin and says, “He acts like all kinds of different people but when he’s done, he’s just my dad.”
Vignette #2: Seeing the Sights
One of the best ways that some fathers use to promote a positive relationship with their daughters is to take them on father/daughter vacations. By broadening a child’s horizons, fathers broaden the landscape of their shared experience. John loves all five of his kids equally, but he makes it a point to take his only daughter, Jessie, on short vacations designed just for the two of them. These shared experiences give them time to get to know one another away from the loud activity of their big family and also give Jessie a foundation for her own exploration in the future. John hopes that Jessie will always remember these trips as a special time when she was able to experience the world with a sense of safety around her.
Vignette #3: Sports and Dolls
In this time when gender roles are not as clear cut as they used to be, many dads find it important to remove themselves a bit from the stereotypes typically associated with parenting. Mick reports that his relationship with his sixteen-year-old daughter, Janette, is strong and he credits this in great part to the wide range of roles he has played in her life. When she was a young child, he engaged in play with dolls and stuffed animals, portraying a range of healthy life choice possibilities for her through imagination play. As Janette got older, Mick was flexible in the activities they would share; sometimes playing sports together, sometimes drawing and coloring, sometimes teaching her important skills like how to surf the internet and how to change the oil of a car. This flexibility has made it possible for Janette to open up to Mick on a number of levels, sharing a range of experiences. Janette reports that it’s her dad that she turns to when she needs to talk to someone about important things happening in her life.
The relationships that these three men have with their daughters should serve as examples to all men about the ways in which they can be a central part of their little girl’s lives. They say that girls grow up to marry men who are like their fathers. Even if that’s not exactly true, it’s definitely true that women’s lives are influenced by the men that they grow up with. By setting a positive example early on with a healthy father-daughter relationship, men can help their daughters learn how to make positive life choices and select healthy future partnerships.