Dr. David Popenoe, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University and Co-Director of the National Marriage Project, says that fathers have a “significantly different parenting style.” Herein lies the secret of a dad’s contribution to the lives of his kids. Men and women are different, and as a result mothers and fathers parent their children differently. These differences come into play in a uniquely powerful way in opposite-sex parent-child relationships. This is particularly true in the case of fathers and daughters.
Dr. Popenoe has this to say about the importance of a father’s role in the family:
Fathers are far more than just “second adults” in the home. Involved fathers – especially biological fathers – bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. They provide protection and economic support and male role models. They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.David Popenoe, Life Without Father, (New York: The Free Press, 1996)
A good father does things for his daughter that no mother is equipped to do. In the first place, he provides her with a positive male role model. In this way, he shows her what her future husband should look like. This is perhaps the most crucial gift he can give his little girl. He doesn’t do this by focusing his attention upon her. Instead, it happens as he devotes himself to her mother. A husband is called to love his wife selflessly, just as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-29). When he does this, he says in effect, “This is how a man treats a woman.” In so doing, whether he realizes it or not, he affirms his daughter’s femininity. He bolsters her self-esteem and self-confidence. He gives her a solid foundation for life-long self-respect.
All of this prepares her to have healthier relationships with boys in adolescence and with men in adulthood. When a girl has learned from her father’s example how a proper man acts toward a proper woman, she has an intuitive sense of boundaries in relationships. She understands the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior between the sexes. Through her dad she gains a healthy familiarity with the world of men. She learns how a man’s facial stubble feels and what it’s like to be hugged or held by strong arms. This familiarity makes her emotionally secure and keeps her safe from the exploitation of predatory males.
As we’ve already said, the most important piece of this puzzle is something that you can’t really plan or contrive. It’s what your daughter observes when she sees you interacting with your wife on a daily basis. But there are a number of other things you can do to help amplify the message in a more intentional and direct way. You can, for example, take time to date your daughter on a regular basis. You can get together over coffee or spend an hour talking over a nice meal at her favorite restaurant. You can make a point of attending father-daughter dances and banquets with her. You can even help her plan a “coming of age” ceremony. You can design that ceremony to symbolize everything she’s come to believe about the purpose of her own life and the meaning of her blossoming womanhood. You’d be surprised at the impact an event like this can have on a growing girl.
As you set out on this exciting adventure in fatherhood, remember that your daughter has certain basic needs that you can fulfill as almost no one else can. She needs to be cherished and affirmed for who she is. She needs nurturing and protection. She needs to feel beautiful and to understand that inner beauty is far more important than outward appearance. She needs verbal reassurance and appropriate physical touch. She needs to know in her heart that her dad is a man of integrity who keeps his word and follows through on his promises. Meet these needs, and you will do more than prepare her to meet the challenges of life in this world. You will teach her what it means to trust her heavenly Father. You will show her how to present herself to Christ, the heavenly groom, as a pure and spotless bride.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss your questions at greater length with a member of our team, Focus on the Family has a staff of professional counselors available who would love to talk with you over the phone. If this option appeals to you, call our Counseling department for a free consultation. They’ll be happy to assist you in any way they can.
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National Center for Fathering