To all the dads with daughters.
I write to you today because last night I watched Kelly Clarkson’s performance on American Idol of her song “Piece by Piece.” It struck me right through the heart, showing me evermore the profound role of a father in the life of his daughter.
The love a father pours into his daughter’s life is a factor that sets the tone for her walk into young womanhood. Kelly’s father was completely absent from her life - the song is about the love she found in her devoted and selfless husband and the way this love put the shattered pieces of her heart back together, after feeling abandoned and unwanted for so long. The song is astonishingly beautiful.
There are so few words to describe the innate and profound desire we have to be loved and accepted by our fathers - it a desire that must be experienced to be fully known. It is a desire that must be lived to be fully felt. A girl’s need for her father’s love runs deep in the fabric of her heart and soul. The inherent desires we feel as females - the desires to feel protected, treasured, loved, and worthy - you are the very first person we look to to fill these desires. You hold a grand responsibility...You draw the blueprint. You create the map.
The way you treat your daughter as she grows is the blueprint she will use to determine what she deserves in her early stages of life. You hold the power to show her the love she deserves. The love you give to her is the love she will grow up believing she should accept; it is the bar she will set. If the bar is set very high, she will accept and form relationships with men who treat her with dignity, value, and love you showed her was possible. If the bar is set very low it will take possibly years of restructuring her heart to help her see what she deserves and what kind of love is possible. Kelly Clarkson attributes her realization as to what she deserves to finding a man willing to shatter her low bar to help her believe in the kind of powerful, deep, and unwavering love she deserves. Fathers, you get to choose what the blueprint looks like - the one she will pull out of her back pocket every time she meets a man and gauges whether or not this is what she should accept. She will look at it again and again - and make choices based on it, again and again.
I want you to remember that every little outing with you lights up your daughter’s soul. Every time you tell her she is beautiful - inside and out - it gets etched into her young and growing heart. Every time you share a laugh, hold her hand, share a smile, every time you make it known to her by your presence that she is more important than work, than emails, than your phone, than your own friends - you shape her heart. You carve a space into her soul that helps her to always remember...I am important. I am worthy. I am loved by the first man I ever hoped would love me.
If you do not pour into her the fatherly love and attention her soul needs, it is likely she will go looking for it in other places. It seems obvious but in a world suffering from a "crisis of fatherhood” - it may not be so obvious to all. There is a reason that when so many girls sit down to have a heart-to-heart with me, they begin their sharing with “Well, first you should know - I have textbook daddy issues.” It is a term I hear more than you would expect - it is the term through which a young woman tells me in lesser words, “I did not get the love I needed from my father, so I have searched or am still searching for it elsewhere. It is part of the foundation of who I am.” My heart breaks every single time. No young girl’s heart should have to be restored and put back together throughout her life because of her father’s lack of love or presence - yet so many young women face this daunting and undeserved journey. It should not be so.
Fathers, I know you are busy, and overwhelmed, and stressed with the weight of the world and the weight of your family and the weight of your job on most days. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a father - complete with the many duties of caring and providing for others. I cannot imagine the reality of being surrounded by a family dependent on your work, that ebbs and flows with your successes and shortcomings, and looks to you for leadership. You have an enormous role to play, and a difficult role at that. But there will always be stress. Life’s curveballs will always be overwhelming. There may be days where your humanity screams at you to run from it all. But in the midst of all the commotion of life - your daughter needs you.
I have walked with too many young women whose fathers did not have time for them. To make up for this lost time, these dads would buy their daughters stuff to compensate. They would host parties at their home and supply all the alcohol with the intention of earning their daughter’s love and approval. They would buy cars, bags, vacations, and concert tickets to make up for the time they were not spending with their daughter. The girls liked the things, of course - but in reality all of it means nothing in light of a daughter’s real need. Presents will never, ever equate to presence. Your daughter does not need things - she needs you. Your work, your travel, the stresses of your job and life will never be more important than your daughter’s need of your love. Stuff will never fill up her heart. Your love will - time with you will - your belief in her always will.
I also know that sometimes you do not know what to say, especially as your daughter grows up. “I love you and I believe in you” resonate in a young girl’s heart beyond what you can fathom. She needs to hear it from you - to be loved and believed in by a father sets a girl free to be herself and believe in herself and her abilities. To know that my daddy believes in me is an invaluable truth that I always keep tucked away in my heart - there are days when it is the reason I press on. Tell your daughter you believe in her - often - and she will gently tuck it away and use it as a pillar to lean on throughout her life. And perhaps, as she grows, you will come to feel like you just do not understand her - do not worry, we as young women often do not understand ourselves. However, she is not looking to be understood - she is looking to be loved. Even on the hard days, when it seems you can do nothing right - she still needs to know you are there, loving her through the mess that is growing up sometimes. Keep on loving her. Keep on offering your presence. Keep on reminding her that you are one constant that she can count on and lean on, always.
Lastly, fathers, your daughter is not looking for you to be perfect - she is looking for you to try your very best. Your unwavering love is a gift to her that will stand the test of time. There is good reason I sob like a child every time I read the letter my father wrote me a few hours after I was born. It is my most prized possession. Every time I read it I know that from that moment I have always been wanted by my father. I have always been loved. I have always been cherished. I have always been worthy. I will never take that for granted because I know I am more than blessed.
Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.