One-on-One Time with Dad
One benefit a daughter gets from relating to her father is a healthy concept of self. According to family therapist Dr. Jane R. Rosen-Grandon, a little girl's self-concept is “largely shaped by this early relationship.” Your daughter learns to feel good about being a female child by her interactions with you, as her father. The result is that she feels secure in that role. She reasons that if you respect her as who she is, she must be worthy of that respect and acts accordingly.
Your role as father can only play out if it is allowed to express itself. Therefore, your daughter needs to get as much meaningful time with you as she can from early on. Make it a definite and specific part of her everyday experiences. “Dad time” does not always just happen. It must be scheduled, just like other important things. How do you accomplish this?
Set aside a special few minutes every day for your daughter to spend with you and you alone.
Make sure your daughter has a chance every day to eat at least one meal with you.
Be sure to take part in your daughter's bedtime ritual.
Encourage your daughter to come to you for advice.
A study by Vanderbilt University researchers involving 173 girls found that the quality of the fathers' involvement with their daughters was the most important feature in relation to the onset of the girls' puberty. Girls raised in father-absent homes experienced puberty earlier than those in father-present homes.
If you are not your daughter's biological father, honor her connection to him. As her “second” or “real” father — in the sense that you are raising her — do not overlook the original bond between your girl and her birth father. Thus, it is even more important to plan ahead for those occasions when your daughter and her biological dad can spend time together. While that time may be limited, there are other ways to make the connection between her and her original father strong. The same goes for you if you are divorced and your daughter lives with a stepfather, maybe even far away. Insist on seeing her as much as possible.
Thus, whether your daughter is being raised primarily by another man, whether you are the girl's stepfather and part of her everyday life, or whether you are raising your biological daughter, remember the importance of the father-daughter bond and do all you can to make it strong and vibrant. The best tactics go beyond any “hurt-feelings” game playing between adults and focus solely on what's best for the girl. Some examples of helpful strategies include:
Informing the biological father regularly of your custodial daughter's progress and insisting the same is done for you, should you be the noncustodial dad.
Having her develop a strong phone, e-mail, and texting relationship with you and with her biological dad. Encourage her to skype (use a video-phone service) with her biological dad, if possible.
Planning a frequent weekend ritual with her, you, or her “other” father that will not be deviated from unless absolutely necessary.
Setting up vacation and holiday plans that include specific times for your daughter to spend more time with you, whether you are her biological dad or her custodial dad.
If both a biological father and a stepfather are in the picture, the scheduling can be tricky, but don't worry. You, as the girl's father — no matter how you came to assume this role — can put yourself in your daughter's shoes and remember what is best for her. So split up the vacations and holidays, or alternate the destinations. Be flexible and have your girl spend some time with you, and some time with her other father.
If you have a sister, other female relative, or friend who finds herself in a position where neither a biological nor a custodial father is present, help her find a substitute male to fill in for her daughter's dad. Take that role on with a generous — in regard to time — attitude. Or help your sister, other female relative, or friend choose a substitute father figure for her daughter, but be very careful in your selection and realize the importance of finding the right man.
Discuss the fine qualities your brother, cousin, or neighbor possesses with the mother of the girl. Encourage her to include that exemplary male to be part of her life. That means this “chosen” father can come along on outings with your niece or your friend's daughter. Or you can spend time with this family and fill in as a father substitute. As you parent your own girl, share some of your parenting skills and attention with your sister's, your cousin's, or a female friend's daughter. Maybe you already have two daughters, so why not extend your girl-raising circle to include three or four girls. You are a good dad, a great dad, an extraordinary dad. Be an inclusive dad as well. The world needs more men like you.
Statistics prove that the risk of physical and sexual abuse goes up when unrelated adults move into a home with children. Your sister's or friend's daughter needs safety and trust much more than having a bad father figure in her life. Therefore, discuss these dangers with your sister or your female friend before she asks a new partner to move in with her.
Think of your own father and how you can make use of his strengths in raising your girl. Remember what he excelled in as your dad and allow his parenting excellence to move down to the next generation in the form of your girl. If a grandfather is not an option, inviting several appropriately aged men to play a role in your girl's life can be a solution. She needs to have a grandfather figure — her biological one or an alternate one — in her life on a regular basis.
Reconfigured Father Figure
Only through a father figure can a daughter learn what it means to be female in relationship to a male. But don't feel defeated if you cannot be present in your daughter's life on a daily basis. Modern life has made our existence much more complex. You want to be a strong father to your daughter and spend much time with her, but if that's not possible, just remember: Your girl's father time can be a composite, made up of several regular periods spent with several different men who all have something positive to contribute to her. If you can't attend all her volleyball games, swim meets, and play rehearsals, maybe her uncle or your male cousin can step up. Be resourceful in including a good male role model in her life.
What can I do to get closer to my girl and be less emotionally distant?
Many men have been brought up in an environment that suppressed their flow of emotions. That does not mean they don't feel. It only means that they fear to reveal their inner selves. By making sure you are a part of as many events and stages of your daughter's life as possible, you can get closer to her. Also, you will know in the future that you did all you could.
Just as your girl benefits from time with you, so do you benefit from time with her. Little girls help their fathers see the world through the eyes of a girl. Legendary Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski says that his three daughters make him talk about things guys usually do not talk about. “That is a strength,” he adds. Indeed, every girl is Daddy's little girl after all, and if you are truly present in her life, she will tell you exactly what occupies her mind, thereby widening your horizons. You, in turn, will be enriched by her presence. Your conversations with her will become very special to her. Whatever you tell her has a deep meaning in her life.
By choosing what messages to send to your daughter, you can greatly influence her self-esteem. She looks to you as her first and most important source of validation.