Raising of our children well is probably the most important task of our natural, and supernatural lives – with effects on society and eternity. Yet too few parents experience the confidence and joy that the process can offer. When it comes to dads and their girls, being at different life stages is merely one complication that may cause disruption. Whether socializing or biology or both together, the differing qualities of dads and daughters add another set of factors. But instead of looking at this as a mismatch, we can instead see opportunities to enlist the differing strengths of both the parent and the child.
It is a near universal reality that men tend to lack proficiency and become easily overwhelmed and feel out of their depth in the twists and turns of emotion – whether others’ or our own. Since emotion is an important part of what makes us human and humane, such discomfort really is a weakness, and it is of benefit to men and their relationships to grow in this area. Another fact is that little effort is required for most fathers to quickly become deeply attached to their little girls. The natural care a man has for his daughter can provide the energy to want to go beyond his own limits and meet his daughter in her world. Daughters – especially in their teens – are tremendously adept at riding emotional waves; for best success however they should learn how to accept feelings as part of life, but not as the driver of decisions. And here a father who is in loving connection with his daughter can be a mentor, even while he learns to integrate better his own feelings in service to another.
Confidence is something that usually increases with age and self-understanding. At the same time testosterone probably helps explain why males typically feel more comfortable in themselves and their abilities than do most females. Among young women this disparity can be seen in eating disorders, self-harm, and greater rates of depression. Some research suggests that social media is increasing these numbers much more rapidly for our daughters than for our sons. Even while we may understand reasons for this problem, biology is not destiny and there are good reasons to act with hope. Mothers and fathers are the original authorities for their children (for religious believers it is important to understand that in practical terms, parents actually exist before God in the lives of their children, with the substance of our interactions mediating and introducing our children to God; parents who neglect their responsibilities to their children are likely to disfigure their image of God (cf. Ephesians 3:15)). Through active acceptance and meaningful praise, fathers are especially important in communicating to our daughters (and our wives) that they are valuable far beyond how they look. Through our example of humbled confidence, our girls have a path to walk along as they gain greater insight into their own identities, and avoiding unfavourable comparisons to others.
Issues of sexuality are a final area of great importance. Here again fathers are desperately needed to give stability to their daughters as young women. Perhaps it is because females, rightly, see themselves so much in relationship with others that girls prize highly what they think others think of them. If they have not grown sufficiently in confidence, emotional stability, and self-understanding, they will be much more likely to give undue weight to messages about how to be accepted by a young man – himself often speaking out of weakness if not manipulation. What children see in the way their dads relate to their moms signals a standard to which potential romantic relationships may be later held. And we know that family stability is one of the most important factors in personal success in the short- and the long-term.
In all of this we can see opportunities, or obstacles. Being paternal while not paternalistic, and acting as a patron not patronizing requires hard work. It is my firm belief that being proactive in caring for and serving our children is a challenge to which fathers can commit. They are supremely worth the effort.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers