My dad was outnumbered almost from the start. Only a few years after he and my mum were married, they had a daughter . . . and then another daughter . . . and then another. Surrounded by four women, some people said my dad was a lucky man. Others patted him on the back and asked how many seconds per day he was allowed in the bathroom. In fact, to this day, hanging in my parents’ bathroom is a plaque that reads: "There’s a special bathroom in heaven for the fathers of three girls."

Every now and then, I’m sure my dad probably got a little overwhelmed by all the female hormones floating around our home, but God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave my dad three daughters. He knew my dad was going to be a fantastic father of girls.

The facts on Dad

Research confirms, again and again, that a father plays a unique role in the development of his children’s self-esteem, behaviour, life choices and relationships.

"Higher levels of father involvement in activities with their children, such as eating meals together, going on outings, and helping with homework, are associated with fewer behaviour problems, higher levels of sociability, and a higher level of school performance among children and adolescents," writes Dr. Suzanne Le Menestrel in the Child Trends Research Brief "What Do Fathers Contribute to Children’s Well-Being?"

When it comes to the specific father-daughter relationship, Dad’s involvement is uniquely influential. "Fathers have an incalculable impact on their daughters," writes Dr. James Dobson in the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide. "Most psychologists believe, and I am one of them, that all future romantic relationships to occur in a girl’s life will be influenced positively or negatively by the way she perceives and interacts with her dad. If he rejects and ignores her, she will spend her life trying to replace him in her heart. If he is warm and nurturing, she will look for a lover to equal him. If he thinks she is beautiful, worthy, and feminine, she will be inclined to see herself that way."

Practically speaking, a father has the opportunity to demonstrate to his daughter how a godly man treats a woman, setting the standard for her future relationships with men.

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Parenting, says, "When my daughters were growing up, I tried . . . to set the bar as high as possible – I wanted to affirm them, encourage them and even spoil them a little, so that a guy would have to do the same to attract her as a potential mate. If a guy ever got rough with them, or put them down, they’d think, That’s not how healthy men treat women."

Ultimately, Thomas says, a young woman’s relationship with her father has a significant impact on her view of men, her view of God and her view of herself.

The demonstrative dad

So what does it look like for a father to be demonstrative in his love for his daughters?

Thomas says that dads can be practical in demonstrating their love by using words of affirmation, offering prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, giving their time and support, and displaying affection. He adds, "Because I know so many females struggle with ‘body issues,’ I go out of my way to affirm [my daughters’] beauty, but even more, I affirm their character."

Thomas says it’s also important to keep the father-daughter relationship alive with fun things, such as going out for coffee and enjoying concerts, movies and games together. "Don’t let the relationship become 100 per cent training. We have to enjoy our daughters. That’s a really fun part of being a father."

In my own home, my dad was never big on talking or cuddling or sharing feelings. And yet, with very few words, he conveyed his love in subtle, yet powerful, ways. When we were frustrated with our homework, he would drop what he was doing to sit patiently at our sides. He would come to as many of our sporting events as he could, and after our music recitals, he would tell us how much he had enjoyed our performance. Each of us girls also had regular one-on-one dates with my dad, allowing us the opportunity to have all his attention to ourselves. He was quick to compliment us when we dressed up or got a new haircut, and he regularly told us he was proud of us. I remember holding his hand, goodnight hugs, climbing on his back and fiddling with his hair.

My dad might have been a quiet guy at the dinner table, but my sisters and I knew we each had a soft spot in his heart, that we were his girls, and he was proud to be our dad. He made us feel valued and loved, even with a few soft I-love-yous and a gentle, genuine smile from across the dinner table.

Loving daughters through their stages

At every stage, dads have an important role to play in their daughters’ lives. Here are some additional ways fathers can display love and acceptance to their daughters.

Infancy & toddlerhood

  • Be regularly involved in your daughter’s day-to-day care, whether it’s bathing her, feeding her or putting her to bed at night.
  • Spend time every day down on the floor at her level. Sing to her, show her pictures and toys, or read to her.
  • Schedule outings for just the two of you. Go to the park, the aquarium, a bookstore or even the grocery store (added bonus: Mum will appreciate the time to herself).
  • Pray over her and bless her each night before bed.

Primary school

  • Share activities you both enjoy, like bike riding, board games, swimming, sports or exploring nature.
  • Make her laugh – act silly, tease her lovingly and share inside jokes.
  • Take her on regular dates. Treat her to ice cream or a movie of her choice. Show her the kind of gentlemanly treatment she should expect on future dates with males.
  • Share with her your favourite Bible stories, and tell her how you’ve seen God work in your life and in the lives of those around you.
  • Regularly tell your daughter you love her. Tell her why she’s special, how proud she makes you feel and how blessed your life is because of her. Make sure you also tell her how much her heavenly Father loves her (supportive Scripture you might share: 1 John 4:9-10; Romans 8:37-39; 1 John 3:1).

High school and beyond

  • Care about what she cares about. You might not be able to relate to every one of her interests, but don’t make fun of her or judge her. Show that you take her seriously and respect her for who she is.
  • Talk to her. Make sure you put down the newspaper or laptop and really listen to her. You may not always (or ever) be her "go-to" confidante, but let her know you’re available to listen or talk – without judgment or condemnation.
  • Pray for her regularly. On the morning of a big exam, an important game or when she’s feeling particularly stressed or worried, ask if you can pray for her before she leaves for the day. Gently affirm God’s promises and His deep love for her (Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 91:14-15; Deuteronomy 31:8; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 46:3-4).
  • Every so often, bring her flowers.
  • Leave her love notes. Tell her you’re in her corner, no matter what. Remind her that she’s beautiful to you, inside and out, and praise her for the good choices she makes. Gary Thomas says, "I believe [daughters] need to hear specific words of affirmation that directly relate to who they are and their own particular gifting – helping them see not just where they fall short, but the evidences of God’s grace in their lives that need to be celebrated."

Dads, it doesn’t matter if you’re helpless to know what to do with a baby doll, if you feel totally out of place at your daughter’s tea-party table or if you can’t figure out your teen’s latest mood swing – your daughter needs you, probably more than you or she will ever know. So take a deep breath, sip your imaginary tea . . . and don’t forget to push her chair in for her.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Julie Vaughan

Julie Vaughan was the editorial director at Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.

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