I’m not a father and I never will be. But I am a daughter, and I have two dads: one biological, the other, by marriage.
Over my short 23 years on this Earth, I have come to understand that the daddy/daughter bond is something special. So special, that a father’s actions and love have a pretty strong chance of molding who his daughter will become.
Inspired by writer Roxane Gay’s response to a nervous father of a daughter, I’ve compiled a list of the things I believe all dads of daughters should know to make sure his influence is the best possible kind, from my personal experiences and through the many experiences of other daughters.
As someone on the receiving end of this dad-love, I can tell the secrets of daughters that fathers of newborn baby girls crave to know. And I can promise, it’s not as scary as you think.
1. Know that from day one, she’ll always be your little girl. But you have to put in the effort to keep it that way.
2. Don’t assume or influence what her interests will be because she’s a girl. Don’t just point out flowers and dolls. Show her cars and LEGOs, too.
3. Let her help you around the house or with your work. She’ll grow up to be a woman who feels confident stepping up in the workplace, no matter the job.
4. Talk to her mama like an equal, not an inferior, and she’ll someday expect the same.
5. Show her your sensitive side. She’ll see that if she’s sensitive, too, it doesn’t make her weak.
6. Have inside jokes or games, just between the two of you. Trust me, she’ll remember them forever.
7. Encourage her to do the things that scare her, because you’ll always have her back.
8. Make her promises, and then keep them. The only heartbreak in her life should come from others who don’t know how special she is.
9. Show her the skills that you know well.
10. Ask her to show you the skills that she knows well and you don’t.
11. Attempt to understand her interests even when you don’t. You’ll teach her that no matter what her talents are — ballet, art or wrestling with the boys— they matter.
12. This is especially true if her interests are more “girly.” Teach her that her interests are just as important no matter what they are.
13. If you wouldn’t say it to a son, don’t say it to your daughter.
14. When she comes to you with a problem, don’t brush her off or tell her to go to her mother. Listen. She’ll come back.
15. Don’t talk about her changing body, or interest in sexuality, with disgust. You’ll only teach her that she should be ashamed of it.
16. Don’t talk about other’s women’s bodies in an objectifying or demeaning way. She’s listening, and then examining her own.
17. Talk about strong women in front of her, not just strong men, and she’ll aspire to be them someday, and will know she has a chance.
18. Work stuff out with her mother in front of her. She’ll see that women deserve a voice in relationships and will look for someone who will appreciate hers.
19. Don’t joke about having a shotgun when boys come over. You’ll only teach her that you don’t trust her judgement.
20. Stand up for injustice and the oppressed. Believe the oppressed when they say they’re oppressed. You’ll show her compassion and that there’s nothing unmanly or inferior about doing what is right.
21. If you lead by example, you won’t need to scare the bad boys away. She’ll want better.
22. If there is a bad boy in the bunch, make sure you’re there if her heart should break. Chances are, it will. Make yourself available for her to turn to, and not back to him.
23. Tell her that the only person in charge of what happens to her body is her.
24. Compliment her, and her mother, often.
25. Tell her you love her. Text her about the game. Let her know that no matter what, you’ll always be there.