When I was growing up, my dad rarely stepped foot in a store (except to buy hunting equipment). Yet much of the fun of getting new clothes depended on him. On the way home from shopping, Mom would say, “I bet you can’t wait to show Daddy!”
Even if he was engrossed in his newspaper, my sisters and I managed to get a response as we paraded down our living room “runway." How Dad responded could make or break it — an outfit never felt so good as when Dad nodded his approval.
I remember a similar ritual with my grandparents. After my bath, Grandma would dab me with Avon "Here's My Heart" powder. The best part was when Grammy would say, "Go ask Gramps—"
I'd walk daintily down the stairs in my jammies, lean in close, asking: "How do I smell?”
That was Grandpa’s cue to take a deeeep breath: "Hmmmm. Very nice."
The men in my life taught me what it meant to be a girl.
Sure, I watched my mother put on dresses and do her hair or check her lipstick in the rear view mirror on the way to an event. From her, I learned about grace and poise and good posture and polite behavior. She showed me how to nurture and be a life-giver and other things that mothers teach.
But because it is our fathers who truly define us, nothing she could have done could teach me about femininity the way men did.
A father’s response shapes who a daughter becomes.
In the movie Riding in Cars With Boys (Columbia Pictures, 2001), Beverly’s father asks what she really wants for Christmas. Beverly hesistates. He urges her not to be shy.
Finally, she tells him: she wants a bra.
Beverly then converses with ease about her desires. In her innocence, pre-teen Beverly freely (and beautifully, though comically!) shares her heart with her dad.
Unfortunately, Beverly’s father ends the conversation (and their time in the car looking at Christmas lights) saying they need to get home.
When Beverly's father "shuts down" the bra topic, he not only fails to affirm his daughter’s femininity, he also teaches Beverly that her Dad is not the one to talk to about issues that concern her.
Dads often feel frightened by their daughters' beauty.
Gordon Dalbey asked men to confirm this suspicion. One brave man at a conference stood and said, "It's true."
When his daughter was young, they would wrestle and play together, but as she grew, he didn't know how to relate to her. One day, he looked at her and she wore stockings and had her hair all fixed up and she looked so beautiful ...
"In this world, we're taught that when a woman looks like that we're supposed to think things ... I guess I just kind of pulled away from her."
Though the ability to give affirmation comes naturally to most fathers when their daughters are very young, those same loving dads often have a difficult time embracing (or figuring out how to handle) their teenage daughters' femininity.
Like Beverly’s father, who brought to the conversation his own ideas about womanhood (and women’s undergarments) the man at Dalbey’s conference didn’t know what do to with certain feelings or topics. He was embarrassed and uncomfortable.
What if Beverly’s father had recognized what Beverly really wanted: to feel beautiful? Asking for a bra was just part of her desire to know the worth of her womanhood.
Beverly (like so many daughters) received a false message that her womanhood is something to be avoided — that it is inappropriate and even dangerous.
Beverly's father unknowingly led her to a path of seeking attention from boys to find the affirmation she did not receive from her father. Her choices directly impacted the rest of her life. Riding in Cars with Boys is the true story of Beverly Donofrio, who became a teenage mother.
A Dad’s Legacy of Involvement
In his book What a Difference a Daddy Makes: The Indelible Imprint a Dad leaves on His Daughter's Life, Dr. Kevin Leman talks about the fact that fathers' involvement tends to decrease as their daughters enter adolescence.
Fathers are often hands-on with academics but little else in daily life (boys, clothes, friends). Leman says that it is "absolutely the worst timing when a father begins to pull back from his physically developing daughter" and that it's "precisely the time he should be drawing near.”
A father of four daughters (and a son!), Leman knows that it's not easy for fathers and daughters to talk about issues like sex, but he says it is absolutely essential for a daughter's well-being. Leman is not talking about a one-time "sex talk" but “many regular talks that [come up in] the normal course of life."
Interestingly, Leman says that many of these conversations took place while they were riding in the car (less intimidating than face to face).
One of Leman’s strongest messages: If Dads are unwilling to talk to their daughters, who will give them a male perspective? Will it be “the sex-hungry mind [or body] of a teenage boy?”
A father’s love is a “safe harbor” for his daughter to learn about the mysteries of sexuality, from a man’s (her father’s) perspective.
Leman urges: “Don't let your daughter learn through neglect and regret … pain is too severe. If your daughter becomes sexually active, she risks venereal diseases, a broken heart, intimacy problems in marriage, and more. It's too risky not to take shepherding in this area very, very, seriously … An involved, affirming and open father can steer his daughter around promiscuity.”
Our Fathers Define Us, Physically and Spiritually
"People move toward good things; they move away from bad things," says Dalbey. It is a father who “calls forth” the femininity in his daughter.
Men, by their authority as fathers, have the power to bless their daughters' femininity and help them understand their femininity as a good thing.
Dads, your legacy to your daughter is as much spiritual and emotional as it is physical. When you make a decision to communicate openly, you affirm your daughter as a woman.
BLESS your daughter. Send her into the world with confidence in her womanhood, knowing she is securely loved.
Your daughter has much to offer the world through her feminine spirit, and Dad, you are the best one to show her that truth.
Dalbey, Gordon. Fathers and Daughters available at www.abbafather.com
Eldredge, John and Stacie. Captivating