Dr. Meg Meeker: All you have to do is be good enough, try your best and maintain it. So, every daughter wants her dad to be this guy who’s gonna protect her and defend her and love her and really show her who God is.
John Fuller: Dr. Meg Meeker is passionate about the difference that a loving dad makes in his daughter’s life. And she’s back again today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, last time we spoke with Dr. Meeker about the tremendous impact that her father had on her life. And she lost her dad several years ago. But in trying to be that good father, he left a lasting impression on her of what a man of character and virtue is all about. And she said last time, “He wasn’t a perfect father,” and that’s a relief to us dads. Because I think oftentimes we’re trying and striving to be perfect. And sometimes our wonderful wives are helping us move in that direction.
But you know what? It’s not about perfect. It’s about good. And God fills in those gaps. If you missed the program last time, get a copy of it, get the download for your smartphone. Whatever you need to do, because there was some real gold nuggets there for fathers of daughters.
John: You’ll find that audio from the first part of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or call, and we can tell you more – 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
And Dr. Meeker’s book that, really we’re basing our conversation on, is called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know.
Jim: Meg, welcome back to the program.
Meg: Oh, it’s a delight to be here. Thank you.
Jim: Now, I need to confess. You know, I’m the father of two sons. And I don’t have that privilege of raising a daughter. John, you have…
John: God has blessed me, enabled me to have three girls. And they’re wonderful.
Jim: You’re living the dream.
John: I am.
Jim: And we covered such great territory last time about the attitude of a father toward his daughter. And I want to continue that discussion. I want to start with a story. You’re a pediatrician.
Jim: So, you have many patients that come into your office, your practice.
Jim: There was one that I read in the book about a girl who was traumatized by something she saw on television. If you think about the culture and how it impacts us, listen to this story, this little girl who came in and was fearful of her father, all of a sudden. What happened?
Meg: Well, she saw something on television unbeknownst to her, um, her parents where a father – I can’t remember if it was a father or just a man – was very abusive to a woman. And when she was presented with this image, you know, kids have a hard time distinguishing reality from non-reality. And so, you know, and it was kind of larger than life. And she really pulled back from her father and began to not trust her father. And he didn’t understand what in the world was going on.
Jim: I mean, think of that. That’s the impression of putting a small child in front of a television, and you don’t know what they’re watching.
Meg: Exactly. Well, and you think about the violence on television that’s so common, where men perpetrate violence and abuse towards women, because it’s so entertaining. Video games, that’s what they’re all about. Television, that’s what they’re all about. And then, you sort of branch that into pornography, for young girls who’ve seen pornography, and it’s truly traumatizing.
Jim: And so, she’s in your practice. She’s being examined by you. And you’re trying to figure out what’s going on?
Meg: What is going on, right. And then, finally, this all came out. And I think her mother told – I can’t remember. But this all came out that she had seen this and projected all of this onto her father. So, it was really only in kind of communicating to this father what was happening that he just was aghast, and so really…
Jim: How would you counsel a couple in that regard? How do they recover from those bad images that have been seen by a young girl, or a young boy, for that matter? As a doctor, what do you tell them to do? What did the dad do to begin to mend that impression that this little girl had had?
Meg: Well, what you have to do first and foremost is to realize that it’s real in the child’s mind. You may say, “Oh, it’s just television.” But I’ve seen a number of kids who have nightmares because of something they’ve seen on TV. And of course, they don’t want to tell their parents because they want to continue watching TV.
Meg: So, they don’t want to tell their parents. So, the most important thing for parents to do is say, “Tell me what you saw to the best that you can” – and some kids are too embarrassed to say what they saw – “But tell me what you saw and tell me how it made you feel.” And you know, kids will say it made me scared. It made me think that men are bad. It made me think that daddy’s going to hit me. So, you really have to tease that out of them. And once you get to the root of how it made them feel, then you can begin to untangle, “Well, I understand that, but you really don’t have to feel that way because daddy would never do that to you,” or…
Jim: Yeah. You know, I was just gonna say, sometimes the culture – we in the culture are moving so fast – we believers in the culture are moving so fast with work and keeping the home in the right spot and helping the homework, we forget some of these deeper, subtle things that need to be accomplished in a child’s life. How do we catch ourselves, so it’s not just about the grocery list and paying the bills and making sure the homework’s done and getting the kids off to the soccer team, and all those kinds of things? How do we slow down and really feel and understand the contour of our children’s experience, so that we can parent them effectively?
Meg: First of all, I think we need to really understand that kids see life very differently from the way we do. And one of the big mistakes of parents of kids 10 and older is to believe that they see what we see, and they feel what we feel and…
Jim: We accept them as adults?
Meg: …Exactly. And they can handle what we can handle. And they can’t, particularly when it comes to media – social media. I mean, for instance, now we have very clear data that shows that social media dramatically increases a girl’s risk for depression. Now, we may look at that same media and go, “That’s ridiculous that that girl would post that.” We can process it very differently. So, first of all, to understand that kids are more sensitive in general to what they see and hear than we are, because their ears and their eyes, perhaps, have never seen that. We’ve seen it a million times.
Then, the other thing I think we know – there are many things we need to do in the day that are mandatory. You need to drive your kids here. You need to cook dinner for them. You need to go to work in this. But wherever there are 15 minute pockets here and there, where we don’t need to be doing something – i.e. checking our email on our phone – put your phone down, have a basket in your kitchen. And when you walk in the house, put your phone down there. Even, you know, just taking 15 minutes extra a day to look at your kids and to pay attention and to watch them, and it takes discipline.
Meg: It takes a lot of discipline. But there’s so much you can pick up on your kids by 15 minutes a day. And I always encourage dads, if you could spend 15 more minutes a day with your kids just listening and reading to the. Or take one-on-one time with each child a week, or every other week, take them out to breakfast on Saturday morning. You know, parents always say kids don’t want to talk, particularly teenagers. Yes, they do. They just don’t want to be preached to. And they don’t want to believe that you’re asking them a question because you really want to follow-up with a lesson you need to teach them. Mothers are particularly good with that. So, just listen to what they say.
Jim: Well, us dads can do that, too, especially when we’re panicking. We get into preacher mode.
Meg: Yes, yes. “I want to talk about this subject. I want to ask you questions. And I’m gonna teach you.”
Jim: And I hear it in my own home with my boys. “Hey, I’d like to talk to you guys.” “Okay, what’d we do?” That’s always the first – “What happened?”
But let’s move to the spiritual connection here, as believers in Christ. How does a father – a strong father, the title of your book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters – how does a strong, good father begin to lay that groundwork for a strong faith in his daughter? What are some of those fundamentals that that dad needs to project and teach to help his daughter have a clear sense of faith and a rootedness in Christ?
Meg: Well, one of the most important things is to realize that you really are the doorway to God, because you’re her first introduction to healthy masculinity, or masculinity at all. Mom can’t introduce her to manhood, but you do. And so, right from the time she’s young, you sort of set a template for what she should expect from men, how they listen, how they talk, how they hug. Are they affectionate? Are they trustworthy? So, first of all, you have to prove to your daughter that she can trust you and that you’re a good guy. And then, if she’s willing to accept who you are, she’ll open her heart to understanding who God the Father is. And I can’t stress how important that is, because I’ve met so many adult women who won’t draw close to Christ, because He’s a man. And they had a bad experience with a man, and they don’t want to go anywhere near Him.
Jim: What does that excuse sound like in that conversation?
Meg: Well, I understand it, because they’ve been yelled at. They’ve been abused. Their father was never around. And so, when they’re talked about God the Father, they want to feminize Him. And we see that. We see a lot of women who want to feminize God the Father. They don’t want to call Him God the Father. They’ll call him God. So, there’s real fear and a distrust, even a hatred, towards men. They’re a lot of women out there who are perpetuating this lie that men should be hated. Men can’t be trusted. Look at the #MeToo movement. It’s exploded and it’s been hijacked.
Jim: And some of it is relevant.
Meg: Some of it’s very real. And it started out, because there’re a lot of men who are abusing their power and authority as a man. But, most men are not doing that.
So, the first thing you need to do is to show your daughter what a good man looks like. Then, you realize I’ve opened her heart to the possibility that she would accept a bigger father than I am. And then you introduce her to His goodness and His faithfulness. That even when you fail, and even when you yell, or even when you’re not there, whatever, that you’re not perfect but you have a perfect Father. There’s someone bigger and better than you.
Jim: How about the power of asking for forgiveness as a dad?
Meg: Oh, it’s huge.
Jim: I mean, I’ve seen that with my boys, again. I mean, our pride gets in the way at times as fathers. We got a bit of an ego, typically, even if we want to pretend we don’t. So, when we fail, sometimes we shrug it off as dads and say, “Well, they’ll get over it.” You know, “They’ll pick themselves up.” The right thing to do is to go into that child’s room and look them in the eye and say, “Daddy blew it.”
Jim: “I made a mistake. I need you to forgive me.”
Jim: The first time I did that with my boys, the biggest smile on their faces broke out. I mean, they just looked at me like… In fact, Trent said to me, “Daddies need to ask for forgiveness?”
Jim: I mean, what an insight. You talk about the power of a father.
Meg: It’s enormous.
Jim: He thought we didn’t need forgiveness.
Meg: No. Oh, no. Because you believe you’re right, because you’ve been ordained by God to be the father of that child.
Jim: Well, and back to the point. You’re the biggest. You’re the strongest. You’ve got the deep voice. You’re powerful. In their little child eyes…
Meg: And they perceive…
Jim: …You’re it.
Meg: …They perceive you as right all the time. So, when you yell at them or you call a name or you berate them, they feel you’re right, because you’re right, they’re wrong, so they really are a bad person if you call them stupid. And that’s why we see a lot of men who are 45, 55 still trying to prove to their dad, even if he’s not in their life, that they really could get it right. So, it’s very important if a father messes up, he doesn’t show up, he forgets something – a birthday – he yells at his kids, to go to that child, admit what he did wrong and acknowledge the way it made the child feel. “I yelled at you. How did that make you feel? It made you feel stupid. It made you feel that you’re not worthy. I’m so sorry for that, because I feel the exact opposite about you. Will you forgive me?”
Meg: So, you need to be specific about what you did. Specific about the way it made the child feel. And when they forgive you, it’s a game changer. I hear from so many dads with adult children who say, “It’s way too late for me.” And I said, you know, the most forgiving person you’ll ever have in your life is your child, because they need to love you, even when they’re adults.
Meg: And when you ask for forgiveness of a 35-year-old daughter, it’s hard to find a daughter who eventually won’t forgive you, because they’re always bound to you by that need to love you and to be loved by you, even as adults.
Jim: Acknowledging that it could take some time, but it’s the right thing to do.
Meg: Yes, the older the child is and the longer the offences and the deeper the offences are that the dad committed against the child, it’s gonna be harder, but that’s where an adult child expects dad to take the lead, and wants dad to take the lead, and is gonna test dad to see if he’s authentic and if he means it. And that’s gonna take place over time.
Jim: Yeah. Meg, in this area of a dad successfully transferring faith to his daughter, you mention the need for a dad to be seen and to be real in his faith. And sometimes for us dads, that can be hard. We – we might do the little devotional at night. But, to sit in a chair and say an open prayer where the kids are moving around or something like that feels a little awkward.
Jim: But, I want to really pinpoint what you’re driving at. What’s that behavior – spiritual behavior – look like for a strong dad modeling it for a daughter?
Meg: You know, I think my husband did this very well. He’s a very humble man. And he really taught our kids humility. And the way he showed them humility was really engaging the poor in our community. I’ll never forget: My husband had picked up Chinese food with our daughter, who was 7 or 8, and he brought the Chinese food home. And I was upset, because he didn’t bring the egg rolls, which were my favorite.
So, I was going at him. I was tired and hungry. And my daughter, my little daughter, came over to me and said, “Mom, don’t be mad at dad.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “On the way home dad saw a man in the park rummaging through a trash can. And he took our bag of Chinese food and said, ‘What would you like?’” And he took my egg rolls.
Jim: I think the Lord had a message there for you.
Meg: He had a message. And that’s how you teach your kids humility. You have to live it in front of them. You have to show them faithfulness. Show them faithfulness to your wife, to your God, to doing what God asks you to do. So, do more and speak less because kids don’t want you to tell them what to do. They want you to show them what to do.
John: And there is encouragement for you in that journey, as a dad. It’s a hard journey sometimes. But we’ve got encouragement for you – lots of it – at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And certainly, one of those would be Dr. Meeker’s book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know. We’ll invite you to get the book there, or to call us if you have questions. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Meg, there’s a common statement that’s made amongst women. It’s something like this – “Oh, you married your father.” You know, sometimes that is said, between girlfriends.
Jim: “Did you realize you married your dad?” And of course, you go, “Oh, no I didn’t.” Or maybe they say, “Yeah, it’s awesome.” Describe that odd human proclivity to marry someone like your dad or your mom – your parent. I mean, it’s interesting that we do that.
Meg: It is. And when you talk about it, it can sound a little creepy because…
Jim: Yeah, but it’s – it’s that magnetism, that thing you loved about your parents perhaps, hopefully, right?
Meg: And here’s why that happens. We, as we get older, gravitate back towards what we know. We seek out the familiar. We seek out the familiar speech and relationships and activity. And we seek the same character that we’re comfortable with, whether that’s good or whether that’s bad. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with a girl who’s 18 or 19 and has a bad relationship with her father and insists she’ll never marry a man who’s gonna yell at her, never be around her, whatever. And a few years later I get a wedding invitation, and guess who’s standing at the other end of the church? Somebody just like her dad. That impulse and drive in us is so strong to attach – reattach ourselves to what we know, because it’s safe. And it’s all subconscious. So, if you had a dad who spoke well to you and treated you well and showed you how a man should treat you, that’s what you seek, whether you want to or whether you don’t.
Jim: Yeah. And who wouldn’t want that? I mean, that’s the right thing.
Meg: Exactly. And that’s the power of a dad. I’ll never forget our third daughter, who’s now married two years, came to me a year after she was dating her now husband and said, “Mom, I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, and it sounds kind of weird, but I think the reason I love Jonathan is he reminds me so much of Dad.”
Jim: What a sweet compliment.
Meg: It was won – well I immediately told my husband.
Jim: Yeah, I bet.
Meg: And I know that when you say that to a husband, it can be terrifying because you realize you really have that kind of power in your daughter’s life. But you have it. And it’s God-given. And here’s the great news: you can live into it. And all kids want to know is that you’re doing your best. They don’t want you perfect. You’re doing your best. And you’re trying to make up for mistakes. So that’s why the power of the dad over the daughter is real. And that’s why daughters gravitate towards reproducing what they know. It’s comfortable.
Jim: Ah. No, and that’s good. You know, Meg, men are prone to pursue careers. We get a lot of our identity, our sense of self-worth, out of what we do. And sometimes, we can sacrifice too much in that regard for our careers, and for climbing the ladder, and working the long hours and getting the pats on the back at work at a great price, which is disconnection from our spouses, disconnection with our kids. Speak to the dad that is going, “Uh, that’s me.”
Meg: That’s me.
Jim: “That is me. And I’m in it right now. And I have a 13-year-old daughter. And we’re not doing well. And we’re not connecting. And I’m home after dinner. But I’m trying to provide for her. I’m trying to do that, Dr. Meeker.” I mean, speak to that dad that is in that spot.
Meg: Well, first of all, to realize that you have an enormous influence in her life and she needs you. Your daughter doesn’t want the stuff you give her. You want the stuff that you’re earning. You want the bigger house. You want the third car. You want the pool. She could care less about that. What she needs from you is your love and your time. And I promise you, promise you, if you dial back the amount of time you’re spending at work, you will never, ever regret it, because what you will see flourish in your relationship with your daughter is invaluable. And I’ve seen so many daughters turnaround from bad behavior and depression and anxiety and so forth, simply by spending more time with their dads. So often the answer’s that simple.
And the larger, the broader, the chasm feels to a dad, between him and his daughter, the way to bridge that, even though you don’t want to and even though she won’t talk to you, and even though she spits fire at you, is to draw closer to her, not farther away. The dads who want to send their daughter off to this camp out West, it’s gonna get them in order and, you know, square away their lives. Don’t do that. Put her in a canoe and stay in the canoe with her, even if she screams at you for three days, because she’ll know, “Wow, my dad wants my company. My dad’s willing to put up with me. Okay, I don’t need to act like that anymore.”
Meg: I’ve seen it. Firsthand, I’ve seen it.
John: Okay. So, there are a lot of dads listening, who maybe aren’t at the point of saying, “I want to send her away.” What are some things they can do in the next couple of days just to pursue the relationship and to spend that time?
Meg: Right. Right. In the next couple of days say something like, “Hey, you know what? I don’t feel like I’ve really talked to you in a few weeks. Let’s go on a bike ride tomorrow. Let’s go to the park. Let’s go out and have breakfast. Let’s do something.” And do it and mean it. And don’t worry about what is said, or anything. You know, don’t worry if you go on a bike ride and she never talks to you. Just start. That’s what she wants, because when a daughter learns her dad wants her company, she feels larger than life. Even if you’re going to go change the oil in your car, say, “Do you want to come along with me?”
Meg: Just the fact that she learns you want her company…
Meg: …changes how she sees herself.
Jim: Yeah. It’s so true, isn’t it, that at least is an expressed invitation?
Jim: Even if they say, “No.”
Meg: If they say, “No,” keep asking her. And say, “You know what? I know you don’t want to be with me, but I want to be with you, so come on.”
Jim: Well, she may not want to change the oil. I can understand that (laughter).
Meg: No, she doesn’t need to. She can just sit in the car while you’re doing it, yeah.
Jim: That’s so good. Hey, um, we have talked a lot about those external influences that can put an obstacle up for healthy relationships. And I want to – well, I think being a child – an orphan, you know, I had to overcome those things. And I’m sure I have residual issues both hidden and seen. But it is possible in Christ to rise above those things. And I wanna make sure for the woman who’s, you know, she didn’t have a good dad.
Jim: And maybe she made some mistakes that earlier you pointed out the data of being promiscuous or doing things that she regrets now.
Jim: But maybe she’s come into a relationship with Christ, she’s 25 years old. Can she make good decisions? It’s not a fait accompli that if you had a terrible father, you have to marry a terrible man.
Jim: And we don’t want to express that. So, deconstruct that, that there is hope for everyone to do better.
Meg: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve had a number of women read this book and go, “I get it. I get it. Now, I know what I really wanted and never got.” Because kids who don’t get attention, or don’t get love from their dad, we all come into our middle life, or our marriage with a preload. But once we look back and recognize what we really wanted and never got; we stop blaming ourselves for wanting it. And that’s huge.
Jim: That is big.
Meg: Because when kids want the love of their dad, but never get it, they feel something’s wrong with them. And they internalize it, and they feel bad about themselves, and they blame themselves. So, to really sort of look back and say, “What did I want, and what did I need, and what did I not get, and how did it influence me today?” And then to march through and say, “God, I always wanted attention from a dad. I always wanted affection. And I never got it. But I’m willing to try with You. I’m willing to open myself up and let me see if You can be that.” And that’s where faith comes in. It’s never too late. It’s never too late, no matter what kind of past you’ve had, to open yourself and let God in. And let Him show you what it’s like to be loved as a daughter.
Jim: And sometimes again, as a father, you feel like you’re groping in the darkness, you don’t know. You know, you’re not clued in. You’re – you think you understand it, and then you realize, “Oh, I’m missing some detail.” You, in fact, have a story about Alicia – I think you probably changed her name in the book – where Alicia, you know, she was going her own way in her 20s, in relationship with different men, lands in a relationship with one man. And dad’s going, “Something’s not right.” That gut feeling is there. Describe the rest of the story.
Meg: Yeah. This was a situation where she’d got pretty angry with her dad because she said, “I’m old enough to know what I want to do.”
Jim: “Don’t tell me what to do.” I can hear the conversation.
Meg: Yeah. “Don’t tell me what to do. I’m a grown woman. You know, even though I’m still living at home, because I’m finishing college, you don’t know what you’re talking about, I do,” because everyone in college feels smarter than their parent.
And then they begin telling their parent about all the mistakes they made. So, in a way, the more her father expressed his concern about this guy, the more time she spent with the guy. And eventually, um, the guy ended up treating her not very well and leaving her. And she felt very, very embarrassed and didn’t want to tell her dad. And her dad was very gracious and said, you know, “It’s okay.” But she realized that her dad wasn’t trying to be mean to her, and her dad wasn’t trying to put her down and teach her that she wasn’t adult. He was trying to show her that sometimes, he as a man, saw things in another man that she as a woman couldn’t see.
Meg: And that was a very important lesson. And so, then moving forward, she listened more to what her dad had to say. Even though she didn’t like it, she learned, “Dad really does know something, and I respect him and his opinions really – were really born out of love, not out of looking down at me.”
Jim: Yeah. And I appreciate that, right at the end of the program here for the dad who’s desperate, who thinks, you know, speaking to his 22, 23-year-old daughter about these things that concern him, they’re gonna go in one ear and out the other. Take the risk.
Jim: Don’t talk yourself out of it and regret the fact that you never expressed your concern but do it in love.
Meg: Do it in love. And use “I” statements. “I’m concerned about this guy that you’re dating. I’m concerned about the direction,” not, “You shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t date this guy, because…” So, talk about your feelings, and why you’re concerned, and why you’re doing it, because you love her. She’s much more likely to listen. And to the dads that feel they’ve blown it, and there’s no recourse, kids just want to know you’re trying.
Jim: Adult children.
Meg: Adult children, daughters, they know when their dads are trying, so just try. Don’t worry about perfection. Just let her know you’re trying your best. And usually, that’s good enough.
John: That point that Dr. Meg Meeker just made about imperfection – that’s why dad’s, in particular, need to read her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. And this two-day conversation was one of our best programs from 2019. It’s pretty apparent why.
Jim: It sure is, John. And we, as dads, sometimes want to present the image that we’ve got this, we understand it. We can put it together. We can fix it. But that’s not always the case. And this is one of those resources that will really give you some great insights to be the dad you need to be for your daughter.
Let me add that this Christmas you can share the gift of family with hurting families by supporting Focus. When you send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family we’ll say thank you by sending you a copy of Meg’s book along with a CD of this discussion.
And when you give today your gift will be doubled because of a generous matching gift from friends of Focus. And let me thank you in advance for partnering with us to impact lives for Christ.
John: Our number here to donate and get your copy of the book and CD is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232.6459. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.