I have three children, and the older two are boys. This means that for the first five years of my parenting journey, I thought I had the fatherhood thing pretty well figured out. I'm not saying I'm a perfect dad or anything, but I had my two boys, I loved them, we played together and I was engaged in their lives. It was a pretty sweet gig! I figured I finally understood that life-altering kind of love that parents always talk about...I got this!
Then it happened - my wife delivered our third child, I looked down as the doctor cradled the gooey infant in her arms, and I blurted out "it's a girl." I was wrecked!!! I knew instantaneously that there is something wildly different about a daughter to the heart of a father. Don't get me wrong: I love my boys more than anything, but that little girl has melted my heart in a way I never thought possible. From the moment she entered my life, she has been slowly destroying me in the best ways possible.
But lately I've been wondering about the why behind all that. I mean, any guy with a daughter will tell you there is something special about that relationship...it's not like it's a secret or anything. But why is there this culturally accepted phenomenon of the daddy's girl, the understanding that a girl without a strong father figure in her life will struggle more than her peers, and the quintessential teary-eyed dad walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding? What is the root of all that?
This week, my church has been running a Dad-Daughter Date Night. It's an annual event we've been doing for years now, and it continues to grow and be a real highlight of the entire calendar year. And as I've been there playing my part, I have seen thousands of dads and daughters come through this event with the exact same dynamic. Dad is beaming with pride and adoration, which is to be expected. But my favorite part is seeing each and every one of those girls (from the young ones all the way up to the teenagers) visibly feeling like a million bucks because they are there with their dads. Mom's not around, siblings are gone...it's just her and Dad, and they love it!
What is so inherently special about the father-daughter relationship that it can cause such extreme responses? Could it be that this fundamental relationship is potentially even more important than father-son, or mother-daughter? Is there research to back any of this up, or am I just pontificating on random observations I think I'm having?
Turns out, one doesn't have to look far to find piles of research on this topic. The issue of fatherlessness in America has been well documented, since currently some 10 million children in America live in a home without their biological father. Specifically regarding daughters, however, numerous studies show that girls with a strong relationship with their father are: less likely to get pregnant in their teens, will wait longer to become sexually active, are more likely to graduate from college and enter higher paying career fields, will have generally more healthy and fulfilling relationships with their husbands, and the list goes on. In short: girls with strong relationships with their father will statistically do better in virtually every measurable area than those without.
However, this is not designed to be an article on stuff most of us know instinctively, even if we haven't read the research. The question spinning through my mind all week has been why! Why is this the case? While statistics are great at pointing out a problem, and many therapists have made pontifications on what could be behind it all, I feel the answer is really quite simple: this is how the world was designed. Fathers were designed to show their daughters what a real man looks like, the kind of man she should look for and pursue later in life. Fathers were meant to cherish and protect these beautiful little creatures so that they knew deep in their core that they were profoundly valuable.
I firmly believe that whenever things in the world are not done the way they were designed to be, things never go well. This happens to varying degrees depending on the topic at hand, but I can't find a single example of a human situation or encounter going against God's original design that actually works out better than the way He designed it in the first place. That's just how God rigged the universe! The father-daughter relationship is no different.
Case in point: bad or missing fathers. God creates a little girl and designs her to be cherished, protected, and brought up to know what a good man looks like and that she is worthy of one. That's the design! However, you deviate from that design and insert an abusive father, a distant father, or a straight-up gone father, and that end-game almost always turns out differently. The daughter of the abusive father hates him for it, and somehow seems to end up involved with a guy who treats her the same way. The absent father isn't there to teach his little girl she is more valuable than anything, so she gives her body away searching for that feeling she was supposed to have. She gets pregnant, the guy who knocked her up freaks out and bails, and then her little girl grows up with the same gaping hole in her heart. The cycle perpetuates itself.
Ladies: if you're still with me, please know that I don't think anything can replace the role of a mother. I look at what my wife does day after day, and I can't even imagine how me or the kids would make it without her. In fact, I regularly tell her that if she ever dies, I am re-marrying as fast as possible (purely for convenience...love can come later) because I simply cannot do it on my own. Mothers also play an irreplaceable role in the life of a child, so I am in no way minimizing that role.
Men: you cannot underestimate how important you are to the health and well-being of your children (especially your daughters)! The common narrative today is that men suck, we're the source of most of the world's problems, and people would be better off without us. Sadly, we are ultimately the source of a lot of problems out there, but that doesn't mean the answer is for us to slip quietly into the shadows and let the women try and fix it all on their own. (The answer is actually for us to roll up our sleeves and fix the crap we've broken) You are needed! Fatherhood is a profoundly sacred role, and if God has entrusted a little girl to your care, you had better take that job seriously!
If you have never taken your daughter on a date or spent some intentional time one-on-one with her, do it this week! I know my girl is only four, but if I take her to Chili's and get her some ice cream afterwards, she talks about it for weeks. It isn't that hard or expensive to make your daughter feel cherished, so figure out something she'd like and put in the time. If you are estranged from your daughter for one reason or another, as long as there is no legal reason standing in your way, find a way to reach out. I realize that is probably a terribly complicated situation and I'm not suggesting you can fix it in an hour over some queso, but take a step in the right direction. Even if the only thing you can actually do is drop a hand-written card in the mail to let her know you're thinking of her, then do that. Just do something...it's never too late to love your daughter the way she deserves to be loved!
As I sit in a Chic-Fil-A writing this (on account of the free wifi and amazing breakfast chicken-biscuits), there is a single mom two tables over who is actively bad-mouthing a girl's dad to her 10 year-old daughter. I don't presume to know the story or what led to the issues that broke up the couple in the first place, but for crying out loud: stop trashing the man that will be - like it or not - your daughter's mental framework for what a man really is!!! Random mom: I'm sure you think you're protecting her by pointing out the things that drive you crazy about the man you had these children with, but you could not be more wrong. In actuality, you're probably just unhealthily venting your own baggage onto your young daughter who isn't remotely prepared to handle it. You're also just confusing her, and don't you dare be surprised or pissed off when she brings home some guy who is exactly like the man you are currently berating! (whew...sorry, lost my cool there for a second)
No matter how politically incorrect it may be to make this statement: Dad's matter...a lot! Men are not inherently wicked, and even our imperfect parenting is vastly better for the well-being of a child than if we weren't in the picture at all (abusive situations as the obvious exception to that). If every dad would take one small step towards his daughter this week, and then another one next week, and another one the week after that...we could literally change the lives of millions of girls who would otherwise be floundering. Dads: love your daughters! Moms: honor the men who your daughters admire and love (whether you're still with them or not). Society: stop trying to push men and fathers out of the picture in the name of equality - it's an overcorrection that is going to have generational repercussions we can't even fully understand.