Dr. Meg Meeker: So, dads, God gives you instincts to move in towards your daughter. And when you have those instincts, no matter what anybody says, move in.
John Fuller: That’s Dr. Meg Meeker talking about the important role that a father has in his daughter’s life. And Meg is our guest today on Focus on the Family. You know, we as dads, we want to succeed with our kids. And there is a special daddy-daughter bond that we’re going to be taking a look at today. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I’m a bit jealous because I’m the father of two boys, and I don’t have that wonderful experience of having a daughter. I would have loved to have been the father of a daughter. But I think the Lord may have known I would have ended up in jail, perhaps, defending her.
Meg: (Laughter) Yeah.
Jim: But, you know? I love – there was a man that I worked with years ago who, literally, his daughter – beautiful girl, and I know the family well – he would – he was 82nd Airborne. And he decided to clean his guns when boyfriends would come over to take his daughter out. And he’d be cleaning that gun saying, “I’d do anything for my daughter. I’d go to prison for my daughter. You need to take care of my daughter.” Wow. Talk about a daddy’s love. I mean, that’s laying the law down, isn’t it?
John: It is, yeah.
Jim: And we’re going to discuss that today, and I’m looking forward to it with our wonderful guest Dr. Meg Meeker. She’s written this terrific book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know.
John: And she is a leading authority on parenting teens and children’s health. Dr. Meeker is a pediatrician. She’s been in practice for over 30 years. And she and her husband have three daughters and a son. And you can get that book, by the way, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, at our website focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Dr. Meeker, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Meg: Well, thanks for having me. This is so much fun.
Jim: Now, I know your late father meant so much to you, and in every way, this book is really about the relationship the two of you had.
Jim: And what you learned as that strong daughter…
Jim: …from a strong father. Describe those attributes. What was it like to be his daughter? And, what were those things that made such a significant difference for you?
Meg: You know, it’s interesting, because people who’ve read the book think, wow, your dad was a perfect man.
Meg: He was this giant. He must’ve have had his Ph.D. in psychology. And I – no, my dad was a pathologist. He was very quiet, very introverted. But, he was very family-oriented, and we always knew that we were a huge priority for him, in our lives. And you know, this was during the ’70s, when the feminist movement was just starting. And I wasn’t a feminist, and he wasn’t. But I always knew – sometimes he would tell me – but just his behavior showed me that he believed I could be and do whatever I wanted in life. And that meant a huge amount to me. I was very close with my mother. I had the deeper
conversations with my mother. But I respected and admired my dad so much. And, because he was quiet, whenever he said something or gave a compliment, I knew it was real.
Meg: You know, my mother would say, “Oh, you got good grades, I’m so proud of you. You’re really a smart kid.” And I thought, well, moms have to say that.
Jim: (Laughter) I love it.
Meg: They just do. You know, moms have to say that. They have to love you. But, when my father would say something, it really hit the center of who I was, and I believed it, and it became who I was. So, my dad really believed in me. And I can’t exactly say how he communicated that, but he did.
Jim: You know, in so many ways, you’re saying something that I wrote about, which is that wild-card factor of a father. Moms, they’re predictable in a good way. It’s not a bad thing to be predictable, when it comes to how you love your children. But moms take care of the boo-boos. They’re the ones, you know, putting the Bactine on and the Band-Aid, and putting an arm around the child and all that. It’s predictable love, coming from mom. Dads often are the wild card…
Jim: …telling you, “Don’t touch it. Don’t cry. Don’t let me see your tears.” I mean, whatever it might be. But, you don’t know how dad’s going to react.
Jim: And I think that’s a great first question for the fathers that are listening. As a daughter of a strong father, and being a strong daughter, what are those wonderful attributes? I know, you know, loving you was important. What are some of those other tangible things that he did, and that you see in other good fathers that really connect them to their daughter?
Meg: I think the way my dad spoke to me was terribly important. My dad never swore. He never yelled. He never put me down, never called me names. And that meant a lot, because he showed me a tremendous amount of respect as a person, and as a woman. The other thing that I really appreciated about my father, which will make a lot of young people who are listening cringe, is my dad was very protective. And my dad – well, particularly when I was a teen and in college – drove me crazy.
Jim: Kind of like that intro comment I made, right?
Meg: He did. My dad was a hunter.
Meg: And in our family room were a lot of animal heads. And when young men came in, you know, they would see that, and my dad always made sure he met these young men, and he shook their hands. Another thing that was very important to me – that drove me crazy – whenever I came home from a date, my dad was up. The lights were on.
Jim: That drove you crazy (laughing).
Meg: And he’d be sweeping the garage. He’d be looking at his car. He’d be doing anything. But I knew he was up, because he wanted to see when I was coming home and, you know, where we’d been. And I remember one time when I was 17 or 18, I mean, old enough to know, he didn’t like the movie that the guy took me to see. And literally, the guy came in the house. We talked about the movie. And he immediately made the guy leave. I was mortified. When I was in college, he paged me at a restaurant – I was 21 – because it was passed midnight, and he was worried.
Jim: Oh, my.
Meg: You know, he wasn’t mean. He was worried. And even though I hated it at the time, it wasn’t long into my 20s that I wore that as a badge of honor.
Jim: How did you make that transfer, though? And of course, that was a few years ago.
Meg: Yep.Jim: Today’s culture seems different in some ways. But, the longing in girls’ hearts I think is identical.
Meg: It is not different.
Jim: It’s the same, right?
Meg: Every daughter wants the same thing. And that doesn’t change.
Jim: Convince me. I’m that feminist 19-year-old. I just – I’m in public school – not to besmirch public school. But, I’ve been you know, kind of engineered now to think that I don’t need a father looking over my shoulder. I’m independent. You’re sitting down as a pediatrician with me. Have that conversation with me, why I need to be mindful of my dad’s love for me.
Meg: Yeah. Because I think every woman knows there’s a longing in her heart from a time she’s very young – that she wants dad. She wants dad’s approval. He’s larger than life. And the reason we know that is because women who are grown, who didn’t have a dad, will look back and talk about the pain of not having a dad. So, as adults, if we had a good dad, we know it. If we had a bad dad, or an absent dad, we know it. It’s so intuitive. It’s so instinctive.
Jim: How does that pain manifest itself? Speak to the symptoms of that.
Meg: Well, very easily. Teenage girls are sexually active. Why? Not because they want a sexual experience. They want a hug. They want attention. They want affection. And they know that even if it isn’t real, it’s better than nothing, that male attention and affection. And girls will tell you that. You know, a 16, 17-year-old girl will tell you that – “I don’t really like my boyfriend, but that’s what I get, and I want him to like me, and I want to look up to him.” That’s why girls will often date somebody who’s older, because they want an authority figure. They hate it. But they crave it. Every girl wants protection. Every woman wants protection. You know, you don’t say that, because feminists will jump down their throat, but every woman knows she’s vulnerable, because she’s weaker, physically, than men.
And when parents don’t acknowledge that, and they allow their teenage girls to go out with a high school, you know, the captain of the football team, they are – she’s out of her league. And a dad knows that. But a mother won’t acknowledge that – “Well, my daughter’s strong, she’s independent, she can stand up to peer pressure. Nobody is going to take advantage of her.” Well, maybe and maybe not. And girls are so vulnerable, because they want that male affection. They want that attention. They’ll put on a different persona. That’s why girls are, you know, working on Facebook, and they’re putting out a different image of who they really are, because it’s all about attention. It’s not just female attention. They want male attention. And they’ll tell you that.
So, you know, men have an authority in a girl’s eyes, particularly dads have an authority, with a capital A. It’s not that their mother isn’t influential and has authority. But daughters look to their dads as larger than life. And here’s why. Daughters perceive their mothers have to love them. Because, that’s the – that’s where life starts. Mom has to love you. But, in their eyes, a dad’s love is negotiable.
Meg: He either can love me, or maybe he doesn’t love me. Even if he’s a great dad. So, when dad says something, it carries a weight that when your mother says something, it doesn’t carry. And every girl and every woman knows that.
Jim: Before we go in deeper to that father-daughter relationship, talk about mom. You know, with two boys, I see that special relationship between Jean, my wife, and the boys. They have that kind of gender experience, you know. There’s an attachment there that’s just different. Ours tends to be more competitive. You know, we’re men and boys. And so, I’m trying to, you know, I’m wrestling with them and all that kind of thing. Mom has their ear and has their heart in a different way. I’m sure when the shoe’s on the other foot, when you have daughters, what is mom’s role in helping dad better understand loving his daughter?
Meg: Well, it’s very interesting you bring that up, because sons and mothers, and fathers and daughters, have very different relationships. Mom can be very close to her son, when she’s young – when he’s young. But, as he hits those teen years, it’s really hard for moms. They have to let go, because a son has to pull away to learn how to be a man.
Jim: And that’s hard for moms.
Meg: It’s extremely hard for mothers. And mothers who don’t want to do that end up with 25 year old’s living in the basement, because they communicate to their son, “You still need me, because I need to be needed.”
Jim: Right. Their sense of self-worth is coming out of that relationship…
Meg: Is tied up in their sons. That’s not so with a father and a daughter. A daughter never has to pull away from her dad. A dad is the one person that every daughter takes to her grave.
Jim: Well, and this takes me right to the line of questioning I wanted to get to. I’ve heard dads say to me, you know, “I wasn’t sure how to act, when my daughter was going through puberty, you know, 12, 13 years old. It seemed like, before that we had this normal loving relationship. I give her a hug every night. And we pray together. And it was all kind of fairy tale well. And then, boy, then, you know, how do I hug her? And she’s like a woman. And this is awkward.” Speak to that issue of what is a healthy relationship there with dad, and how does he continue to show, certainly, emotional and spiritual love for his daughter, but also those physical, appropriate things, when he gives her a hug at night, and not to pull back emotionally, or physically.
Meg: That’s a great question, because so many fathers ask me that – “I had this wonderful relationship with my daughter, and then she woke up one day, and I don’t know what happened to her. She was 13. And I went to hug her and she’s, like, you know, hugging a telephone pole with spikes all over it.”
Jim: Right. I can just see her face, you know, pointing away.
Meg: Oh, yeah. “Get away from me, Dad. Get away from me, Dad.” But, this is what I say to dads – her love and respect for you has not changed. Her need for you has not changed. When she pulls back, it has nothing to do with you and everything about her. Because teenage girls feel so awkward. Their self-esteem goes down. They don’t know if they’re attractive. You know, they feel that the – everybody in the world sees the pimple on their forehead. And so, they pull back from their dads because they don’t know how to navigate the relationship. So, a healthy response for a dad is, “Okay, I’m going to continue to pursue my daughter. I’m not going to back out of her life. She can back out of mine. But, I’m going to still pursue her and go after her. But, I’m going to do it in a different way.
So, instead of maybe giving her a full-on hug, I’m going to touch her shoulders, or I’m going to go” – a wonderful time to draw close to your daughters at the end of the day, when she’s in bed – going to bed – you go in there, and you sit in a chair. You don’t maybe sit on the edge of her bed. You sit on a chair and just – “How was your day? How was your day?” Because every daughter – 13, 14, 16 – still craves dad’s attention and approval. And as a matter of fact, they crave it more during the teen years than when they’re younger.
Jim: Well, now speak to the father who is pulling away, because it’s awkward.
Meg: It’s very awkward, yeah.
Jim: And I’m not talking about just that, but in a culture where, you know, the use of pornography with girls is going up. How does a father in a healthy way continue those kinds of discussions – appropriate discussions – to ensure that modern culture is not damaging her sense of being rooted in Christ, her spiritual orientation, all those kinds of things? What are those practical things that dad can do to make sure that she’s as safeguarded as he could make that situation?
Meg: Right. You know, one of the things that I encourage dads to do with their daughters, and particularly early on, is say, “You know what? Over the next few years, you’re going to be interested in boys, you’re going to be interested in dating and you might be attracted to all sorts of boys. So, this is what I think would be smart to do. Why don’t you, daughter, write a list of the top four or five things you think are important in a guy?” Just write them down. And you know, integrity, faith, faithfulness, honesty, whatever.
Jim: Cute – come on. These kids are, like, 16, 17, he’s got to be cute.
Meg: So, yeah, cute. So, you have her write them down. And you do this well before she starts to date, so she’s aware of it. And then when she wants to date a guy, you say, “Well, you know, is he in your nonnegotiable list? Does he have those character qualities? Because if he doesn’t, maybe you don’t want to date him.” So, what you give to her is a constant picture of the kind of guy you believe – and you think is important – for her to date. So, you kind of set that standard. And you talk to her the right way. And you don’t swear. And you don’t tell her, “Shut up.” When it comes to offensive things like pornography, the easiest way to go into that is talk about social media, and say, “You know what, honey? I’ve noticed, because I look at social media, too, that a lot of girls portray themselves as other than they really are. And I know you may be tempted to do that, because you want boys’ attention.” So, you begin to go in that way. And then you can start talking about pornography’s a serious issue and that social media and pornography are addicted. So, you don’t have to say, “Are you looking at pornography?” You say, “You know what? I realize this is a real problem among girls. And my job, as your dad, is to help keep you healthy in your relationships with guys, and even having a healthy sexual outlook on life.” So, you don’t have to get in the nitty-gritty, because girls don’t necessarily want that.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Meg: But what they want is, “What’s your standard, Dad? What’s your standard for how a guy should treat me, for what I should look at, for how I should present myself?” And you present it in a positive way, not a shameful way.
Meg: You know, we always encourage our girls to dress very modestly. And one place I think a lot of fathers fall down and a lot of mothers encourage their husbands to fall down is in the way girls dress. You know so many times a girl will go out the door showing way too much skin. And dad will go, “Wait a minute, you shouldn’t wear that to school.” And mom rushes over and goes, “No, no, no, you don’t understand the way girls are. You don’t understand fashion,” so she goes out the door and dad abdicates. Don’t do that. Every girl’s wardrobe should be looked at by the father. And he says, “Yes,” to this and, “No,” to this, and I’m going to tell you why – “I want you to cover up, not because you’re ashamed of your body, but it’s beautiful. And I was a 17-year-old boy, and I don’t want boys thinking of you a certain way. Yeah, it gets you attention. But this is really important.”
Jim: Well, and the way you’re discussing this, though, it’s not something that starts when their 15th birthday arrives. This is starting…
Meg: Young, young, young.
Jim: …When they’re little – 6, 7, 8, 9 – about the appropriate behavior and outlook on life.
Meg: I remember when – when I was about 8. I was in second grade. And my dad would on Saturday sometimes take me to work with him. And he had this enormous desk. I’m sure it wasn’t as big as I thought it was. And he worked…
Jim: Right, 18 feet.
Meg: …Yeah, and he worked at Mass. General Hospital in Boston, which I thought was so cool, even at that young age. But when I would sit at his desk, I felt so important, so important. But, after we’d do that we’d go have lunch in Harvard Square. And I distinctly remember my dad walking between me and the road. And he said to me, “Whenever a man or boy walks beside you, they should always walk between you and the road, because that’s how they protect you.” It never left me. I was 8. And when I first met my husband and he didn’t do it, I was mad!
Jim: You made sure he did.
Meg: Wait a minute, you’re supposed – because if anybody’s going to get hit by a car, it should be you, not me.
Jim: I remember that same lesson. That’s so funny.
Meg: So, little things like that, conversations you have, as you’re living life. These are how girls create an image in their mind of who they want and should be with.
Meg: And the way my dad talked to me. And I remember, I was dating a guy in college who really kind of looked down on me wanting to go to medical school, and my dad would have none of that. He let it be clear that this was not okay for me. That anybody should look up to me and encourage me. And, eventually, I broke up with him, because I knew he wasn’t good enough in my dad’s eyes for me. That makes a difference, because girls gravitate towards the man that you are. As a matter of fact, in this book, I have a very scary chapter called, “Be the Man You Want your Daughter to Marry.”
Meg: Because one day you’re going to be walking her down the aisle, and at the other end of the aisle is – for good or bad – is going to be a man that has a lot of your character qualities, so make sure they’re good.
John: Hm. Well there’s an admonition and an encouragement to get a copy of the book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. We have that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Dr. Meg Meeker is our guest today, and the subtitle of the book is 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know.
Jim: Hey, Meg, I don’t want to walk too far away from that, because that – you made several points there that are really important. And one is I think the culture seems to scream at a father, “Back off.” Especially for that 15, 16-year-old daughter. And, I want to speak directly to those dads who have kind of swallowed that bait. That “Ah, you know. I can’t assert my gut instinct too much here.” You’re saying go for it.
Meg: Go for it.
Jim: When you know in your gut that that is not appropriate, whether it’s the dress or something that’s being looked at, appropriately engage your daughter. And hopefully this won’t be the first time. I just want to reiterate that, because I – and so many of my friends that have daughters and, again, I think it’s one of the reasons as that captain of the football team, which I was.
Meg: Oh, sorry.
Jim: Thanks for that slam a while ago. But you want to engage, defend. It’s okay. This is your daughter. And it’s okay to do that, especially with your responsibilities before the Lord. It’s okay.
Meg: It’s not only okay, it’s critical. Because the girls that I see who hit 18, 19 and are ready to run away from home, or are thinking about getting pregnant, or doing self-harm are always girls who say to me, “No one cares enough to pay attention or to give me any boundaries or rules.” So, while a father of a 16-year-old girl is getting the message from her, I don’t want you creepy guy, get away, and the culture is saying you’re not really needed, you’re a doofus – I mean, look at television.
Jim: Exactly right. That’s my point.
Meg: And many wives unknowingly reinforce this – “Look, she’s a teenage girl. I know how to talk to her. I understand her.”
Meg: “She uses words that you don’t use. You don’t know how to teach her about this, so go away, I’ll do it.” I even sometimes found myself feeling that way towards my husband. So, what we do is we push the dads into orbit around the home. You know, you’re there and we’re mad, because you’re not engaged. But, when you engage, you don’t do it the right way, so go back into orbit. Particularly when it comes to teenage girls. Girls who don’t have an engaged father in their lives are more likely to be depressed, anxious, have lower grades, more likely to be sexually active, to do drugs, to do alcohol, to get into trouble. More likely to date the wrong guy. All the evidence is there. So, dads, God gives you instincts to move in towards your daughter. And when you have those instincts, no matter what anybody says, move in.
Meg: Your daughters love it. On the outside, they will show you they hate it. Don’t believe ’em. They don’t know what they want for dinner.
Jim: See, that’s the hard part, because I think in all of us there is a certain people-pleasing attitude. Most of us, not all of us. But there is that desire. You want to be loved by your daughter, as a father. And so, when they’re giving you that hard extra push away, we’re kind of taking the bait.
Jim: And we’re not looking beyond that to say, “No, I get it, but I am your dad, and I’m going to protect you. And we’re going to do it.”
Meg: So, what you have to do is decide what love is for you and act on that regardless how your daughter responds. Because, if you measure how well you love her according to her response, you’re going to miss the mark.
Meg: Because, she doesn’t know how she needs to be loved by you. She needs to be protected from herself and from other people. She needs to have some affection, because we know – studies show – the number one way to boost a girl’s self-esteem, and every parent wants their daughters self-esteem boosted, is to have physical affection from her father. So, if she doesn’t want to hug in front of her friends, do it in private. Sit next to her on the couch. Talk to her when she’s going to bed at night. Pat the top of her head. You know, if that’s…
Jim: Just something.
Jim: Yeah, that’s interesting.
Meg: Now she may cringe. Do it any way. Did you ever read the book, The Runaway Bunny, for little kids?
Meg: Well, you need a runaway bunny for dads and daughters. You know, my dad did the most embarrassing things to me, when I was a teenager. And I remember not talking to him for three days. But, I am so fortunate that he didn’t pay attention to me. He kept coming after me. And he kept talking to me about what kind of boy I should date, because he knew better than I what kind of guy was good for me and what was bad for me. Now, I didn’t get it, and I got mad. But, it wasn’t long before I realized he was right. He saw something I didn’t. So, figure out what is best and good and right for how you should love your daughter and adhere to that. Not according to what your daughter – how she responds to you, because you’re not going to do it the right way.
Jim: That’s a good point.
John: Yeah, and I just think of when our girls hit the teen years, sometimes they would, you know, just say, “Good night,” and walk off to bed. And I’d always look – I still do this, and they’re in their 20s now – “Hey, um, I still need my daddy hug.” And so, before you go to bed, just come over here and let me give you a good night hug, and just to keep the connection going. They can’t define the relationship. I need to define the relationship.
Meg: Exactly, yeah.
Jim: Meg, I want to come back next time, because there’s so much more material we need to explore. But, I do want to ask you about dad as hero to their daughters. Because I think that’s a great place to end today, how that father is that hero. Reinforce that to the dads listening that are feeling like they’re not so much the hero, they’re the goat.
Meg: It’s interesting, because whenever I use that term to dads, I would say 9 times out of 10, dads go, “Oh, no, no, no, no, you don’t know.” And I try to teach them how their kids perceive them. When a child is 1 or 2 or 3, they look to their dad as having this low voice, these strong muscles, this hairy chest, whatever it is. And they see him as larger than life. So, hero is a title kids give you. You don’t have to earn it. All you have to do is be good enough, try your best and maintain it, because she’s a little girl, and she knows you’re different from mom. She knows you’re stronger. She knows that she needs to really pay attention because you sound different from mom. You know, and that’s a good thing.
So, every daughter wants her dad to be this guy who’s going to protect her and defend her and love her and really show her who God is. So again, fathers need to understand: You don’t have to earn the title, it’s given to you from the time a daughter is very, very young. It’s like when I was 8 and my dad walked between me and the road. That’s what a hero does in a young girl’s mind.
Jim: And you remember it. Dr. Meg Meeker. This has been terrific. Let’s come back again, next time, and I want to get into some more of that spiritual application of a father and the daughter, and how they both grow up strong, together.
Meg: Great. I’d love to.
John: You’re listening to one of our best programs from 2019 and we encourage you to get a copy of Dr. Meg Meeker’s great book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know.
We’re bundling that with a CD of this great two-day conversation. So please, ask for those when you get in touch.
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On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here at Focus on the Family, thanks for joining us today. And be sure to be with us next time as we once again have Dr. Meeker back and help your family thrive in Christ.