This past weekend my husband took our daughter camping with friends and it made me feel a bit wistful.
I grew up without a father, for all intents and purposes. I didn’t meet him until I was ten and after that only saw him intermittently. We never really had much meaningful interaction. I’m in my 40s now so I don’t spend too much time thinking about what I missed by not having a father around. The time for those types of reflections has passed. But every now and then, when I see my husband spending time with and teaching his own kids, it makes me hyper aware of what exactly a father’s presence does for a child and how it shapes their ability to succeed in life.
I’m doing fine…don’t get me wrong. But if I were talking to a group of men somewhere out there who were struggling with fatherhood and how to be a daily presences in their child’s life, I would tell them about all the very valuable lessons a father imparts that I never got, and how I still wish someone had taught me.
So here’s a list for you dads out there wondering how to have a positive affect on your child’s life day in and day out.
FIVE THINGS I WISH MY FATHER TAUGHT ME:
1.How to change a tire.
It’s a skill that isn’t really needed most places these days (thank you, AAA Roadside Assistance!) but adds a sense of empowerment and an extra layer of security. If for some reason a woman finds herself in a situation where no one else is available to help with such an issue, she’ll have what it takes to do it herself.
2.How to tie a tie.
You never know when you’ll have to help your own child with such a thing, or when you’ll need to impress a cute boy somewhere along the way. More than once I’ve wished I knew how to tie a tie.
3.How to ask for what I want.
This is not a skill most women innately carry. We are wired to serve the needs of others first and put our own needs last. Part of the reason many women are paid less for the same jobs as men is because they don’t know how to ask for what they want. Men seem to just…do it. It’s a valuable skill and one that can get a woman far in her life. A father is the first person in a girl’s life who can demonstrate that skill and teach her how to wield it.
4.How to handle men.
When I watch my husband talk to our little girl about boys I realize what I missed in this department. He’s not giving her specific instructions, but he’s passing on little nuggets of wisdom about what behavior to ignore from a boy, what behavior to reprimand and what behavior to turn your nose up at. Knowing how to communicate with man as a lady and an equal partner is a skill…it doesn’t come naturally. I can see now that not having a steady male presence in my life set me up for a lot of confusion and rejection as an adult. Having a great dad in your life doesn’t mean you’ll never make bad relationship decisions, but it helps. A lot.
5.How to live like you are adored.
When I was young, I was always jealous of my girlfriends who called themselves “Daddy’s girls”. They could call their dad when their car got stuck in the mud late at night, when they needed some help moving or needed some guidance with work or if they needed anything practical, really. I can remember watching one friend’s father coming over to look at her clogged sink and then calling the plumber and making sure everything got fixed and thinking, “That must feel really nice, for your dad to go to so much trouble just so you can be comfortable”. To me it was a small gesture that said, “You matter to me”. There’s no way to quantify just how much loss a father’s absence creates in a child’s life. Typically, the benefits of having a good and involved father are too ethereal to pin down. They can’t really be measured until you meet someone who grew up without one, and then you see all the holes. My mother was my biggest champion growing up, and she loves me very much. Still, seeing my own daughter interact with my husband I realize that my mother never really had a chance of piecing together what was broken inside of me. When a father helps his daughter move into her new apartment or opens the door for her or treats her kindly and with reverence he is setting her up for what to expect from good man moving forward. When a father lovingly embraces his daughter he is instilling a sense of value. He is unknowingly imparting the notion that she is worth being loved well by a man. That has all kinds of implications for how she’ll conduct herself as an adult in her relationships with men and with everyone.
It’s gauche to say these days, but a good father – even a mediocre one – is an invaluable resource. He has a vital role to play in the life of his child, and that role has different consequences for boys and girls. It’ll be up to one of my male counterparts to write about what a father should teach his son. I can only speak from the point of view of an unsure and rejected little girl whom God blessed to be able to watch her own daughter being so prized and so adored by a loving father.