It was mid-October, and my wife, Trizha, and I were headed to our gyno for an ultrasound that would reveal the gender of our baby. We, my family and friends were pretty sure we’d be having a boy. Then the gyno gave us surprising news: it's a girl!
Almost eight years have gone by since that special day, and being a dad to Ashley has been nothing short of amazing. We have a special bond, as often is the case between father and daughter. I'll always be her savior, protector, and superhero, and she’ll always be daddy’s little girl and princess.
However, no matter how fulfilling it may be to spend time with your daughter, you have to come to grips with the fact that one day she’ll grow up to become her own woman. And before that day comes, you have a duty and opportunity to give her not just happiness and security but also the knowledge and experience she needs before entering womanhood. Here are some small ways you can do so as her dad.
1. Listen to her. For someone who makes a living off his laptop, I’m constantly glued to it. But my daughter is one of the few who can get me to set it aside. If your daughter is talking to you, put your gadgets away and tell her you’re listening. Give her your undivided attention, listen to her stories, and ask questions. In doing so, you’ll remind her that she has the right to speak and be heard.
2. Love her mom. You and your wife set the standard for how a man and woman should co-exist and love each other. If you’re overbearing, cold, or disrespectful to her mom, your daughter might grow up thinking that being treated like that is acceptable. Let her know that a woman is sacred, starting with the most important woman in both your lives.
3. Let her get her hands dirty. Ashley is into biking, skiing, soccer, swimming, and hip-hop dancing, and these activities really let her go out of her comfort zone. As a kid in sports, you’re forced to interact with different people and work with them. You also learn how to deal with pressure and overcome adversity. Doing so can help boost your daughter’s self-confidence and self-reliance. So go ahead, let her get her hands dirty.
4. Focus on performance, not just looks. Women are too often measured by their physical appearance rather than their capabilities. Yes, it’s important to remind your daughter that she’s beautiful, but make sure to go beyond looks. Tell her she’s smart, she’s strong, she’s creative. Put an emphasis on things she does, not just on how she looks. Let her know that she does not have to be defined by how well she conforms to society’s superficial physical standards.
5. She doesn’t need anybody’s approval. Have thin waists, be agreeable and submissive -- these are just some stereotypes that women are expected to conform to in order to fit in, or to earn approval from boys (and sadly, other girls) as the “cool” girl who isn’t “weird” or a “bitch.” And in an era where people value themselves by the number of “likes” their photo gets, seeking approval from others seems to be the trend.
Your job: To remind your daughter that she doesn’t need anybody’s approval (except from her mom and dad, of course *wink*). She is beautiful, talented, strong, smart, and amazing, whether people think so or not, whether they “like” or not. If this helps her make decisions critically and not based solely on public approval, then kudos to you, pops.
6. Keep your cool. If you have a short fuse, react unreasonably to bad news, or seem indifferent to her concerns, then your daughter won’t come to you when she needs help. You always want her to trust in you and confide in you. Inevitably, she will make some mistakes in life, and the last person you want to be is that hot head she can’t rely on to help her out. If she gets into any form of trouble, you don’t want her feeling she has to solve it on her own. Always keep your cool as early as now and let her know you’ll be there for her no matter what.
7. Earn her respect as her father, not just as a man. There’s a distinct difference. If you expect her to follow your instructions simply because you’re a man and because your booming voice demands reverence, then the booming voice of her boyfriend may have the same effect. Talk to her. Let her know that you’re only looking out for what’s best for her. After all, you’re not just any man -- you’re her father, and you only have her best interests in mind.
Gab Pangalangan and his wife Trizh have a sporty daughter named Ashley, who enjoys dancing, biking, and skiing. He hopes to inspire the next generation of strong women through the Dojo Drifter campaign, Fight Like a Girl.