Father’s Day is almost here, and this article is about the importance and powerful impact fathers have on their daughter’s development. What about the father-son relationship? It seems to me that the father-son story is more often told, is better understood, and is more developed than the saga of how fathers shape their daughter’s lives.

I remember when I watched my daughter go about her daily life as a teenager. I would ask myself, “What happened to my little girl? She is simply growing and maturing too fast for me.”

As I watched her, I realized that soon she would be dating men, and I envisioned her on a Friday night, waiting for her boyfriend to arrive. I told her, “Remember, I want to meet your date, and you need to be home before curfew, OK?” As she waits for her date to arrive, I would be waiting also, sharpening my replica of a Civil War bayonet (with no real edge, of course).

As I sit pretending to sharpen, her date arrives, and before shaking his hand, I say, “Did you know this bayonet can cut through steel?” He shakily replies, “No, I didn’t know that.” As they leave, I smile at them both (still sharpening), and say, “Have a good time.”

When they leave, her date asks, “Is your father always like that?” She replies, “ Yeah, he’s overprotective; I’m his only daughter.”

Later that evening, as it approached curfew, I begin looking at the clock. At 10:55 they pull up. I greet them outside, close enough to know all is well (no hint of alcohol or drugs) and say goodnight. My job was done that night.

Luckily, my daughter made it safely through those difficult years. So, what should all fathers focus on to be prepared for our daughters becoming young women? Here are seven key elements for all fathers of daughters:

1. Protect your daughters. Fathers usually think this means protection from overly aggressive boys. NO! Protect your daughter from the toxic forces in her culture: materialism, over-exposure to sexuality, the promotion of drugs and alcohol. Protect her with these words — I do not approve of you drinking, and you are not ready to have sex.

Fathers, by setting firm limits and clear expectations, also protect their daughters from themselves — their own immature impulses and wishes are contained by your powerful expectations.

2. Show your daughter how a man can love and respect a woman. Fathers do this in the way they treat their wives. If the father demonstrates genuine caring at home, sensitivity to his wife’s struggles, and tenderness, then your daughter will expect the men in her future to be like the model she learned from you.

3. Let your daughter know who her father really is. Spend lots of time with your daughter. I used to spend six to eight hours a day fishing with my daughter on the weekends.

4. Introduce your daughter to spirituality. Discuss stories dealing with morality and values where masculinity is not portrayed by “big muscles or fast cars,” but is instead defined as “taking responsibility for those you love.”

5. Teach your daughter how to stick up for herself. This does not mean fighting, but it means teaching her how to protect and defend herself with words. She must be able to stand up and assert herself against mean girls, bullies, forward boys, and a toxic culture. She must have the confidence and grit to say “no” and mean it.

6. Educate your daughter about life. Who is your daughter’s best teacher? You are, Dad. Tell her stories about yourself, how growing up was hard. Do not leave out the parts where you tried and failed. Tell her how, even in defeat, you got up and tried again (retell this story a thousand times). Tell her how you felt the day she was born.

7. Build a relationship with your daughter that will last a lifetime.

You, father, are the first man she loved, the first man she thinks of, the most important force which shapes her destiny. Never, ever, stop hugging her.

(The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.)

Dr. Richard Elghammer is a clinical psychologist in Danville and practices at the Elghammer Family Center. He received specialty training in child, adolescent and family psychology at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, and completed his clinical internship at Indiana University School of Medicine.

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