How Dads Can Empower Their Daughters

by Chris Bernholdt
overprotective fathers
Chris Bernholdt

I grew up in a house full of brothers. There were black eyes and broken windows, a garage overflowing with every sports-related implement and a fridge that had to be stocked constantly as our bodies grew and our appetites remained ravenous. When I became a father for the first time, I was somewhat relieved that the first baby was a boy. It was what I was used to and comfortable with, and I knew my knowledge of what it takes to become a man would come in handy.

When my first daughter arrived, I was more scared because caring for girls was an unknown for me. I laugh now at the old me who thought it would be different. Caring for an infant—whether it be a boy or girl—is generally the same. I still loved them the same way even if their diaper changes were done slightly differently. I sang them the same songs at night and attended to their cries the same, and I still hug and kiss them goodnight the same.

Right around the time I started staying at home is when I discovered that how I was raising them, as a stay-at-home dad, might have a huge impact on them later in life. I wondered how me being with them at home might change their perceptions about their own lives in the future. I wondered how watching their mommy leave for work every morning would strengthen them when it came to their future ambitions for the workplace. Or, in seeing their father at home with them, would they also make that choice for their family?

That’s why it bothers me when I see dads wearing shirts setting rules for dating their daughters. I get weary of the photos of a dad with a gun threatening future suitors with violence if they don’t behave themselves. I’m all for protecting my daughters, but this implied violence towards young men accomplishes nothing.

How about we just teach our young boys what respect and love are truly about and give them the tools to make good decisions? We can be better fathers by setting the example for the next generation and not using scare tactics. Our daughters are not unattainable prizes to be won; they are treasures to be cherished.

In a post on Facebook recently, a soon-to-be dad posted that if he and his wife have a baby girl, he hoped she would be born ugly. Let that sink in for a moment.

While it may have been in jest, the rudimentary feeling there is that women aren’t safe from men because we only think of one thing. It’s exactly because of this thinking that we, as fathers, must prepare them better. Here’s some news for that guy: Locking your daughter up in an ivory tower is never going to go well. Do me a favor, new dad: Go see Tangled right away. If you have a daughter, she’s going to be beautiful. You’re going to look at her and see yourself or your wife in her eyes or her little nose. You’ll hear yourself in her laugh and spend hours looking at her toes. Those same toes will carry her far away someday.

She’s going to be curious about what is out there, and you’ll want to protect her. But here’s the thing: You’ll also want to watch what she becomes. I can tell you firsthand that raising a daughter is nothing short of magical. She will go through an amazing transformation seemingly overnight from the helpless little girl you once held in your arms to the teenager asking for the keys to the car. Don’t keep her from the world.

Both of my daughters are beautiful. They are smart. They are tenacious. I’ve seen those traits before somewhere. Oh yeah, from their mom! I mean, I purposely dated their mother because of those attributes. Instead of being afraid of your daughter garnering attention for who she is, embrace it.

I get it, you’re scared. You think that the world is inherently evil and that they can’t fend for themselves. But trust me when I say this: Keeping her from experiencing anger, fear and sadness will only make her wonder what else is out there.

Instead of relying on threats, let’s empower our daughters. Let’s give them the tools they need to succeed. Your gun will never protect them in the way their humor, wit and creativity ever will. Let’s encourage them to be strong and smart. Let’s be better fathers by teaching them to be curious and inquisitive. Let’s learn when to step back so they can be independent women who will make their own decisions and learn from them. Most of all, let’s be there to support them when they fall and believe in them so they get back up.

When she’s a baby, you’ll do all of this without even realizing it. She’ll be curious about the world. She will want to explore, and you’ll let her. Someday, she will be reaching for a block, and you will want to give it to her but know that you should hold back. You will want her to get there so badly that you might be tempted to just give it to her.

Some days she will never get there, and she will cry like it’s the end of the world. That’s when you’ll scoop her up in your arms and tell her it will be OK. She will forget all about that block, and you’ll be there to console her. Then there will come a day when she finally reaches that infernal block and raises it triumphantly in her little hand. That’s when she will look at you with the light catching her eyes, and you’ll say to yourself, “Everything about you is beautiful,” and she will smile and say, “Thanks, Dad.”