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BE THE DAD She Needs You to Be
The Indelible Imprint a Father Leaves on His Daughter's Life
By Kevin Leman
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Dr. Kevin Leman
All rights reserved.
The Relationship That Matters Most
Why you matter, especially to your daughter, and what's missing when you're AWOL.
When my daughter Krissy graduated from high school, I was invited to be the main speaker. On commencement day, as I looked out over the sea of graduates with their excited faces, I said, "We've come not to celebrate your achievements, but to celebrate who you are." Then my gaze landed on my daughter ... and I broke down and cried.
No, I'm not usually a blubbering sap. I don't often cry in public. In fact, I speak to top CEOs and governors of our nation, and have shared platforms with people such as Bill Cosby, Larry King, Amy Grant, Barbara Walters, Regis Philbin, and Franklin Graham, and I've not cried. I've even had a great time on TV shows such as The View, with those wild and wonderful ladies, and not cried. So what brought on the emotion that time? Because I was speaking about and to my daughter, and this was a big transition time in her life and in ours.
There's something very special about the daddy-daughter connection. You already know it, or you wouldn't be reading this book.
Why Dad Is So Important
The busiest day for every phone service in America is Mother's Day. Women are the centerpiece of the home, so we assume that mothers are the key in families. But the clout that a dad has is undeniable.
At first blush, everyone thinks the most important relationships in the family are the father-son and mother-daughter relationships. But they're wrong. The cross-gender relationships are most critical. Why does a dad matter so much to a daughter, in particular? A dad is the one who teaches a daughter what a male is all about. It's the first man in her life—the first man she loves, the first male she tries to please, the first man who says no to her, the first man to discipline her. In effect, he sets her up for success or failure with the opposite sex. Not only that, but she takes cues from how Dad treats Mom as she grows up about what to expect as a woman who is in a relationship with a man. So Dad sets up his daughter's marriage relationship too. And if that dad is a man of faith, he all of a sudden takes on the awesome responsibility of representing almighty God himself. Wow. If that made you a little nervous, then you're a smart man.
If Dad is a loving, steady, balanced man in his approach with his daughter, she will have a sense of security, love, and trust in her relationships with men. She will also stand up for herself if males attempt to take advantage of her, because she knows that her daddy would never treat her that way or allow her to be treated that way.
However, if a daughter doesn't have security, love, and trust in her relationship with her dad, that daughter will pay for the lack of those critical things all her life. She will be driven toward men who aren't good for her, who treat her badly—and she'll allow it because it's consistent with the way she views herself in relationship to men.
If Daddy treated me this way, she'll think, then all men must be like this, so I guess I have to put up with it to have a man in my life.
Stop for a minute and ask yourself, Who really loved me and believed in me just the way I was when I was growing up?
Do you have a list of twenty people? Ten? Five?
I doubt it. If you're the typical person living today, you're blessed if you have one person who believed in you and loved you unconditionally as you were growing up. If you have two people, you're doubly blessed. If you have three, call the newspaper. It's hot enough for the late-breaking news!
This is your chance to be that kind of person for your daughter.
The Impact of AWOL Dads
Father figures are so important in the home that some girls who don't grow up with a good daddy develop what is called father hunger. They elaborately make up a father in their imagination, and then pretend that their dad is like that. The US Census Bureau reports that more than twenty-four million children in America don't live with their biological fathers—that's one out of every three! "Nearly 2 in 3 (64%) African American children live in father-absent homes. One in three (34%) Hispanic children, and 1 in 4 (25%) white children live in father-absent homes.... Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents."
The National Fatherhood Initiative reports the devastating effects of father absence:
They experience poverty. Children in homes without fathers are "almost four times more likely to be poor."
They struggle with emotional and behavior problems. "Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers. Living in a single-mother household is equivalent to experiencing 5.25 partnership transitions."
They turn to crime. "Youths ... had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families." Interestingly, minority adolescents who were ages ten to fourteen who had "frequent communication with nonresident biological fathers decreased adolescent delinquency."
They experiment with sexual activity and experience teen pregnancy. "Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree."
In addition, St. Louis's Fathers' Support Center says that 70 percent of African-American children live in households with no father.
[Founder Halbert Sullivan] understands absent fathers on a deeply personal level. He used to be one.
Addicted to drugs since 1965, Sullivan was a self-professed "deadbeat dad" until his children were 10 and 18.
"I was no good for 27 or 28 years." [Finally, depressed and desperate, he went to a rehab facility, earned two graduate degrees, and started working with kids in local high schools.] Those efforts led to his being asked to lead an institution to help fathers.
Since 1998, the Fathers' Support Center has served 8,800 men of all races but mostly African American, and their families. Seventy-five percent of those who graduate from the program now support their children.
I see real-life proof of father absence, whether emotional or physical, all the time in the women who attend my seminars. Jennifer was in her late thirties when I met her. She said she'd had a really bad marriage and was now divorced, a single mom. When I asked her to describe her father, she paused, and then said, "Well, he wasn't around much, and when he was, he was really messed up."
"So let me make a guess about your ex-husband. He was exactly like your father, right?"
She winced. "Yes."
Because Jennifer suffered from DADD—Daddy Attention Deficit Disorder—she had spent her life looking for a daddy's affirmation, acceptance, and presence. Forced to prove her worth by taking care of others, she ended up marrying a man who was an alcoholic and a loser.
The Benefits of an Engaged Dad
When daughters have engaged dads, they benefit from that relationship for a lifetime. Here are a few of the benefits:
They have higher self-worth. Girls who have the secure love of a father see themselves in a more positive light. They are able to stand up for themselves and make good decisions.
They rebel less, especially in the critical years. A dad who rules with an iron fist and demands respect only increases a daughter's desire to rebel against the rules. Dads who relate to their daughters in a respectful manner earn their respect. Daughters with dads who are involved in their lives will tend to be less involved with drugs and crime because they don't need to look outside the home for love and acceptance. They also will say no more easily in dating situations and have a lower possibility of becoming pregnant outside of marriage. If you go down to the local prison and talk to the inmates, you'd find few who had actively, positively engaged fathers.
Their adult relationships are healthier. The way Dad treats them is the way they expect others to treat them. Does your family get the leftovers of your time—after golf, after the football game is over, after the car gets fixed, after you finish an extra project for work? Then that's what your daughter will expect out of her own husband later. Don't miss out on some of the most influential work you can ever do.
Their life trajectories are more successful. When a dad believes in a daughter, she feels she can do anything. She won't put up with guff from others, and she'll power ahead through difficult situations because she knows her dad loves her and believes in her.
Dads, I know you love your daughters deeply, or you wouldn't be taking the time to read this book. One day, that girl of yours will take everything you have given her—or haven't given her—and step out into the world. Her marital satisfaction, her ability to parent her children and relate in particular to any sons she might have, and her sense of well-being and acceptance will be something that she has achieved in spite of or, in part, because of you.
If you have a negative legacy from your own father, or if your wife has one from her father, it's time to stop the cycle. Your daughter deserves your absolute best.
Some of you reading this book are daughters. Your growing-up experiences represent all kinds of dads—actively engaged and loving dads; emotionally missing dads; verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive dads; divorced dads living other places; or completely absent dads. You, of all people, know the impact fathers can have on their daughters' lives because you are living proof, whether you realized it or not until this moment. Don't hesitate to share that perspective with the men in your life. They need to know that what they do in the home matters—that they matter—for a daughter's lifetime.
The Moments You'll Think About ... for the Rest of Your Life
Some of you may be like me—actively working at being an engaged dad. Most of the time you do well, but every once in a while your priorities slip. I want to tell you about one slip of mine and what I learned as a result.
Our firstborn daughter, Holly, was in her senior year of college when she was chosen as a finalist for homecoming queen. I was on the road, giving a parenting seminar that had been scheduled long before we knew that she was even a queen candidate. Once I knew she'd been chosen as a finalist, I told my co-speaker for the seminar, "Hey, I need to leave the seminar early. My daughter's running for queen and there's a big to-do—a parade, homecoming game, the dance. I simply can't miss it."
My co-speaker understood how I felt, but since several hundred people had already signed up for the seminar, which was to include both of us for both days, he asked, "How can I tell them you'll only be here for part of it?"
So, rather than following my daddy instinct, I stood behind my former commitment.
When Holly was elected homecoming queen, I was not there to share that special event with her. To this day, I wish I had said, "I am leaving anyway."
But I didn't.
Because of the remorse I've felt ever since then, I now go out of my way to put my family first ... in everything. Lesson learned the hard way.
You might have experienced one or more of the same type of slips. Like me, you can't change the past. But you can certainly change the present and the future so that your daddy's heart aligns with your life priorities.
Your Worth as a Man
I was forty-four, and my wife, Sande, was forty-two. We had three kids—two girls and a boy. Our youngest was nine years old. My career was taking off, our finances were comfortable, and life felt perfect. At last I could relax and enjoy my family and more of life.
But God Almighty had something different in mind. Sande and I were enjoying a steak dinner when she slipped me a homemade card with the words Are you ready to change your vacation? Are you ready to change your sleeping habits?
Huh, I thought. Am I missing a joke?
"Turn it over," my lovely wife suggested with sparkling eyes.
I did, and it simply said, Merry Christmas. But the picture caught my eye—Santa Claus was holding a cute little baby with a toothless grin. My jaw dropped. "Does this mean what I think it means?"
Enter daughter number three, Hannah.
Five years later, once again thinking our family was complete, forty-seven-year-old Sande surprised me again. This time, at age forty-nine, I was even less charitable. I wanted to kill something. After all, I quickly did the math. When my baby grew up and entered high school, I'd probably be drooling over my walker during the PTA meeting.
Yet, if you asked our youngest, Lauren, to complete the sentence, "You are Daddy's ...," ten-to-one she'd say, "gift from God."
Yes, our lives were disrupted twice when we thought our family was complete. However, who those girls have become since then confirms to me continually that, no matter what I do for my career, I'll never be more fulfilled than I am as the father of four daughters and one son.
Fast-forward a few years, to when Hannah and Lauren were in elementary school. When I walked through the front door, it didn't matter what they were doing—eating an ice cream sundae, playing with a favorite friend—they'd drop what they were doing and make a beeline for me.
Isn't that an amazing feeling, Dad, when your girl is keyed in to the arrival of her father and can't wait to hug you? Enjoy those moments ... every single one of them.
My young daughters didn't care how much money I'd made that day. They couldn't care less how many books I sold, or whether two dozen or two thousand people showed up to hear me speak. The doctoral degree behind my name meant nothing to them. I could have been a high school dropout (which I very nearly was), and they'd have felt the same way. I was their dad, and no one could take my place.
No one can take your place either. Your company can replace you (and they eventually will), but in your daughter's eyes there will always be only one of you. So why expend all your energy outside your home for what won't matter in the long run? I know you often feel caught in the middle; I was. At the time when most men are starting a family, they're also climbing a couple of rungs on the corporate ladder. The time they're most needed at home is when they're pulled most strongly toward work.
But what's really most important in the long run? Of all the things you do in life, what will make you matter most? Do your kids and wife really need another ten thousand dollars a year? By the time you subtract Uncle Sam's donation from that, you've got a lot less anyway. Or would they benefit more from a dad who makes it home in time for dinner?CHAPTER 2
Dads Do It [begin strikethrough]Better[end strikethrough] Different
It might not be what Mom would do, but you, Dad, can still get the job done ... and done well.
Back in the day when there wasn't such a thing as Pampers but only the cloth variety of diapers, I was home alone with our firstborn, Holly, who was eighteen months old, and Krissy, our second born, an infant. Well, that day, Holly had the worst big-ba since Franco American spaghetti was created. Truly. It was unbelievable. I didn't have a clue what to do. It was literally running down her legs onto the kitchen floor.
I didn't have time to put on my "What Would Mommy Do?" bracelet. This was survival.
So what did this dad do? I grabbed Holly, yanked the screen door of the kitchen open, and bolted into the backyard. At that point, I really didn't care what the neighbors thought. I was on a targeted mission. That day the garden hose saved my life ... and the kitchen from an even more aromatic disaster.
The best part is, I got away with it ... for three days. Then little bigmouth Holly started talking to her mother about the "special shower"-that's what she called it-Daddy gave her.
Excerpted from BE THE DAD She Needs You to Be by Kevin Leman. Copyright © 2014 Dr. Kevin Leman. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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