I found this book shortly after my daughter was born, nearly three years ago now. I read it the following summer on vacation and it was a revelation. Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters is an amazing book, and one that is required reading for any father who has a daughter, no matter what age. If your daughter is older and something in your relationship is amiss, this book may help enlighten you to the issue and work through the problem. If your daughter is young, this book will give you a blueprint for your relationship moving forward. Either way, it is a book you must have.
In this work, Dr. Meeker applies what she has learned in decades of experience as a pediatrician to the particular challenges daughters face in our modern society. There are more things in this book than I can discuss here. What I want to focus on are the things that hit me the most as a father of a young daughter.
Fathers can offer their daughters something that no other person can give.
Fathers inevitably change the course of their daughters’ lives–and can even save them. From the moment you set eyes on her wet-from-the-womb body until she leaves your home, the clock starts ticking. It’s the clock that times your hours with her, your opportunities to influence her, to shape her character, and to help her find herself–and to enjoy living. (28)
One of the recurring themes in the book is that your daughter needs you to be a model, a champion, a hero. And your daughter “needs a hero to navigate her through a treacherous popular culture. And you should know that being a twenty-first-century hero is tough stuff. It requires emotional fortitude, mental self-control, and physical restraint. It means walking into embarrassing, uncomfortable, or even life-threatening situations in order to rescue your daughter.” (30) Such are the demands in our world today. As you know, we are constantly bombarded by any number of temptations or negative influences. Yet our daughters are even more susceptible given that they are at a time in their lives when they are still coming of age and starting to navigate the world on their own.
“One of the best things fathers can do is raise their daughters’ expectations of life.” The way a father does that is through example. You are to model what it is to be good and virtuous. You are to model that in your relationship with your wife, with your co-workers, and even strangers you meet. You should give your daughter an image of the type of man she should aspire to marry someday.
This last point is the subject of one of the book’s chapters, “You Are Her First Love.” Showing that love so she knows you love her takes a certain skill–one that many men may not be used to. Daughters need to hear you say you love her, she needs to talk to and with you in a way that your son does not. And it cannot just be a rote exercise, saying “I love you” each time she heads out the door as a teenager. Your words need to be backed up by concrete reasons you love her. Her character, her charm, her spirit, whatever it is that makes her special. Especially as teenagers, when girls are questioning what makes them special, they will want you to give them an answer.
Another way you can express love for your daughter is to establish ground rules. These rules are meant to be for her own good, to help her grow in virtue and to protect her from the negative influences of our world. She needs these proper boundaries to mature properly. The rules and boundaries are enforced with love, but they must be firm.
A final way you can express love is by giving up time to be with your daughter. All of us are so busy with work and other demands, it is difficult to find time to be with our family, much less one of our children one-on-one. But a sign of love is making the time to do that very thing. “Quality time” is a misnomer today. Our children do not need “quality time” with us, they just need time, pure and simple. I am looking forward to taking my daughters out for date nights with Dad in the coming years. The other day, I stayed home from work and took my daughter to the zoo. Was it a magical, breakthrough moment in our relationship? Probably not. Did it bring us closer together and let her know that I love her? It sure did. It was a small gesture that meant a lot to her at the time, even if she does not remember it a year from now.
I could go on and on about the information in this book. It is far better for you to read the book and internalize its lessons. The many vignettes Dr. Meeker provides from past patients are quite telling, and maybe eerily similar to your own situations. Whatever kind of relationship you have with your daughter now, it can be better tomorrow. Meeker’s book will show you the way.
(The first 75 or so pages of the book are accessible here on Google Books.)
(An interesting interview with Dr. Meeker about the book is here.)
(A Zenit interview with Dr. Meeker is here.)
(And an EWTN World Over Live interview is here.)