There aren’t many things in life that truly terrify me. Natural disasters and tornadoes come close, and snakes finish near the top, too. I’m also not crazy about tight enclosed spaces—and I would rather not die by drowning, if given the choice.
Then there’s the idea of raising a daughter. It’s not terrifying, but there are some parts of it that certainly give me pause.
Let me explain.
I had been the father of an awesome son for three years when our daughter came along. She’s every bit as awesome, but she’s also sweet and beautiful and loving and tender and kind in ways that (my) boys simply are not. She’s smaller than those boys, but I just know her heart is bigger.
Her big heart is on display every afternoon when she runs toward me—pony tail swaying and smile spreading ear to ear—simply to cuddle. When she senses I’m frustrated, she gives me an out-of-the-blue “Daddy, I love you!” And when her brothers hurt her feelings, sadness covers every inch of her face.
She’s amazing, but I grieve over the world she will face, and over the society that will tell her lie after lie about beauty and what she should be. She will grow up in a world that objectifies women, that uses sensuality and sexuality to sell everything under the sun, that tells women they’re not “pretty” unless they are blemish-free and bone-thin, that looks up to actresses and models and singers for their curves and appearance—and not their talent. Everything I teach her at home, society will try to undo. So I’ll have to work extra hard.
There’s an old saying that women marry someone like their father. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that I am the only man she will see on a regular basis for the first 18 or so years of her life—and that I will have a huge impact on her. And so, when my daughter had barely turned 2, I started “dating” her. Every week or so, we go out and do something together, and each time, we have a blast.
It’s a habit I wanted to establish early and one I’d encourage all fathers to do. Here are three benefits:
1. It sets the standard for her future dates. I initially balked at using the word “date,” but chose to keep it because I wanted her to grow up believing: This is how someone treats you on a date—with respect and gentleness and kindness. Since 1960, the percentage of men ages 25 and older who have never been married has grown from 10 percent to 23 percent, according to Pew. For women, it’s increased from 8 percent to just 17 percent—meaning the odds are stacked against many women finding a mate. Young men are extending their teen years into their 20s, and their 20s into their 30s, choosing to play and party—and skirting the idea of settling down. It’s the “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?” syndrome. And lots of women are getting their hearts broken—and still searching.
2. It sets the standard for her future mate. I feel woefully inadequate for this role, but who else is going to fill it? A TV dad? A movie father? I’m the father God chose for her—and the man she’ll watch on a daily basis as she matures into a woman. But what will she see? Will she see someone who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit? And will she then search for a man who acts similarly? I want her to grow up telling her friends, “I want to marry someone like my Dad.”
3. It bonds us in ways not possible in other settings. When I want to talk with my sons, we do something together—ride a bike, take a hike, watch a game. Conversation flows out of the activity, and often we’re not even making eye contact. Girls—as we all know—are dramatically different. To them, conversation often is the activity, and there’s plenty of eye contact. As my daughter ages, it’s essential that I set aside time simply to talk to her. Right now, the conversations are about puppy dogs and pink lemonade. But one day, they’ll be far more significant. And I want her to feel comfortable asking me.
— by Michael Foust
Foust is an editor and writer, the father of three small children, and blogs about parenting at MichaelFoust.com.