This post originally appeared on Restoration Project, but since I'm married to the author, sometimes I get to poach.
There is no doubt that fathering sons is overwhelmingly challenging. And up till now, much of my focus has been on the making of men out of our sons. Here's why. But make no mistake. It takes just as much intentionality and purpose to raise daughters into vibrant and alive women. But fathering girls is a whole different animal.
I am in the heat of it, so let me start by asking you to cut me some slack. I have two daughters, one age 12, and the other age 9. And while I have some thoughts, experiences and perspectives on the father's impact and importance on girls, I humbly admit my ignorance and beg for both forgiveness and wisdom from those who have gone before me. And yet, I will rise to the challenge of fathering my daughters to the best of my ability.
My wife and I are currently crafting a "Becoming" year for our oldest daughter. She's 12, and on the verge of womanhood. In the coming months, we will have much to say about the experiences we have created for her. You can follow my wife's perspectives here. While there is much theology and intention behind each aspect of her passage year, for now, I am certain of these five key perspectives every father must understand if he is to raise an alive woman from his girl.
Girls need your warmth, not your heat There is an African proverb I've quoted in the Man Maker Project book that says, "If we do not initiate our sons, they will burn down the village just to feel the heat." In order for a boy to make the transition into manhood, he needs some level of heat to test his grit, burn away the chaff and forge his masculine soul. Far too many fathers, however, get this wrong with girls.
Whereas boys need a father's heat (his testing and pushing the boy toward risk and danger in order to prove himself), girls need the father's warmth. The world is a cold, dark place, and she needs the warmth of her father to stay alive. She needs to know the comfort of his arms, the gentleness of her head pressed against his chest, and the graciousness of his eyes when she feels alone, scared, ashamed or broken.
This is not to say that she does not need his correction or direction. No, it means that the warmth of his love for her is ever-present in their interactions, and she knows that there is always a place for her. Boys must face risk to become men. Girls don't. They may love risk, love danger, love proving their strength to others (my daughter does this all the time). But what she needs from Dad is an affirmation of her strength not a testing of it. She needs to know that you hold her in such warm regard that nothing could ever remove her from your tender strength.
Girls need your heart, not your stone Last night when I arrived home, my son gave me a high five and a fist bump. But my girls encircled me - one hugging me from the front, the other from the back. We stood in the kitchen while I was still trying to take my coat off for about 5 minutes in a tender embrace. Both of them needed to communicate to me, "I'm glad you are here," and to hear me respond with, "I am too."
The world requires men to be chiseled (and I'm not only referring to the ideal male body). We must have chiseled determination, chiseled fortitude, chiseled clarity, and a chiseled presence. Throughout much of our days, we are pushed, prodded, challenged and cut by the pounding and hammering forces of life. But when it comes to our girls, we must put away the stone-shaping chisel and offer our strength in a different way. Indeed, they need our strength, but covered in our heart-level tenderness.
Girls need your hand, not your fist Almost every morning in the car on the way to school, my daughter reaches for my hand. She holds it for most of the 7 minute journey. It is a tender gesture, one that I cherish at the start to my day.
At times, however, I need to communicate some aspect of correction, unmet expectations, or suggestions to her about her decisions, actions or failures. It remains my chief responsibility to raise an adult out of my girl, and I will not hesitate to show up for her in a way that molds her for a better future.
With my son, I can speak directly, correctively, and let him know that I will not put up with his shenanigans. But when I do this with her, I see her visibly shrink into self-condemnation and despondency. Her countenance changes, and the "fist" of my words carries a weight and impact I never intended.
Instead of my fist, she needs my hand - both literally and figuratively. I have learned to gently take her hand in mine, to hold it with intentional connection and care, and to speak my words of correction with invitation and hope rather than with the force of a left upper-cut. By offering her a hand rather than a fist, she more often responds with understanding and attentiveness. She needs to hear that my words, though directive, are meant to be helpful and not harmful.
Girls need your delight, not your degrading Masculine culture is not safe for girls. Our culture raises boys (sometimes unintentionally and unconsciously, but often with full awareness and intent) to degrade women, objectify their bodies and belittle their value. One merely needs to watch an evening of primetime television to see the overwhelming messages aimed at boys to consider their female counterparts as "less than." Fathers, it is our responsibility to make sure this brainwashing does not occur to our boys. In the same vein, we must protect our girls from the harmful effects of female degradation.
The most powerful weapon fathers have against this is their DELIGHT. When a father is moved with sheer joy and delight towards his daughter, and she sees this and experiences it from him in word, deed and face, it obliterates the ravages of negative and degrading messages that have attached to her heart. She needs to see the light in his eyes when she enters the room. She needs to hear the shift in his voice, his posture and his awareness of her. She needs to experience his smile, laughter and joy. A father's delight is the antidote to evil's attempt to destroy her beautifully strong soul.
Girls need your love AND your like I love my daughters. I really, really do. I tell them I love them so regularly a sweet interchange has evolved between us. "I love you," I say. "I love you more," they say. "I love you mostest," they say. "I love you mostest mostest," I reply. I never want my daughters to question the power of my love for them.
At the same time, they need to know I like them. They need to hear and experience not only my love for them, but also my affinity towards them, how enraptured I am by their beauty, strength and creativity. They need to know my enjoyment of them, of spending time with them, and of even thinking of them. They need my like as well as my love.
Too many fathers inadvertently communicate dislike. They are bothered, busy and tired, and despite a regular communication of love to their daughters, they do not like their girls. Girls are too girly. They are too emotional. They are too different. And fathers far too often miss their hearts because of their lack of intentional liking their daughters despite their clear love for them. Our girls need to know both.
Now, let me remind you where I began...asking you to cut me some slack. While I am able to identify these crucial aspects of the father-daughter relationship, I regularly fail. We all do. And in the midst of failing, we must continue to press in and seek God's grace for ourselves and for the precious women of tomorrow.