A love letter from dad

Saying that fathers and daughters have a special bond is pretty obvious and cliché. But it’s another thing to see it played out before your eyes in a manner that most dads don’t ever experience.

I am grateful to have been part of facilitating two father-daughter 4 day retreats recently in Colorado, and thus able to observe two groups of 25 pairs as they bonded and played together. They came from all over the US as well as Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and China. They came together to learn, play, and grow together.atticus-1

My wife and I asked these middle school girls the first evening what they wanted different in their relationship with their dads, and the lists from the two weekends were similar: listen to me more, not be on your phone when we are talking or together, give me your undivided attention when you are spending time with me, trust me more and give me more responsibility, treat me like a preteen vs. a little kid, don’t act so stressed and impatient when you come home from work, don’t be so intense and competitive at my sporting events, and most importantly have more one-on-one time with me.

We taught the couples good communication skills and gave them time to practice. The dads also got into a circle with their daughters sitting around them and answered anonymous questions the girls had come up with. They were so curious about what their dad’s experiences were at their age: their school effort and grades, ever felt left out or bullied, were they stressed out in middle school, what they did with their friends for fun, were they ever in trouble, their relationship with their parents, and finally how many girls did they date before they met their moms and how old were they when they had their first kiss. The girls sat transfixed, with some of the answers eliciting giggles, disbelief, and laughter.

Most girls have never heard stories about their dad’s past, and it causes them to think their dads could never relate to their challenges and insecurities. Our exercise humanized dads and allowed girls to see that their dads can relate to them and they can understand them.

Over the weekend they rode horses in the mountains, white water rafted, did a zip line adventure across a canyon six times, roasted s’mores, swam in the pool, and had a blast.

The last night the girls sat with their dads around a campfire with beautiful mountains in the background. They each surprised the other with heartfelt letters they had written for each other. Some of the couples read them aloud to each other, others read them silently. And in both groups the tears flowed. Many of the pairs ended up in tearful embraces, just sitting quietly together to cement this memory. It was a moment of grace.

Later they shared what the letters had meant to them. Many girls had never heard their father speak these words of affirmation before, and it touched them deeply. They made commitments to each other about how they were going to keep this closeness going once they were back home. It was the perfect way to end their incredible weekend together.

The relationship between a father and his daughter is indeed special, nothing like it in the world. 50 fathers and daughters confirmed this in spades recently in a weekend they will never forget.

Comments

  1. As I read this post my feelings roller-coasted as I thought about the relationship with my two daughters. Questions of being there enough for them, listening enough, and now – how to relate to them as adults, with geographical distance between us and interests and experiences so varied. And now with other men in their lives – how do I fit in? What is my role now? Being a good listener seems to fit. Not giving advice when it isn’t asked for, but balancing that with being willing to be there when needed. I so love watching my girls find their own way through life, even when I have to hold my tongue and trust that they have everything they need, knowing that I will always be dad, daddy, or pops.
    Dad Tip – Respecting Boundaries – something I initiated when my girls were little: I never entered their rooms without permission. Meaning, I knocked, asked if I could come in, and then waited for a yes or no. If I got a “no”, I would simply ask if they would come get me later. In respecting their space I knew I was teaching them that their boundaries mattered, were important. I never felt like they were hiding anything from me, plus it prevented any regretful, embarrassing situations from occurring. So dads, knock, ask for permission to enter, and then act accordingly to the response.

  2. This is a great post. The relationships between a father and his daughter means a lot. It sets the stage for the daughter’s mental health, self esteem, adult romantic relationships, and more. Thanks for writing this, Dr. J.

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