3 Things No One Tells You About the Daddy Daughter Relationship

From the first pregnancy announcement where everything was pink, there were always multitudes of friends, acquaintances, complete strangers willing to give warnings or advice about your upon my daddy daughter relationship.  I think it is part of our culture’s way of saying “Congratulations”.  We like to offer these words of wisdom or funny anecdotes about needing to save your money or buying a shotgun.  It is our way.  But, there are things that no one tells you.

 

Except me.  I’ll tell you.  Here’s three that completely caught me off guard.

 

  1. Good fathers, and I mean the really good ones, are made in times of complete exhaustion.  I suppose this isn’t exclusive to girl dads but, in my experience and from what I’ve seen, there is an additional level of tenderness dads reach at their most exhausted points with daughters, above and beyond those with sons.  Brother, hear me; if you are doing it right, you will be constantly worn out.  This is not to say it won’t be fun.  But, you’ll be tired.  In this exhaustion exists the crucible that will build in you a strong and lasting confidence as well as a secure bond with your little girl.  In the end, it is a gift.  This place where you feel drained of every ounce of energy and patience is one of the great opportunities you have at leadership. When you are exhausted, when sleep evades you, when everyone in the house is sick, when you have nothing left to give…dig deep and stay the course.  Your daughter will see it.  Your wife will see it.  There is a beautiful security developed ninth these moments. KBO, brother.
  2.  You will feel her highs and lows even more profoundly than your own.  Her triumphs will make you soar and her failures will crush you. The most surprising thing for me in the daddy daughter relationship is the depth to which I experience things vicariously through her.  When she is hurt, I am hurt.  When she smiles, I smile.  Things that are interesting or frightening or fun to her are somehow interesting and frightening and fun to me. I have an inexplicable love for Walt Disney World and zoos and friggin picnics. In fact, there are many times that I feel feelings more deeply through her feeling feelings than I ever did feeling my own feelings.  At my core, my daughters have been a conduit for stretching my heart in previously unimaginable directions.  I simply had no idea how to feel so deeply.  But, now, my fatherly affection has seemingly fused their emotional complexity deep within me, like Adamantium.  There is something magical in this bond that makes every moment pregnant with purpose.  My life is fuller, my heart is bigger, my eyes are more open, and my priorities are more focused because of this inseparability.  I don’t know how long this will last but I will not waste it.
  3. Daughters crave Daddy.  Look, I loved my dad.  I sought his favor from the time my brain could make decisions.  But, that innate seeking for my father’s love, affection, attention, and approval is microscopic when compared to the magnitude of your daughter’s almost ravenous desire to engage with you.  Regardless of the kind of father you turn out to be, your actions will have monumental impact on every stage and in every relationship and at every level of your daughter’s whole life.  Fight it and argue all you want, but the reality of your influence on that girl is pretty clear.  If you walk up to any woman at any point in her life and say one word, “Daddy”, she’ll be flooded with memories and deep emotions. She’ll either be filled with regret or gratitude or maybe some complex mixture of the two but she will never be indifferent and she can’t help it.  Brother, she looks to you.  This is a mighty and terrible and wonderful weight on your shoulders.  Take great care.

Embrace fatherhood. You’ll be great.

 

Passing on More than Genetic Material to the Next Generation

When COP (my oldest who we refer to as the Child of Promise) was a little younger, one of her doctors suggested we take her for some genetic testing. So, we did. For me, it was one of the more eye opening healthcare experiences we’ve had. Talking with the Geneticist (or whatever the nerds call themselves) after the results came back was humbling for me. I am, by all accounts, an intelligent man. Everyone says so. But this guy was a legit genius. We learned a ton of things about our daughter’s genetic makeup and I got a feel for the extent to which she is marked and even driven by genetic factors. The prevailing lesson I have learned is that my children are drastically and sometimes irreparably shaped by who their father is. And this is a worrisome truth that extends beyond physiological characteristics baked into their DNA; it goes all the way to behavior.

Along with their physical genetic make up, my children will absorb and inherit my behaviors, my habits, my preconceptions, and my weaknesses. The real difficulty in fatherhood lies in the hard work of self evaluation to put to death the worst things in me before those things have a chance to take root in the lives of my children. This is also my greatest source of failure.

So, how do we do this? How do we pre-empt the passing on of our worst traits to the next generation? How do we protect them from even ourselves?

  • Routine Perpetual Self Examination. One of the more pervasive traits of fathers everywhere is each man’s blindness to his own weaknesses. Fatherhood is difficult. It is even more difficult when you’re an idiot and still further difficult when you don’t know how much of an idiot you actually are. For the sake of our families, we have to be willing to confront what needs to change in ourselves. A practical way of examining self is to make it part of your routine. I have begun to set aside a few minutes every Thursday morning to specifically list out where I am most unskilled. During that time, I’ll make a list of 3 (that’s not to say I only have 3 areas of need. I just need to focus and I wouldn’t be able to do that on the 721 faults I currently possess). Once I have those 3, I think about one practice I can implement to correct each one just this week. Brother, if you can’t come up with 3, ask your wife. She’s got you.
  • Call Out Your Own Weaknesses. The worst thing we can do with our mistakes is to try to hide them or act like they don’t exist. Man, your kid knows you aren’t perfect and she loves you anyway, so why on earth would you fake otherwise? There’s a better way. If we acknowledge when we fail, and actually call attention to those failures, they can then be used as effective object lessons. Don’t waste teachable moments. Tell your kids about your mistakes and let them see how you work to make sure you don’t repeat them.
  • Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. Some of the most memorable moments in a deep father daughter relationship stem from the exposure of the behavior of one met by the tender forgiveness of the other. When a father recognizes his own faults and asks his daughter to forgive him for them, he draws her in to the process of his own development and solidifies a unique bond. He also provides her with real life experience in seeing how healthy adults resolve conflict.

My aim is for my children to be better humans than I am. They will have difficulties and face challenges all their own, but one of the greatest gifts I can give them is to see to it that my faults go to the grave with me. What are you going to pass on?

Mother’s Day – All the Things My Mother Taught Me About How To Be a Father

I grew up with only brothers in one of those homes they write books about, where mother and father loved each other immensely and provided an ideal, nurturing, and lovingly disciplined environment. My brothers and I have been gifted since before the cradle with a mother who possessed a driving desire to develop her boys into men; to see them thrive and not be hindered by anything. Throughout my life, I have witnessed and experienced what it looks like to raise boys. I know how boys think and why they act the way they do. I understand exactly what goes through their minds before they do something that doesn’t make any sense. I get the appeal of sword fighting with anything I can find. I know how boys process emotion. I understand their motivation for nearly everything. Boys were right in my parenting wheelhouse. So, when each of these little girls started arriving, I felt like I had no frame of reference for parenting. I assumed I was starting from scratch. However, now that I am a few years into fathering daughters, in my thinking, I share a kinship of understanding with my dear mother because she was the lone female in our home and yet her influence towers. I hear her words coming out of my mouth every day. I am reminded of lessons I learned from her and skills I developed because of her. The longer I do this and the older these little girls get, the more I recognize the vast influence my mother wields in how I raise these She-Gables. She was training me for the best job I never imagined I’d have.

 

Mom taught me gentleness. Roughness is in my nature as it is with most guys. We push and shove and tackle and dunk. Not simply from a physical standpoint, my emotional edges are jagged as well.  But my mother’s goodness rounded those sharp corners and dulled the spikes of my personality. She led me to understand a level of gentleness that serves my family well to this day. Because of her, my otherwise hardened hands and heart remain soft with regard to these little ones. I strive to give them an environment of gentleness, not because of any weakness of theirs but because it is a fundamental way to communicate to them that I honor and cherish them.

 

Mom taught me consideration. One of the hallmark differences between guys and girls stems from the ability or inability to consider the thoughts and feelings of the other. My default setting is to act on what I want and what I think. However, my dear mother infused in me from a very early age the habit of taking others’ wants and thoughts into consideration as well. Being considerate. When I interact with my daughters, the practice of thinking about how my words and actions affect them has been a wonderful filter for my parenting.

 

Mom taught me affection. Being able to display genuine affection is a skill most guys simply don’t possess and have a monumentally difficult time developing. My mother taught me, even as a little guy, that even the tiniest displays of affection have large impact. So, I am comfortable telling the She-Gables how much I love them. Every day. I hold their hands. We hug often. I complement them all the time. Because of my mother, I can pursue the hearts of my daughters. What a phenomenal and rare gift.

 

For you boy-Moms: You carry enormous power. The things you do today will mold and shape the kinds of fathers your sons will be. I make a ton of mistakes and I mess things up every day. I am in constant need of reminders to learn these lessons again and again. But, because of who my mother is, I am ideally suited to raising girls, and without her, I would not have gotten very far. Thank you, mamma. I love you always.

Friday with #16 – First Impressions

For me, President Lincoln is the most interesting and most fundamentally awesome man in our history not named Christ. We constantly incorporate lessons from our 16th President’s life into the molding and character shaping of our children.

 

Abraham Lincoln struggled mightily with first impressions because of his awkward lanky appearance. There’s a story about a man who came to see one of his early speeches.

“When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man.”

But after listening to Lincoln…

“Pretty soon, he began to get into his subject and the whole man was transfigured. I forgot about his personal appearances. Forgetting myself, I was soon on my feet with the rest, yelling…and cheering this wonderful man.”

 

Raising daughters in the modern West means we will constantly do battle with culture over beauty, body issues, and appearance. Women, before any accomplishments or merits are mentioned, are judged by their appearance. This is unfair but undeniably true. Media personalities, when talking to or about females, are far more likely to remark first about her fashion and only mention accomplishments or character if time permits.  So, while we fight to point out where our culture objectifies women, we also want to teach our daughters a better way. We hold character and values at a premium. And while they are most certainly adorable little ladies, we are vigilant in communicating that their character (kindness, courage, and compassion) is what Mommy and Daddy value above whether or not they are outwardly beautiful. We encourage them to see others this way as well.

The Most Difficult Part of Parenting – A Protocol of Discipline

Within the modern parenting game, there are 3 major thought wars being waged at any given time. The opinions on both sides of all three disputes are militantly defended to the point of downgrading the existence of holders of the opposing viewpoints to subhuman. Vaccines, Breastfeeding, and Spanking (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “discipline”) comprise the golden triangle of parent shaming. I’m going to take a run at the latter of the three but I want to offer a few words regarding all three.

Knock it off. Parenting is difficult. It’s more difficult when you have to dodge the flaming arrows from self-righteous Mom shamers. Most of us are doing the best we can for our kids with what we have, where we are. If what you have to say will not edify and encourage your fellow parents, tell it to the dog and no one else.

Now, onward.

To me, discipline is the most challenging part of being a dad. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. A lot of dads walk in a great deal of confidence in nearly every other aspect of their lives. But when it comes to the disciplining of our children…we have questions. Am I too harsh? Too lenient? Where is the line between disobedience and them just being a kid? What about my special needs kid and the different way her brain works? What about multiple kids who respond in different ways to different things at different ages? How do I explain the differences in things my kids are allowed to do in comparison to what they see their friends are allowed to do? Time out? How long? Spanking? Grounding? Dr. Phil’s weird military boot camp deal?

I can keep going if you’d like. I have more. A thousand questions. Very few solid answers.

For me, each new phase of parenting with regard to discipline has made me feel like a rookie NFL quarterback; the game moves way too fast for me to keep up and I always feel like there is someone trying to take out my knees or put me on my back. So, what’s the response? How do I get out in front of this storm of questions before it swirls all around me?

 

What I have found to work best is setting a Protocol of Discipline that dictates what my response will be in any given disciplinary interaction at any time with any of my children. (As a quick aside, one of the thought leaders who has really come to influence me is a guy named Ryan Michler who founded orderofman.com. Guys, check it out. Phenomenal stuff. Anyway, he talks about developing a set of protocols for your life which are overarching principles that govern your behavior.)

My protocol of discipline sits as a general guideline over parental decision-making to the point where I don’t have to generate a lot of creative energy about my response to any given situation. It is a 3 tiered framework and it looks like this (complete with real life examples).

1. Provide vague general warning. When any of the She-Gables begins to step outside the bounds of what we have loosely defined as “acceptable behavior”, they will receive a first warning. This serves multiple purposes. It alerts them to the fact that I am paying attention to them. It opens the door for easy redirection. It reminds them of previously established boundaries or it notifies them of new boundaries they have not yet tried to cross. It is an unmistakable shot across the bow. Many times, this first warning is enough to curb the behavior. An example of this one happened just this morning. Instead of continuing to play with some magnetic stacking block things she got for her birthday, Goldilocks (our 5 year old middle child) was told by her mother to go brush her teeth. She, of course, preferred to keep playing so she made a little show of her disapproval and just sat there. This is called pouting and it’s not one of the things we tolerate. So, I immediately dad voiced my vague general warning across the kitchen with a resounding “Yes ma’am”. This was sufficient to convince her to repeat the words and head to the bathroom to brush those little teeth.

2. Provide specific warning with detailed consequence. There are quite a few times when a vague general warning is not enough to change behavior. When this happens, the disciplinary protocol prescribes a second warning. While serving the same purpose as the vague general warning of tier 1, the second tier warning is specific in nature and carries detailed information concerning the future should this second warning again be insufficient. This tier happens often at our house, which is ok because they are children after all. One example from a few days ago: my sweet wife requested that all 3 She-Gables gather in the “play room” and commence the process of picking up and putting away all of their toys – a reasonable request because that place looked like a little bomb had gone off in there. She explained each of their tasks and off they went. After a few minutes, it was apparent they were playing instead of cleaning. (Playing and cleaning have far different sounds.) Their mother had already graciously given the tier 1 vague general warning so she elevated to tier 2 by visiting the play room and reiterating the need for it to be picked up. She also offered a clear consequence threatening to ground all of them from that play room for an entire week if there was not significant progress in 10 minutes. After allowing about 15 minutes to pass, we both converged on them to find a good portion of the toys had been picked up off the floor and placed in reasonable proximity to their assigned buckets. To us, this was a success. Most of the time, we do not get beyond tier 2 specifically because of the times in the past where we’ve elevated to tier 3. Most of the time.

3. Execute detailed consequence with a view toward rehabilitation. Tier 3 is where Dad has to plant his feet and act. He cannot afford to allow the warnings of tiers 1 and 2 to become idle threats. The lynchpin of the effective disciplinary protocol is the swift execution of clearly defined and appropriate consequences. These actions contain perhaps the most concentrated teaching moments available to parents. For this reason, the consequence or punishment for past behavior should be viewed in terms of what appropriate future behavior looks like. This is rehabilitation and it is powerful. When our kids identify what acceptable behavior looks like in the midst of experiencing consequences for unacceptable behavior, the coupling of the 2 images produces fewer tier 3 instances. An example: A few weeks ago, two of our daughters were playing together and a little spat started. One of them was playing with a certain little doll thing that belonged to the other. The other saw her playing with it and decided she wanted to play with it. And Fight! Anyway, we bolted through tiers 1 and 2 with a “Stop fighting and work it out” and a “If you do not stop fighting over that thing, I will take it and you won’t be able to play with it anymore. Work it out.” Any guesses on what happened next? That’s right, more fighting. At this point, I walked over with the intention of making good on the tier 2 warning. Then I saw my youngest snatch the doll thing out of her sister’s hand and throw it right at her nose. I’ve never been more shocked. After a serious chat, a spanking, and some hugs, 15 minutes later and the girls are playing happily together…with a different toy.

 

I dearly love my daughters but in this arena, I feel like I fail them often. Most days, I fall quite a bit short of the ideal. But this struggle is worth it. Aiming to provide discipline in their young lives may be the most far reaching and influential thing I ever do. Whatever discipline looks like for you and your family, it’s worth serious consideration. Good luck, my friends. You can do this.