How to Be the Dad Your Daughter Needs

When Hubby and I were expecting our first daughter, I made a statement…or a request…or maybe it was a threat: You have to be the father I never had.

I was 16 months old when my father died, so I have no memories of him and nothing to remember him by, just a ginormous hole in my little girl heart that hides somewhere behind my grown-up heart. I’ve read the books about how important a daddy is in shaping a little girl for the rest of her life—her self-esteem, her relationships—and how damaging it can be when a father isn’t present, whether physically or emotionally. I know the research …I lived a lot of it.

Knowing how important it was to me, Hubby accepted the mission. And in spite of my vague statement that contained no “how-to” steps, he has done a pretty great job these last 21 years, trying to figure out what being “the dad I never had” looks like.

If I could turn back time, I would make things a little easier on Hubby—give him a job description perhaps. Maybe it would’ve looked something like this:

  • Give her everything she needs and some of what she wants. Want to buy her the world but don’t.
  • Don’t tolerate the terrible twos. Two turns into 15 real fast. Tantrums aren’t cute then. Neither is back talk.
  • Accept her invitation to tea parties, but make them the best tea parties—in English castles where she is the queen. Master “pinky up.”
  • Be her playmate, her friend, her confidant, her partner in crime, but act like a father. Always.
  • Date her. Take her to the Disney princess movie when she is little, to the father-daughter dance in middle school, and on her first date when she turns 16, so she’ll know how she should be treated.
  • Escort her to church. Drag her when necessary. Pray for her. Pray with her—just the two of you.
  • When you pray in church, at meals, or at bedtime, hold her hand. Sometimes hold her hand just because.
  • Help her discover who she is; don’t try to shape her into who you want her to be. She may like ballet instead of basketball.
  • Never, ever ridicule her. Know her insecurities and what makes her feel vulnerable. Protect them; don’t use them. No name calling, especially in anger. She’ll never forget it.
  • Listen to her. Let her tell you about her day, her drama, and her dreams. When she tells you her secrets, keep them.
  • Talk to her about peer pressure and boys and Jesus. Even when you don’t think she’s listening, you might tell her exactly what she needs to hear in that moment.
  • Surprise her. Pick her up from school and take her to lunch. Or give her a gift that shows you really know her. It doesn’t need to be big, just meaningful.
  • Teach her to say “I’m sorry” by letting her hear you say it—to her, to others. The same goes with forgiveness.
  • Host sleepovers. Get to know her friends. Make your home the place where kids want to hang out. The junk food bill may add up over the years but not nearly as much as the payoff.
  • Teach her important things—to keep gas in her tank, to bait her own hook, to recognize poison ivy.
  • Remember she is still learning how to do life. Be patient. A 10-year-old is a child and a 16-year-old is a teen, not an adult. Don’t expect her to understand the world and make decisions like a 40-year old.
  • Boys are inevitable. Teach her she deserves more than a horn honk when a boy picks her up, and you’ll be waiting up when a boy brings her home.
  • You define manhood for her. It’s likely she will seek a husband who is a lot like you (even though you may not think he is).
  • Be available 24/7 for any reason, when she calls you to her room at midnight because of nightmares, or when she calls you from college with a broken heart. She should always know how to reach you—and that she can.
  • And remember, when her heart is broken, you can’t fix it. But your shoulders are big and can soak up a lot of tears.
  • Tell her—often—she is the daughter you always wanted.

And when she leaves for college, go into her room. Look at her posters, her bulletin board, her pictures, the clutter on her desk and dresser. This is her childhood, the one you gave her.

Happy Father’s Day!

What would you add to this job description?

(This post was inspired by an article written by Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk, my wishful thinking, and my hubby’s best practices.)



  1. LINDA WILSON says:

    you are such a good writer and on point with all the advice love it and you too

  2. Gail says:

    I wouldn’t add a thing! Great post, Karen! 😊

  3. Lena Cook says:

    Karen this story reminds me of Sheila’s dad & all the time you & all her friends spent at our house. Good times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *