What is it about a father-daughter relationship that is so powerful yet so frightening to a man? The entire time my daughter was growing up, I loved her like crazy—still do. I would have gladly thrown myself in front of a raging grizzly bear for her.

But she scared the living daylights out of me, especially after she became a teenager. Her potential for self-destruction was in direct proportion to her inability to control herself. During adolescence she seemed unable or at least unwilling to view life from any kind of logical perspective. Her actions and decisions rarely made sense to me and often frustrated me beyond endurance.

After numerous challenges over the years, my daughter appears to have settled down into adulthood as a competent, confident and responsible young woman. We have what I think is a very good relationship. We see each other frequently, talk about issues in her life, and have genuine affection and love toward one another. We even speak together at a variety of father-daughter events around the country.

I am going to admit right up front that I believe in the old-fashioned notion that a dad should protect his daughter. Our ministry works on a daily basis with too many women, both young and old, who carry the deep wounds from a father who either abandoned them, did not protect them from other males, or did not protect them from life’s other cruel intentions. A father should be involved in his daughter’s life and the decisions she makes as she approaches adulthood.

Many components of our society would tell you this is a chauvinistic and overbearingly paternalistic way of thinking. They would say that our young women are more liberated and free to disregard this kind of paternal and parental interference—that they are adults and have the right to make their own choices in life.

But I say, “Not true.” The bane of young women today is that too many fathers have backed away into the shadows and have been “shamed” into being uninvolved in their daughters’ lives. This has been destructive to young women on many levels.

A daughter is a gift from God and needs to be treasured, nurtured, and even protected by a father until another man comes along who is qualified to take over that role or until she is mature enough to take over that role herself.

Some might argue that women today do not need a man’s protection and provision. That may be true, but I would argue just as strongly that daughters do need a father’s protection until they reach a stage of maturity when they can fend for themselves.

That’s not to say that women are not equal in every and any way with males; it is merely to say that the powerful influence of a father’s love and guidance can make the difference between living a healthy, fulfilling life versus one that is full of hopelessness and despair.

Some might argue that women today do not need a man’s protection and provision. That may be true, but I would argue just as strongly that daughters do need a father’s protection until they reach a stage of maturity when they can fend for themselves.

The Power of a Father

Fathers have an incredible influence (positive or negative) on nearly every aspect of their daughters’ lives. Because a daughter so yearns to secure the love of her father, she believes what her father believes about her. If he calls her stupid or incompetent, she will believe that about herself. If he labels her plain-Jane or worthless or inept, she will have a hard time believing anything different about herself as a woman.

But if he calls her intelligent, beautiful, competent, and accomplished, then she will believe that to be true. A father determines how a girl feels about herself.

Author and pediatrician Meg Meeker describes the yearning daughters have for the approval of their fathers:

And I have watched daughters talk to their fathers. When you come in the room, they change. Everything about them changes: their eyes, their mouths, their gestures, their body language. Daughters are never lukewarm in the presence of their fathers. They might take their mothers for granted, but not you. They light up—or they cry. They watch you intensely. They hang on your words. They hope for your attention, and they wait for it in frustration—or in despair. They need a gesture of approval, a nod of encouragement, or even a simple eye contact to let them know you care and are willing to help.

Fathers have a huge impact on the intellectual, emotional and physical development of their daughters as well. Toddlers with father attachments have better problem-solving skills. Girls with close father relationships achieve higher academic success.

As a girl gets older, father-connectedness is the number one factor in delaying and preventing her from engaging in premarital sex and drug and alcohol abuse. Girls with involved fathers are more assertive and have higher self-esteem. And girls with involved fathers also have higher quantitative and verbal skills and higher intellectual functioning.

As a man and a father I’m pretty sure I did not recognize the power I had in my daughter’s life. Yes, I probably knew on some level that I was important. But I never knew how important my approval and love at such a visceral level were to my daughter. If I had, I would have been much more intentional in the way I spoke to her and more aware of the messages I was really speaking into her heart.

In fact, guys, if you want to understand your wife better, I suggest you look at the relationship she has or had with her father. You can tell the endearment that women hold for their fathers merely by how they address them. For most women, her father is the most important male in her life. Girls usually stop calling their mothers “Mommy” sometime around the age of eight or nine. But many grown women still call their fathers “Daddy.”

A Father’s Words

A father’s spoken or written words contain great power. A man’s hurtful spoken words can cripple his child’s soul for life.

Many women cherish notes or other blessings they’ve received from their fathers. Sometimes these words seem inconsequential to us and yet are treasures to our daughters. One woman spoke of a paper-coated clothes hanger that was her most cherished possession. Her father had written “I love you” on it when she was a little girl. She carried it with her all through college and into her marriage.

Elderly people have told me their only regret in life was that they never heard their father say “I’m proud of you” or “I love you.” Most important is for you to make sure your daughter knows you love her.

Because females are more verbally oriented than males, they place a higher value on words than the average male does. Consequently, a daughter has a powerful need to hear her worth from the important men in her life. She derives her self-esteem and value from what her father speaks into her heart.

God has placed within a daughter’s heart the inherent desire, even need, to love and respect her father. Even people who have been abused or abandoned by their fathers still want to love and respect them.

This is a huge power that as fathers and men we need to recognize and treat with respect.

/ RICK JOHNSON is a best-selling author and speaker who believes that families, communities and our society will be stronger when parents realize their unique power and influence in the lives of their sons and daughters. This article is adapted from That’s My Girl: How a Father’s Love Protects and Empowers His Daughter (Revell, 2012). Discover more at betterdads.net


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