By Anne Gagliano
The father-daughter relationship is so precious, so special, so unique. The best fathers find that magical balance between rules and freedoms, closeness and authority. This is hard to do with sons, and it can be even harder to do with daughters. A softer touch is needed. A stretch, an effort, an imagination to relate to that little stranger who is so very different from himself. But that effort must be made, as a father impacts his daughter in three crucial ways: her mental and physical health, her education and achievements, and her romantic relationships. (These I laid out in “Fathers and Daughters, Part 1.”)
His daughter’s health, life achievements, and future relationships—these are pretty weighty things to lay at a father’s feet. How involved and close he manages to be throughout her formative years is what makes the difference. But how is he to stay close to his daughter when she is, in fact, “a girl” and he is “a man”? And what if Mom and Dad divorce and Dad doesn’t even live with her anymore? Being close is much easier said than done.
My father wasn’t perfect, but he did manage to keep me close in all the ways that matter. Here are four things he did for me that I believe any father can do to help his daughter become the better version of herself:
Activities: My dad took me fishing. I loved doing this with him. It was just he and I in a boat on a peaceful lake or a pretty river or the majestic Puget Sound. It was an adventure; I was vulnerable, he was strong and capable. He made me feel safe. He’d bring goodies, he’d bait my hook, and we would just talk or sit quietly together enjoying the scenery. I didn’t really care if I caught a fish; I just liked being with him. We both derived incredible joy from being on the water; this we had in common.
Small trips together, drives to Idaho (his hometown)—we did these things too. And we both shared a love of books and classical music. We shared them, exchanged them—all our lives. He’d read a book then send it my way, and vice versa. Then we’d talk about it.
Find a common interest with your daughter, such as sports, the outdoors, movies. When you share activities with her, you teach her what it is to be “friends” with a loving man. And she will expect no less from her husband.
Dates: Yes, I went on “dates” with my dad, though when I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s, such things were not even heard of. My dad took me to lunch on a regular basis from the time I was old enough to sit quietly in a restaurant with him till the day he was too infirm to drive anymore. A meal in a restaurant with my dad, just like a date. We’d eat and chat and he’d tell me his many stories and we’d laugh a lot. I loved hearing of his adventures, particularly his “spy stories,” as he was, in fact, a spy long ago.
My Dad bought me little trinkets or brought me flowers from wherever he went, whether it was a hunting trip or just a trip to the store; he always surprised me. He made me feel special, thought of, treasured. This is what it feels to be “courted,” and this is what my husband does for me now. I am worthy of perpetual “courtship”–my father taught me this.
Significant Events: Someone once said, “90 percent of being a good dad is just showing up.” Sad, but true, as so many dads just bail—especially after a divorce. They typically are the ones who move out, and the kids remain with mom. It’s easy to lose touch with your kids when you don’t physically live with them anymore.
My parents divorced when I was 13, and my dad did indeed move out. But he chose to live close by. He didn’t “bail”; in fact, he doubled his efforts. Our lunches and outings increased. He was there during this major turning point, and it helped keep me somewhat sane during a tough time; he simply “showed up.”
And dads, be there on your daughter’s big days: achievements; graduations; and, most importantly, her wedding day. I needed my dad to walk me down that aisle; I was young and emotional and scared. But on his arm, I faced the crowd and walked to my new husband without crying or fainting. My dad “showed up,” and his presence gave me strength. Sometimes that’s all your daughter needs.
Words and Notes: Words are very powerful to girls. Words often elude a man. My dad was great at telling me of his interests and sharing with me his stories. This was a wonderful place to start, as I learned to easily converse with a man.
But my dad struggled with saying he loved me. He struggled to tell me of his feelings for me; it did not come naturally to him. Stoic, sarcastic, elusive–this was his nature. But he found a way to communicate his affection in just as powerful a way—with notes and poems. So impactful were these to me that I have saved them all in a scrapbook I keep.
When I was a child, he slipped loving notes into my lunch box. He gave me cards for my birthdays and other holidays with typed stories or poems, as I could not read his handwriting (typed, mind you, on a typewriter; we didn’t have computers and printers back then). He took the time to communicate with his little girl that so needed to hear of his love.
On my first day of high school, he left me a package outside the front door (as by then he no longer lived with us). Inside, I found an opal necklace and this wonderful poem that he’d written just for me:
An opal is just a stone
Of no great consequence-
Until cut and polished.
Then an iridescent fire
Of many hues and lights
Gleams through the
Haze of alabaster.
Akin perhaps to the often
Bland and placid
Exterior of youth
Until cut by experience
And polished with character.
Then the hues of charm and wit,
The fire of warmth and depth
Also shine through.
Both the stone
And the once baby girl
(just cause I love you).
Fathers, tell your little girls that you love them. That they’re precious, special, wonderful. If you can’t say it in words, then write it down. Find a way; she needs to hear it.
I thrive on kind words; I expect and deserve to hear them from my husband, and I do. And this, too, I learned from my father.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.