by Heidi Hiatt
The father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, once said that he could not think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. Many of us were raised in homes in which we could not count on our dads to do this because the attacks we needed protection from were coming directly from them. Others had dads who were too absorbed in themselves, their work, or their hobbies to care what was happening. Some dads were missing altogether.
Anyone hailing from these backgrounds knows what a sick feeling it is for your father to be absent when you needed him the most. It’s like being sent onto a battlefield without a flak jacket. You spend a lot of time crawling around in trenches, suffering wounds, and reeling from the explosions that pepper the playing field of life. Initially you feel lost, alone, and angry that a grown-up would allow you to face such dangers without the proper gear. In time it may toughen you, but by the time that happens, a part of yourself has been lost.
This Mother’s Day, it is not the moms among us who are on my mind. It’s the dads. In particular I’m thinking of the dads who are the primary parent to their daughters and how their choices will affect the rest of their little girls’ lives. As a woman who was raised by a father, not a mother, I can speak to both the wonders and the horrors that fathers can cause. I applaud the men in my life who are taking a stand for their daughters because the choices they are making now can spare them from years of pain and dysfunction.
Reality is, guys, your daughters are probably going to marry a man like you. The behaviors and values you model are likely what she’s going to be attracted to whether you’re loving or abusive. This is why so many women go on to marry dangerous men—if you are unstable, volatile, or violent, your daughter’s used to that. She won’t blink when a guy puts her down; it’s just how life already is for her. He’s speaking your language. You have conditioned her to accept the kind of man that is not worthy of her attention.
If you spoil your daughter and cater to her every whim, she’s going to become a very demanding woman who could well make some guy’s life miserable. She might continue to expect the same treatment from you as an adult or gravitate towards a Mr. Moneybags who will indulge her materialistic bloodlust. You will probably raise a shallow woman who believes life is all about her and wants everyone around her to bow down. “Hail to the queen” types tend to suck the life out of others.
There are also dads who commit emotional incest with their daughters. Rather than maintaining strong relationships with their wives or partners, they become emotionally involved with their daughters. They essentially put their daughter in the spouse role and develop emotional intimacy with them. This is a fantastic way to set your daughter up for failure in a future relationship because she’s going to want your approval over her husband’s. She will never have the kind of intimacy or autonomy God designed her to have when you make her the other parent.
Besides maintaining loving and character-building relationships with their daughters, good dads are also cognizant of who their daughters’ primary female role models are. They may be emulating a TV character, the neighbor kid, a family friend, or an acquaintance whose values do not align with your own. If you are allowing your expectations for your daughter to regularly mingle with other voices, you’re giving her mixed signals. Why should she take you and your values seriously if you allow conflicting opinions in her life at this level?
I can tell you from experience that kids need consistency; if you want your kid to act a certain way, they need to view that behavior in action on a regular basis. Kids are little sponges and will start absorbing whatever’s convenient if a parent is not standing in the way. Dads with daughters, this falls to you. It’s your job to be the man and do what you can to provide stability by surrounding your girl with people you want her to act like. You are the most powerful shield against negative and selfish influences that your child can have.
Adrian Rogers once said that children need A-B-C: Acceptance, Belonging, and Confidence. When a father loves and values his daughter for the treasure she is, she will be less likely to seek out acceptance, belonging, and confidence among other guys. When daughters are hurt or rejected by their fathers, they instinctively hunt for males who will fill that void. They want to be told they’re special, they’re beautiful, and that they are worth spending time with. So when shunned, girls quickly latch onto any guy who will pay attention to them. Before long, those guys are taking advantage of them sexually and the cycle starts all over again as these daughters raise children whose fathers just don’t care enough.
This vicious cycle can continue for generations. Author Ted Roberts says, “We can decide to be a generation changer. We can choose to deal with our hang-ups and not pass them on to our children and grandchildren. The dysfunctional family patterns we grew up with can stop with us.” This world needs men who can step up to the plate as role models and active participants in their children’s lives so that the brokenness, drama, and madness of modern family life can be shut down.
The bad things our parents did to us don’t have to affect our children and the mistakes we’ve made already can be rectified. We just have to make a daily choice to draw a line in the sand around our kids and say, “enough.” Dads, your daughters need you to take an inventory of the influences in their lives and start doing some pruning as necessary. As a parent it falls on you to decide what skills and habits go in your daughter’s life preparedness backpack. As John W. Whitehead said, children are messages sent to a time we will not see.
What kind of messages are we sending to the future? Are we building our daughters up, making them feel like attractive, capable, confident young women who can function in the face of adversity? Or are we allowing our daughters to be pulled every which way, by forces familial, social, and cultural, creating unstable singularities that function as the centers of their own universes? What you do every day, and who you allow them to be around, decides whether they will be the former or the latter. It’s your choice, and it will affects thousands, maybe even millions, of other people.
Ultimately, the quality of love and protection a father gives his daughter strongly influences who she becomes, who she marries, how her kids will be raised, and how she relates to other people, especially men. A father’s failure to love or protect his daughter can set her up for failure her whole life. The women who finally realize how their dads influenced them to make poor relationship choices, caused serious self-esteem issues, or terrorized them with abuse have sometimes lost decades of their lives to this garbage. Until that eureka moment in which they realize where so much of the chaos comes from, they are living as slaves to their fathers’ demons rather than building a life for themselves and their families.
A few weeks ago I lost the man who has been my primary father figure in adulthood. We had our strong disagreements, but he believed in me. He was there for me. He encouraged my strengths and did not make his love conditional. Knowing that much of my fire was passed down from him, he did not fault me for being a strong woman. We could laugh together for hours on end and discuss deep and marvelous mysteries. Even at the end, when his mind started to check out, we sat together near his hospital bed and found things to crack up about.
This man’s prayers covered me. His faith strengthened me. His sense of humor brought me light in dark times. Now that he has graduated and gone on to his hard-earned heavenly reward, I’ve asked myself how to carry this father-daughter relationship dynamic forward. And I found my answer. I want to help and encourage the men in my life to be present and active fathers to their daughters. It’s time for me to be more of a cheerleader for my guys and reinforce everything they’re doing right. I want to stand as an ally and partner as they make the tough decisions and raise their girls to be successful, functional, joyful women.
This world is pitted with maelstroms of uncertainty, selfishness, and temptation. Parents are the mighty ships that carry their precious cargo through these storms to safety. Fathers who stay the course and don’t abandon their God-given charges are critical to the survival of our society and the family unit. Thank you to the dads I know who, despite the myriad of challenges they face, are choosing to act in the best interest of their daughters—you guys are my heroes.
Heidi Hiatt, MA recently graduated as a Forensic Psychologist. You can read more of her posts at her personal blog, Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie Straight Talk in a Crooked World