“I feel sorry for you when they become teenagers.” “Dude, you’re surrounded by women.” “What did you do to deserve that?”
Being a dad of four daughters (we also have one son), I hear stuff like this almost daily. And honestly, I’m the one who feels sorry for people who think this way.
Having daughters is one of the greatest joys I could imagine. We have a saying at our house that goes like this: “I love you more today than I did yesterday.” Raising girls is a privilege, not a burden.
I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned 15 things about raising girls these last 11 years.
1. She wants to be loved. More than she wants the stuff you can buy her or the things you can teach her, she wants you to love her. No one else on earth can assume your role as daddy. Your daughter will let you down, make huge mistakes, and maybe even turn her back to you for a season, but don’t ever let her doubt your love for her. Look her in the eye and tell her you love her. Lots.
2. You have an influence on her future partner. Scary thought, but the kind of man you are to her will have a direct impact on who she chooses to marry someday. For years our third daughter would beg me to marry her when she grew up. I had to explain that I was already married to her amazing mother. If you’re doing it right, she’ll want to marry someone like you one day.
3. Listen to her music. When my girls are in my car, you’ll be able to catch us rocking out to the following Pandora stations: Taylor Swift, One Direction, Cody Simpson, Kidz Bop Radio, Katy Perry, you get the point. Not stations I’d listen to on my own—with one exception: I love Taylor Swift—but when it lights them up, it lights me up.
4. She’s watching how you treat her mom. If you take one thing out of this entire list, make it this. One of the best things you can do for your daughter is to love her mom. It’s easy to be child-centered, running from one kid activity to another. But fight for your marriage and make it a priority. The seasons of life when I lose focus on dating Brooke (my wife) are also the seasons when our children have more issues. I don’t think that’s coincidental. Love your wife, make time to date her, take her on trips, and show your kids that she is a bigger priority than they are.
5. Don’t shrink back as she grows up. Our oldest is almost 11, so we haven’t hit the dreaded teenage years, but I say bring them on. Dads who are further down the road than I am regret not being more emotionally engaged with their teenage daughters. It will be awkward for all of us, but I’m leaning right into it. Periods, boyfriends, shaving armpits, Snapchat, whatever it is. My girls won’t know any different than their dad being every bit as engaged when they’re 15 as he was when they were 5. Don’t disappear when their emotions and bodies start changing.
6. Teach her how to do a real push-up. I won’t be mistaken for Billy Blanks, but we take health and wellness seriously at our house. My girls aren’t wimps. They know how to do real push-ups. They play sports hard. They think “throwing like a girl” is a compliment, not an insult. They bring it. And more than the physical toughness, we’re raising mentally tough girls, just like their momma. In a world where femininity gets assigned far too often to princess dresses and fairy tales, my girls are tough as nails.
7. Make memories.
A friend once told me that my job is to be the chief memory maker of the house. It’s morbid, but I have 50 to 60 years left on this earth, tops. That’s not a ton of time, so I’m going to go hard and create as many memories with my girls as I possibly can. We celebrate big things like a 10-year-old trip
, but we also take the little things seriously. Family movie nights on Friday nights. Big-breakfast Saturdays. Hikes after church. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but it does have to be intentional. Fill up your daughter’s emotional journal with memories of being with her dad.
8. Teach her that it’s not about her. Something amazing happens when we realize that the universe doesn’t spin around us. We’re not modeling it perfectly for our girls, but we’re trying to show them that life is best lived when we give ourselves away. To serve others. To go last. To not always have to be right.
9. Show up to her events. As dads of young daughters, most of us are building careers at the same time. So it’s not possible every single time, but make the effort to get to her stuff. Even if it’s not your favorite activity. I hate the commercial of the dad at the daughter’s dance recital who is watching a football game on his phone. I love a good football game as much as the next guy, but clap as hard for your daughter’s recital as you would on your couch watching sports.
10. Proximity doesn’t equal presence. I’m guilty of forgetting this often. The simple fact that you’re there doesn’t mean you’re really there. Especially in an era of constant information and entertainment. Turn your phone off when you get home from work. Or at least put it in another room. Your daughter couldn’t care less about your Twitter feed, your emails, your fantasy football team, or your group texts. She cares about spending time with you. Playing with you. Being with you.
11. Do her hair and nails. Brooke does this 99 times out of 100, but I make it a point to tell all my girls that Daddy can make a killer ponytail. And I can paint their nails like a champ. Heck, they’ve painted mine on many occasions as well. Show her that a man can be gentle.
12. Date her. I wish I could say I do this consistently, but even once every few months is better than not at all. Dating your daughter is critical to showing her how a man should treat a woman. Call me old school, but on my dates with my girls, I open the doors, pay the bills, look them in the eye, and make them feel like a million bucks. This doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. A walk around the block. A short bike ride. A trip to the ice cream store. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but again, it must be intentional.
13. Her heart is more beautiful than her appearance. Guess what, dad? It’s your job to tell your daughter, and then remind her a million times, that what’s on the inside of her is what will make her go far in life. The heart is how we talk about it at our house, but it can be her character, her self-worth, her core. Raising girls in this sensual world isn’t easy, but they don’t have to settle for the belief that to be pretty means you must fit into a size zero or show almost every piece of your skin when you walk into a room.
14. Don’t blink. Kenny Chesney was right. She calls you daddy. Enjoy that role— it flies by.
15. Will you forgive me? I forget 1 to 14 more than I would like to admit. I’m doing my best. You are too. But when I blow it, when I hurt her feelings, and when my intentions were better than my actions, I’m learning to ask her for forgiveness. Not a simple apology, but a sincere plea for forgiveness. Model being a dad who gets down on her level and admits that you don’t have it all together. She’ll forgive you for that.
Dads, your role is a precious one. Love your daughters well.
This story originally appeared on the Huffington Post, courtesy of Justin Ricklefs.