Dr. Michelle Watson: Your daughter will internalize your view of her. So, when you laugh at her jokes, she’s gonna tell herself, I’m funny. When you engage her in a political discussion or maybe even a theological one, she’s gonna say, I’m intelligent. When you say, “Can you help me buy a present for Mother’s Day for mom?” she’s gonna say, “I’m creative and industrious. She will internalize how you, dad see her and how you engage
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Dr. Michelle Watson joins us today on “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, today’s topic is going to cut close to your heart, because we’re gonna talk about dads and daughters and you have three.
John: I do and they’re so much different than the three boys we have, you know.
Jim: Okay, give me some of those examples.
John: Girls do not necessarily want to be just socked in the arm and wrestled with. (Laughter)
Jim: No, you haven’t found that?
John: They want to sit down and talk, you know, have heart-to-heart conversations.
Jim: Really, deep.
John: Yeah and I will say that I love my boys immensely, but my girls, oh, my goodness, they can make me melt and tear up and cry and do things that I couldn’t long before I had them.
Jim: That means it’s healthy.
Jim: Hey, the bond between father and daughters is so unique and you’ve experienced it. I’ve gotten a little bit of that with a foster girl that we have at our home and it’s been amazing and challenging.
John: She’s different than the boys.
Jim: (Laughing) She is different than my teen boys. She’s only 5, so it’s been quite an interesting ordeal to have a little girl in the home. But there are some significant differences and we’re gonna talk about that today and really speak to dads about communicating and how to communicate with daughters. If you’re a mom and you’re sayin’, man, my guy has to hear this, get the download. Get the CD or have him listen to it somehow and I think it’s gonna help dads immensely today.
John: And Michelle Watson is a speaker. She’s a counselor and she has a radio program in the Portland area called “The Dad Whisperer” and has written a terrific book for dads titled Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You: A Guide for Connecting With Your Daughter’s Heart.
Jim: Michelle, welcome to “Focus on the Family.”
Michelle: Thank you. It’s a joy to be here.
Jim: First time, right?
Michelle: First time.
Jim: Okay, good, we’re gonna get all this dad whispering out of you. (Laughter)
John: It’s great.
Jim: You know, you do regularly work with dads who are trying to be intentional in their relationships with their daughters. That right there can be an oxymoron, right? Dads being intentional (Laughter) with their relation[ship] with their daughter, ’cause so often dads are just flyin’ by the seat of their pants—
Jim: –I think.
Jim: And you know, we think we can do it good enough. Sometimes we need some coaching though and that’s basically what you do.
Jim: Yeah, how do you go about helping a dad go from a 2 to a 10?
Michelle: Well, for starters, God led me 6 ½ years ago to start a group forum for dads called “The Abba Project,” “Abba” meaning “daddy” in Aramaic and men love a project, hence the name. And they meet with me for nine months. So, a lot of men want a quick fix.
Michelle: Let me go to a day conference and I’m gonna get this. I’m like, no, we as women, we’re a little slow, like we want you to … to kind of carry your intentionality–
Jim: Let it stew.
Michelle: –with us over time and let it stew.
Jim: Yeah, in a good way.
Michelle: In a good way.
Jim: You know, when you’re working with dads, you’ve seen it. Why is it so crucial for that dad to be there in his daughter’s life and to pursue her heart? It seems uncomfortable for many dads.
Jim: How do I pursue my daughter’s heart?
Michelle: I love that you highlighted, Jim, the word “heart,” because God Himself right in the last verse of the whole Old Testament where He knew He was signing off for 400 years, right–we didn’t; He did—He said, “If the hearts of the fathers don’t turn toward their children and the children to their fathers, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
And you notice that He didn’t say “head,” turn the head of the fathers. And most dads are awesome with their head space. We need you to fill out a FAFSA, helpin’ us. We need you to help us with our bank loan, all that, you know, hard information—
Jim: Head stuff.
Michelle: –head stuff. And yet, God said the hearts of the fathers have to turn. And I find when it comes to the dad-daughter relationship, a lot of dads say, “I don’t quite know what that means.”
Jim: Well, what is it? I’m sorry to ask that question, but (Chuckling) be plain spoken here.
Jim: What is the dad heart? What does it look like?
Michelle: What does it look like?
Jim: And how do you ask those questions of your daughter?
Michelle: Yeah, well, for starters, it means the emotional center. A heart is that emotional space where we—
Jim: That can be trouble now.
Michelle: –feel emotions. (Laughter) We track, right with our daughters in a different way, like you said, John than with our sons, with your sons. And so, you think about the fact that we’re softer on the inside. We can be crunchy and hard on the outside a lot of times, but on the inside as daughters, we carry the wounds so often that dads don’t know and we make really stupid and poor decisions often out of those wounds or the dad voids where we didn’t get filled in our heart space.
So, for example, you say okay, what does that look like to have a heart dialed in kind of thing for a dad? And I say, your daughter will internalize your view of her. So, when you laugh at her jokes, she’s gonna tell herself, I’m funny. When you engage her in a political discussion or maybe even a theological one, she’s gonna say, I’m intelligent. When you say, “Can you help me buy a present for Mother’s Day for mom?” she’s gonna say, “I’m creative and industrious. She will internalize how you, dad see her and how you engage her.
Jim: You talk about a God-given assignment for fathers. What does that assignment look like? What does it say?
Michelle: Well, when you think about God saying, the heart has to turn, you can tell that’s a process word, isn’t it?
Michelle: Dads have to intentionally and consistently think about, right–let’s start with the head; move it down to the heart–think about pursuing their daughters’ hearts. In fact, over and over in the research it confirmed consistently that children who feel connected to their dads—key words “feel the connection”—they do better in school. Listen to some of these. They get better grades. They’re more likely to attend college. They have lower rates of suicide, of depression. They have healthier body weight. Isn’t that powerful? But listen to this. There are decreases in teen pregnancy and they start sexual activity later.
Jim: Michelle, those are all incredible benefits and when I write about the absent father and the consequences on children and both boys and girls, not just girls—
Jim: –why does the culture not get this? And I’m speaking to the woman.
Jim: Why do we underplay the significance of fathers and the role that they play in the home?
Michelle: You know, I wish I had an answer to that question. You know, I can only base this on my 35 years of experience of working with teens and adult women. But I think oftentimes on television, you guys can tell me what you think, men look like the bumbling idiot that doesn’t get it. And I think it has really undermined the value of men, the value of fathers as a culture and I’m here standing as one woman saying, we need you. We desperately need you, especially as girls, because we’re gonna see our self-reflection in you.
Jim: Yeah. Let me ask you about the ABC’s of fathering. I mean, if we’re sitting down. I’m saying, Michelle, I’ve got two daughters. I’m lost. What would you say would be my target? What’s the ABC’s? What do I need to know as a dad, working with a daughter?
Michelle: Okay, so the ABC’s, A is action. Did you guys have a favorite superhero when you were young?
Jim: Oh, all of ’em. (Laughter), Batman, Superman.
John: Yeah, Batman was a good one.
Jim: Was Batman yours?
John: He was pretty innocent back then—
Jim: Yeah, he was.
John: –a little lighter on tone.
Michelle: There you go.
Jim: I’ll lean into Superman. (Laughter)
Michelle: Okay, would you have liked that superhero if that superhero didn’t take action?
Jim: No, he wouldn’t be a superhero.
John: Yeah, he’d be a super couch potato.
Michelle: Exact[ly], impotent, right? So, you think about you as dad, I’ve yet to meet a dad who says, “I don’t want to be a hero to my kids, to my daughter.” And so, to be a hero, you have to take action. So, what does that look like? It means that you may have to turn off the television in the fourth quarter of your favorite game. I mean, you know you’re gonna be inconvenienced.
Jim: To do what though? Tell me what am I gonna have to do?
Michelle: So, she comes in crying in the door, right? And she—
Jim: Oh, okay.
Michelle: –she’s just been out with your friends and you know somethin’s wrong. And you think, okay, you know what? I would rather let mom handle this one, ’cause put it on TiVo, watch it later. That moment right there to take action, to connect with her heart because it’s breaking, she will remember that forever. You’re not gonna remember that game forever.
Jim: Well, and Michelle, it’s really critical. If you don’t do it, she’ll remember that forever, too—
Jim: –that the game was more important than me.
Michelle: Absolutely, you’ve got that right, yeah. The game was more important. Your work was more important. And I’m a pastor’s kid. My dad’s retired now, but I remember that he was always at my, you know, I was more of a musician than an athlete, than into sports. He came to every one of those concerts. He came to those things. He showed up and my dad, speaking of action, his dad died homeless. He was in gangs in Chicago, grew up without a lot of supervision. My dad did not have a template of how to be a dad, but other men would say, “You need to have family devotions.” And my dad came home, “We’re gonna get up 15 minutes earlier. We’re gonna have family devotions.” And so, he took action to lead even though he didn’t know how, but he started there with action.
B, be the man you want her to marry, because more is caught than taught. Model to her that you take time to take her out to dinner. You want to hear regularly how her life is going. Maybe you go in and pray with her before she goes to bed, but you’re there present, giving quantity time, not just quality time. So, be the man, A, action, B, be the man you want her to marry, C, consistency.
John: That’s hard though sometimes. At a certain age it seems like my girls kind of pulled away a little bit. So, do I give them that space? Or do I chase after that and invade their space?
Michelle: I love that question. Where would you put that age if you were to kinda guess an age?
John: Oh, 12, 13, 14.
Michelle: Bingo, do you see why I start The Abba Project at age 13 for the daughters? Thirteen to 30, because do you guys remember and you’ve got a 5-year-old foster daughter, so you totally get this, like they run up to you when you come home. “Daddy! Daddy!” and run into your arms and kiss your face and then all of a sudden, they hit adolescence, right? Everything spiraling; all the hormones are wacky and we as girls, don’t know why we’re a mess. We don’t want to be a mess. We don’t want to be a disappointment to you, but when we can tell that we are and you’re frustrated because you’re overwhelmed with us and now you’re reacting to our reaction. And we’re going, “I don’t know what to do with myself.”
But when you stay the course and say, “Okay, I’m gonna be present with you right now.” You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be present and you say, maybe I’m gonna write a note, a text. “Hey, I’m out in the living room. I know you’re havin’ a hard day. When you’re ready, I’m out here. You want to go for a walk?” It may need to be in writing.
Jim: That’s good.
Michelle: It may look different than in person like it did when she was little. But I’m telling you, a lot of the written words [are important]. I even encourage dads to put it in handwriting, sometimes to stand out with the technology. Slide it under her door. She’ll go, “What is this?”
Jim: Just to be different.
Michelle: Just to be different.
Jim: Yeah, it’ll catch her attention.
Jim: But much of what you’re sayin’ though applies to boys. I mean, it has a different feel to it, but dads—
Jim: –need to be engaged in that same way or in a similar way with their boys, don’t they?
Michelle: Absolutely, in fact, I’ve had dads that have done The Abba Project or even, you know, hearing from dads that have read my book and put things into action, ’cause at the back I have scripts for dad-daughter dates, that you can adjust those to your sons, so that you’re equipped as a dad. That’s my heartbeat, is to equip dads to be heroes.
Michelle: And so, I say, if you ask a question like, “What item of clothing would you love to see me get rid of?” You could ask that to a son or a daughter (Laughter), right?
Jim: That could be dangerous.
Michelle: So, it could be dangerous, but how about if we go then to dad asking, “What words have I spoken to you that have stuck with you, that have made you feel better about yourself? What words have I spoken to you that have stuck with you that have made you feel worse about yourself?”
Jim: Those are good questions. Those really are good questions.
Michelle: And right, you can ask them to a daughter or a son.
Jim: Michelle, you touched on it, but I want to surface it a little more, the relationship with your own father. He didn’t have a good dad. So often, I think men particularly, we can rest on the fact that uh … you know, I didn’t have the model and I am who I am and this is what you get and I’m sorry if it’s not enough. If you missed that, how do you like your father did, how do you muster the awareness, the wisdom as a man who never had it modeled from him? Where do you start? What do you do?
Michelle: Which like you said, is a huge portion of our population.
Jim: Yeah, almost half.
Michelle: Yeah, almost half. So, you think that has to start with a willingness to learn. And I think sometimes men, their pride gets in the way if you don’t mind my sayin’.
Jim: Pride? What pride? (Laughter)
Michelle: You know, sayin’, “I don’t want to ask for help. I don’t want to ask for directions,” not that you’ve ever done that at a gas station.
Jim: I’m good at that part. (Laughter) I may not ask for help in every other way, but—
John: GPS has helped that.
Jim: –directions I’m good with.
John and Michelle: Yeah.
Michelle: I’ve had a lot of men say, you know, even now I listen to my wife the older I’ve gotten and I listen to her input more or to my, you know, to someone that I know that’s a sister or an aunt. Like listen to a woman’s perspective.
Michelle: Men going to women going, “What do you see that I’m missing?”
Michelle: And having ears to hear and an openness means that you’re not letting your pride get in the way of being open to learning?
John: We’re visiting with Dr. Michelle Watson on today’s “Focus on the Family” and as Jim said earlier, get the CD or download of this conversation and a copy of Michelle’s book, Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You, when you stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call us and order those resources, 1-800-232-6459.
Jim: Dr. Watson, I presume (Laughter), right? I love that. I hadn’t thought of that till right now. Dr. Watson—
John: It’s a brain flash there, huh? (Laughter)
Jim: –it’s a brain flash. Michelle, help me with the dialed-in dad. You talk about that in your book. What does it mean to dialed in and that active listener? And give me some specifics. You use a few questions in the book that I’m gonna try using with my boys.
Michelle: Which ones stood out?
Jim: Well, you know, “I’m wondering,” starting the sentence with “I’m wondering,” rather than “How come the dishes aren’t done when—
John: Yeah, why didn’t you?
Jim: –I asked you 14 times today to get ’em done. I’m wondering why.
Jim: (Laughing) That’s what I’m hearing.
Michelle: There you go.
Michelle: Okay, so for a dad to become dialed in, how many of you guys have a tool box?
Jim: All right, we all raised our hands.
John: I have multiple tool boxes.
Jim: Yeah (Laughing), that’s even better.
Michelle: Okay, so get that visual of a dad tool box that you’re carrying with you. You need tools in it. So, here is I would say my No. 1 tool, favorite tool that dads have told me they love and it’s these: a two-word tool, “I’m wondering.”
Let me tell you the story. All you do is put two words in front of the question that you’re asking and I guarantee you, it will soften your tone and your daughter will respond different[ly]. So, Andy comes to The Abba Project. He has four sons and a 17-year-old daughter, Meagan. And they are not connecting.
Michelle: So, Meagan’s a senior. He drives over an hour to the group going, “I’ve gotta do somethin’. I’ve got one more year with her. So he would [say] that she skipped school all the time.” Michelle, what have you got for me for that?
And I said, “Well, tell me how it looks.” And he said, “Well, I go in. I’ll go, ‘Meagan, why didn’t you go to school today?’” And he goes, “Either the wall comes up or the prickly claws come out.” Do you guys know what I’m talkin’ about?
Michelle: So, he said, “Well, I asked her, ‘Why didn’t you go to school today?’ I get nothing.” So, I said, “What if you tried putting two words, that’s all, in front of it, ‘I’m wondering.” He said, “What do I have to lose? So, he goes home and says, “Hey, Meagan, I’m wondering why didn’t you go to school today?” And she goes, “Oh, well, because …” What just happened here?
Jim: She answered his question.
Michelle: She answered his question.
John: Now, Michelle, as we’ve been having this conversation, I’ve been filtering through for my girls. They’re all young adults, but I read a story about you and your dad. You’re an adult. You’re going to the store and he told you that you were just talking too much and that you had lost him. What was that about? I mean, this is even for adult dads and daughters, right?
Michelle: Exactly, in fact, I think a lot of dads, where they hit that overload is, their daughters are so emotional and so verbal. And so, that’s where they’re like, I cannot do this. And I’ve discovered that men would rather do nothing than do it wrong. Agree or disagree?
John: Well, yes.
Michelle: And I say, but doing nothing is doing it wrong. So, I want to help you do it right. And if you just say, “Michelle told me to ask it like that,” roll me under the bus, ’cause I want you to be the hero.
Michelle: So, with my dad, back to that question, he says, “Okay, Michelle, I’ve never told you this, but your words wear me out.” Oh, I was like, “What?”
John: Was it years of pent-up emotion for him?
Jim: And was that a few weeks ago or a few years ago?
Michelle: This was only like two years ago.
Jim: Oh (Laughing), man.
Michelle: So, I’m in my 50’s. He waited a long time.
Michelle: And I go, “Okay, okay.” He was being more honest and vulnerable.
Michelle: So, I appreciate that, but I thought, my words wear you out? ‘Cause you guys, seriously, what do you do when you’re an extrovert and God wired you this way?
Jim: I guess it’s speak less (Laughter) for your dad.
Michelle: I tried that. (Laughter) But really I have so appreciated him when he’s honest like that. And we then begin a dialogue.
John: So, that didn’t hurt?
Michelle: Oh, yeah, it hurt, yeah, yeah, it did hurt.
John: Should he have—
Michelle: I’m not gonna lie.
John: –said it?
Michelle: Yeah, he should’ve said it, ’cause he said it with a tone that was kind. He didn’t say it as an attack. Have you guys ever heard the statistic that communication is 7 percent words, 38 percent tone of voice and 55 percent body language.
Jim: Uh-hm, yeah.
Michelle: So, his tone, you guys, if dads could get the importance of tone, they’d hit it out of the ballpark as a dad.
Jim: Let me ask you though, ’cause Jean and I have had that discussion, again, just being a parent. I think I don’t realize how gruff I could come across at times.
Jim: And she’ll say, you know, “Your gruff meter’s a little high on that one.”
Jim: And I feel like I’m just communicating factually. I’m just sayin’ it like it is. That’ll be kind of the discussion that I’ll have. “Man, I didn’t have any emotion behind it. I was just saying, ‘Take out the trash.’”
Michelle: Yeah, exactly.
Jim: And she was hearing on behalf of our kids, “Take out the trash.” (Laughter) But men are really tone deaf when it comes—
Jim: –to that and I’ve tried to be a little more [gentle]. Have you had that experience, John?
John: Ah, it’s a weakness. Every day I have to deal with this. My—
Jim: I can’t imagine.
John: –wife will often just say, “You sound angry.” And I’ll look at her like, “I—
John: –I’m not feeling angry. What am I doing that’s angry?”
Michelle: Yeah, we think, you—
Jim: See, we miss that.
Michelle: –want to hear anger?
Jim: Yeah, yeah.
Michelle: You’ve given anger.
John: But she heard that angry.
Michelle: I’ll give you anger.
Jim: But how do you become more in tune with your own tone when you’re tone deaf?
Michelle: I love that you ask it that way. Let me give you a story. Stories stick, don’t they? They teach the lessons. I’ve had a dad who’s a pastor in Oregon write me and say that one of the guys in his church every night before he tucks his 5-year-old into bed says, “Has daddy been sharp with you today?”
Michelle: And he lets her tell him if he’s been sharp or harsh. Another way is, I love the zero to 10 thing. I call myself “the zero to 10 queen.” So, a thing that a dad could do is say, “Hon, on a zero to 10 scale, 10 being the most intense, zero being neutral, how’d you hear that right now?” So, you’re asking her to give you feedback on how you’re doing as a dad, because dads that do this intentional dialing into the heart space of their daughters tell me their relationships with their sons get better. Their relationship with their wives get better and their relationships in their roles at their jobs get better.
Jim: And it’s a bit of vulnerability though.
Jim: So, you have to show some softness and tenderness–
Jim: –and humility. Michelle, I don’t want the time to get away from us without talking about the emotional buildup of your daughter. That’s something that’s been a bit shocking for me, having this little girl with us. A few weeks ago I remember going to tuck them into bed, her and her brother and they have bunk beds at our house and so, she’s at eye level. And I was just praying for them and kinda doing the nightly routine. And she grabbed my hand on her own initiative and began to stroke her cheek with it. And it kinda freaked me out a little, if I could be honest, ’cause, you know, I’ve never had one of my sons do that. They haven’t grabbed my hand, but it was more the thirst of it, that she needed to see that kind of affection from the father figure.
Jim: But talk about how a dad needs to be in tune with investing in the emotional needs of a daughter. My wife Jean, for example, she can remember her dad hugging her, all appropriate, but it was as if when she was older she realized this, it was as if her mom must have said something, ’cause she said, one day my dad just stopped huggin’ us–
Jim: –all of the daughters. There [are] three daughters in their family and it was just one day it stopped and she can remember it. And her only conclusion was, my mom must have said, it’s not right for a father to be hugging his daughters now that they’re in, you know, 13, 14, where puberty has come along.
Jim: But talk about that awkwardness for the father and what he needs to be mindful of.
Michelle: Uh-hm. Could I ask you a quick question first? What was that like for you when she put your hand on her cheek?
Jim: Again, the initial thing was it kinda took me [by surprise].
Michelle: Yeah, [it] startled you.
Jim: –it startled me, because, you know, but then I understood it quickly and I just let it happen and she just continued to brush her hair and her cheek with my hand.
Jim: And I know she’s, you know, she’s in a very difficult situation, being in foster care and—
Jim: –and the thing, the other thing that kind of scared me for her and the way that I pray for her is just that she doesn’t seek that kind of male affection the rest of her life in harmful ways.
Jim: But you can see it, even at an early age, where it begins to set up for that dark path–
Jim: –’cause they’re wanting to see, am I good enough? Do you love me? And I can see it already setting up. So, that’s how I’m praying for her.
Michelle: That’s beautiful and you’re letting her experience what it feels like to have safe touch from a safe dad figure, right? And we’ve all heard the song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places”—
Michelle: –if she’s not getting that kind of attention from you dad, she’s gonna go seek, I call it “Dads, Dudes and Duds.” She’s gonna go there if she doesn’t get it from you. So, let me give you a story. I had a dad once day in The Abba Project say, “You guys know my daughters are 15, 12 and 9.” And he goes, “My middle daughter, she’s kind of um …” and his hands were out in front of him and he couldn’t uh … and he just stumbled over his words for like an awkward 30 seconds. He said, “She’s more developed.” That’s what he meant.
Michelle: She’s more developed and he goes, “You know, I kinda backed off ’cause I don’t want to touch her in the wrong place now that she’s developing.
Michelle: And so, what was so amazing is, so this guy goes, “I’ve backed off. Michelle, what should I do?” And I said, “Well, let’s ask the band of brothers first and then I’ll weigh in.” I wish I would’ve have … had a camera going. The guy right to my left goes, “Well, you know my daughter. She’s 17 now. But he said, “About 13, I stopped wrestling with her. We used to wrestle, but now because of what I’m learning in this group, I now started wrestli