A look at what it means to be a father’s daughter.
I recently spent a few days on a road trip with my father. Dad and daughter road trips aren’t really common when you’re in your late twenties. In fact, to my knowledge, they’re not really that common at all. But they should be.
When I was in middle school my father proposed our first “D&D” (the nickname for what he deemed Dad and Daughter adventures), a road trip to Yosemite during spring break. We proceeded to have a D&D on every single spring break until I graduated from high school. We have had two “reunion” versions since I graduated from college. That’s what you call commitment.
Before I learned how to walk, I was dragged up mountain passes in a child carrier. When I was 8, I was on the back of our tandem bicycle, pedaling 200 miles from Seattle to Portland, and at 15 my father was placing a copy of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey into my hands. To say that my father was attempting to instill a sense of adventure in his daughter would be an understatement.
But what he also did was made a lifestyle of pursuing the things that I wanted and enjoyed doing completely achievable, not because I was a girl or a boy, but simply because I was a person, and people have passions. He didn’t put me on a soccer field and a volleyball court because those were girl sports, he just knew I needed to burn some energy off and if he showed me a variety of options I would eventually choose one that I felt good about. In turn, I felt supported, and as cliche as it sounds, really did think that I could do anything that I wanted. The whole “girl” thing wasn’t even part of the equation.
In a world of commercialized gender roles, girls grow up inundated with gender specific messaging, from pink princesses to Snooki. How do we raise empowered daughters that embrace the beauty of being a woman but also believe that they can do anything they want to do, even in a world that’s often inhibited by gender roles? There’s no simple answer to that question, but it certainly starts with being there.
Take Alice Ozma and Jim Brozina for example.
When Ozma was in the fourth grade, and her parents had just gone through a divorce, her father made one simple commitment: to read to her every single night for 100 days. If you have listened to the NPR story on the father daughter duo, you probably teared up. The story is touching and moving, and a tribute to the best of father daughter relationships, and the power of simple actions. After 100 days, the two were so addicted, they stuck to it, keeping up a tradition that lasted for 3,218 days, taking them all the way up to her first day of college.
As Ozma told NPR, “I don’t think fathers and daughters are spending time together every night.” It’s not just every night though; parents and children, and especially daughters, aren’t spending a lot of time together at all.
This hadn’t occurred to me until I started talking about father-daughter relationships with friends of mine. Many of them are strained, most are non-communicative, and few would be defined as close. With my own father-daughter relationship put into perspective, I have in turn grown more and become more appreciative, acknowledging how much that relationship has come to shape me.
I look at that relationship and wonder how much of my father’s and my relationship is “good” or “close” because we have both been intentional about making a concerted effort to build a bond. Whereas I will pour my heart out to my mother, I am more reserved with my father, but I am good about going to him for advice that I know he is happy to give.
He’s the one who can analyze my recent half marathon time and what intervals I should be trying to get to, when I need a map, he’s the first person to call and if a friend has a car problem, it’s like having a personal mechanic on a direct line. In other words, he is always there. Present. Providing direction, but letting me take the lead.
He does the same, knowing what works with his daughter and what doesn’t, never having pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do (volleyball won out over soccer), never once bringing up the fact that I was a “woman in a man’s world” and never pushing for too many personal details. We have a bond because we have a mutual respect, and that isn’t because he’s my father and I am his daughter, it’s because he has raised me to value community and connection, and that personal relationships take work.
It takes a lot to raise a daughter. I know that not because I have one, but because I am one. And we live in a strange world; on one hand sexualizing gender at an ever earlier age and then on the other, doing everything we can to take away a woman’s rights, stripping her of her ability to stand up for herself and take control of her own life. We are so protective and full of Victorian values that we don’t end up teaching what healthy, committed relationships actually look like.
Navigating these modern day waters is anything but easy, but it’s also essential.
Want to support your daughter? Be there. Every time. Even when she fails. Honor who she is and what she is passionate about. Teach her the importance – better yet, the necessity – of love and self-respect. Instill the kind of values so that you know she’ll make good decisions without your oversight, because too much oversight and she’ll start doing the opposite. Remind her that she is smart, beautiful and powerful, not because she is a woman, but because she is an amazing human being.
And take her on road trips.