Social Issues

An Open Letter to Fathers with Daughters

 

My father and I, circa 1986

This article serves two very specific purposes.

First, it’s an open letter to fathers with daughters.

We always talk so much, especially in the Black community, about how important fathers are to little boys. Fathers, I’m told, teach little boys how to be men. Sure, a mother can teach her son to aim for the water in the toilet and wish for the best. She can teach a son how to talk to girls, how to shave and tie a tie, how to be polite and chivalrous. But a father, so I’m told, teaches him integrity. A father teaches his son how to be honorable, how to protect his family, how to be a provider. A father teaches a son how to talk to girls, and how to look a man in the eye as he firmly shakes his hand.

No doubt, all of these things are important. No argument there.

But do you truly realize the depth of importance that fathers have to their daughters? A father is a little girl’s first example of love from a man. A father’s presence (or the lack thereof) sets the precedent for how a little girl expects to be treated by men. A father shows, by example, what a man is, what he does, and how he behaves. A father’s influence in his daughter’s life shapes now only her opinions of men, but her self-esteem, her self-concept, and her self-image.

 

Fathers of daughters, please never underestimate your value and your worth to your daughter. You probably can’t teach her to be a woman, or relate to her period, or talk her through pregnancy. Perhaps you aren’t the one who teaches her how to cook, or how to properly apply makeup, or how to formally set a table. She might not be interested in football, or catching a baseball in the backyard. You’ll probably feel, at some point, like you and her have nothing in common.

But you, sir, teach her her value. You teach your daughter what she’s worth. She will look for you in the mate she chooses, which will affect not only her life, but the lives of the children she may choose to have. You teach your daughter that she’s better than a cheap movie and fast food. You teach her that she is a princess, that she is worth more than her weight in gold, and that any man who thinks he will impress her by throwing money at her or buying her things should think again.

Why am I thinking about all of this today? I’m glad you asked. It’s the second reason for this article.

Tonight is one of the biggest, most anticipated nights in sports. Tonight, the Tar Heels of UNC will play Gonzaga for the college basketball national championship, and millions of people will be tuned in. I will be watching the game in the same place I watch most major sporting events (except the ones during which I am doing hoodrat things with my friends)—sitting on the couch in my parents’ sunroom, adjacent my daddy.

My daddy and I watch most sporting events together.

I am the youngest of my father’s 6 children, the only child born to him and my mother. As far back as I can remember, sports have been something that my father and I shared. When I was a little girl, I was more interested in books and dolls than sports, but I remember sitting on the couch next to my father, watching the Redskins play. I remember how I’d mimic the way he’d fuss at the TV when the Skins did something stupid, and I’d laugh at him as he stood and danced and hollered and danced when the team scored or won. Eventually, as I got older, my tolerance for sports became a genuine like, and, eventually, a love. I’m an avid sports fan now, and one of my favorite things about sports is still watching them with my daddy. I can’t think of anyplace else I’d rather be.

My father will be 81 at the end of this month, and he is still my hero. He’s the one great love of my life. As I grew up, my mother was the disciplinarian. She was the one who refused to accept Cs on my report card. She was the one who fussed and who pushed, the one who had a solution to every issue, the one who always saved the day.

Daddy was the one who always made me feel better, no matter what I did, no matter how angry I made him, no matter how ashamed I was. He was the one with the encouraging words, with the hugs, with the reassurance. When I was convinced that my mother was ruining my life (as all teenagers do), my father assured me that she wasn’t, and that she only wanted what was best for me. When I experienced my first breakup, he didn’t offer any advice, just a spot on the couch next to him, my head on his shoulder, and some random episode of NCIS. He was who I first told I was pregnant with Michael. Daddy was the one who made me smile when no one else could. He still has that same uncanny ability.

On Valentine’s Day, when nobody else thinks of me, my father sends me flowers. He sends random texts telling me he’s proud of me, usually at the exact moment when, unbeknownst to him, I need the messages most. He always calls me when Rocky is on television, just to make sure I’m watching. He sends me news stories that he knows I’m interested in reading. He laughs at my awful jokes. He calls me to say good morning. He prays for me. He prays with me.

You know what else? Couldn’t nary nappy headed little boy ever tell me anything. I made stupid mistakes, and dealt with people I shouldn’t have, but not because I didn’t know better. Because I did. My father set the standard for who I chose to date. And when I ignored that standard and dealt with people who were obviously wrong for me, I couldn’t get comfortable in the relationships. They didn’t last. They ended because I knew better. I knew there was better. I’d experienced better. I have Daddy.

I am 34 years old, and he is still my whole heart. Every time I look at him, even as he’s begun to move a bit slower as he ages, I smile. I see his love for me all over his face, and it almost moves me to tears sometimes. I love him so much that it’s crazy. As an adult, I felt the need to show you, fathers, just how important you are to your daughters.

Romantic relationships will come and go. Friends will, too. You, though, will be Daddy forever, and no one, not even her future spouse, will be able to replace what you mean to her. Your role in her life is to show her that she’s soft enough to be treated with great care, but she’s strong enough to do whatever she sets her mind to. You show her that she’s beautiful, but that she’s smart, too. You teach her that her body is a temple and should be respected. You show her what a man is, so that she will know exactly what to look for and what to avoid. You will be the love of her life, just the way my father is with mine.

Daddy, I love you so much. And I can’t wait to come over and watch the game with you this evening, just as I have during so many sporting events before.  Thank you for your love, for your example, and for always having a space for me on your couch.

Every girl should be so lucky.

 

 

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