I never imagined that my work as a pediatrician would lead me to consult with NFL players in the NFL Fatherhood Initiative about how to be better fathers. What did I have to tell pro football players? The last thing they needed, I assumed, was a grandmother pediatrician. I was wrong. Most of the players I consulted with in the Fatherhood Initiative relate extremely well to older women, partly because many of them grew up without fathers, so they relate well to mother and grandmother types.
Most of the players I interviewed who grew up without a dad expressed inner turmoil and insecurity about their own calling as fathers. They weren’t sure how to be a good father, especially to a daughter, whose emotions and personality felt foreign to them. My job was to assure these dads that they were already hardwired with everything they needed to be a good dad to their little girl. I was simply there to show them what was already inside of them.
One character quality we talked about that is essential to parenting daughters is compassion. Compassion allows a dad to connect with his daughter, no matter her age or stage. But compassion must be practiced and cultivated if it’s going to be something that strengthens your relationship with your daughter.
So, What are some ways dads can cultivate compassion?
EMPATHIZE. Think back over your own childhood and teenage years. Remember what it felt like to have braces; move to a new place; lose a pet; get dumped by your girlfriend. Tap into those memories; it will give you a newfound compassion for the things your daughter is facing.
EXAMINE. Whether you are religious or not, examining the life of Christ in the Bible as an example of compassion can be very beneficial. Read the Gospel of Mark. As you do, you’ll discover no one had compassion like Christ. His compassion was not limited to sympathy. His tender mercy included a willingness to step boldly into the lives of those who were hurting.
ENGAGE. Dads, every day you have an opportunity to cultivate and demonstrate compassion by engaging with your daughter, rather than brushing her off. Here are some specific situations in which you can practice this:
• Be patient with her (not frustrated) when she is terrified of the dark.
• Be sad with her when she is sad.
• Get down on the ground with her when she has fallen and hurt herself.
• Hold her when she says things like “I’m ugly,” “None of the boys like me,” “All my friends make fun of me.”
As a father, you are your daughter’s first and most important experience of male love, compassion, and kindness. Whatever your early interactions with her, they will be imprinted deeply on her brain and heart. If you think it’s too late to make a positive impact on her, it’s not. I have seen many fathers turn a girl’s life around with a renewed commitment and demonstration of love. It is never too late. And, you don’t have to be in the NFL to be considered a hero by your daughter. You already are her hero. All you have to do is live into your calling.