One of the toughest aspects of being a hero to your daughter is not just deciding what is good and right for her, but also keeping her on track. Fathers can demand tremendous discipline from themselves, but they can find it much harder to stand firm with their children. Fathers get tired. Daughters can become defiant, manipulative, and wear their fathers down. This is where perseverance comes in.
I have seen this operate in my own home. My husband and I work together. With patients he is clear, decisive, and expects that his advice will be followed. Then he comes home. When our seventeen-year-old daughter insists on going to a beach party with friends until one in the morning, he listens attentively. It’s ten o’clock at night and we’re both exhausted. She -isn’t, so she looks at her dad and offers, “Pleeease, Dad.” Then something peculiar happens. Rational convictions leap from his brain. This man who only hours before was clear and firm about what was best for his patients goes to complete mush. “Oh, honey, I guess if you promise to be home by one, you can go.”
“Are you crazy?” I blurt out. “Seventeen-year-old guys and
seventeen-year-old girls on a beach until one in the morning? I don’t think so.”
Too often fathers give in to daughters and then rationalize it away: “All kids experiment with alcohol and sex and a little bit of drugs, I -can’t keep her from that forever,” or “Now that she’s seventeen she’s mature enough to handle herself.” But this is the same daughter who, when she was ten years old, you pledged to protect from all these things—and the dangers -aren’t over. They’re getting worse.
Sure, other kids are experimenting with sex and drugs and alcohol, but other kids -aren’t your daughter. And your daughter will respect you more if you -don’t give in. The minute you waffle on your convictions, you lose stature in your daughter’s eyes. She thinks you’re smarter than other parents, tougher than her boyfriend, and care more about her—and what’s right for her—than other people. Let me tell you a secret about daughters of all ages: they love to boast about how tough their dads are—not just physically, but how strict and demanding they are. Why? Because this allows daughters to “show off” how much their fathers love them. If only you could be privy to the private conversations of girlfriends.
If you only had to fight for her once, twice, or even ten times, the process -wouldn’t be so tough. But you might have to fight for her two hundred times. You only have eighteen short years before she is on her own. If you -don’t show her the high road now, she -won’t find it later. Perseverance in setting her on that road -isn’t easy. She might appear embarrassed by your interventions. She might sulk. She might even say she hates you. But you can see what she -can’t. You know how sixteen-year-old boys react when they see her in a halter top. You know how even one beer can make her unsafe to drive. You know a lot more than she does, and however hard it is to persevere in leading her the right way, you have to do it.
And that means not just setting and enforcing rules, but leading by example. When you persevere, even when your principles cost you dearly, she learns the lesson. She’ll see you as a hero, and if she admires what you do, she will do it too.
Now here we must face a thorny issue—divorce. It’s important for every good father to know the impact of divorce on his daughter. Only then can you help her.
Volumes of research on daughters and sons consistently reveal that divorce hurts kids. That’s just the way it is. Daughters often feel abandoned, guilty, sad, and angry. They often become depressed. No matter how much a father tries to convince a daughter that it -wasn’t her fault, it -doesn’t matter. Up through adolescence, young people usually see themselves at the center of their family and friends, and that whatever happens, happens in large part because of them. So your daughter might not only feel responsible for your divorce, she could also feel devastated and guilty that she -can’t change your or her mother’s mind about it. These feelings exist regardless of what you do. Only time and maturity help her sort this out.
But your daughter will also feel abandoned. She’ll ask, “What was wrong with me? -Wasn’t I worth sticking around for? If Mom really loved me, why did she walk out?” This is where you must begin to help her.
Your daughter expects parents to stay married. If she sees you or her mother renege on that commitment, she becomes confused. Heroes, in her mind, keep fighting. In reality, though, sometimes you -can’t. If mom leaves, has an affair, or abandons the family through drinking, your fight is limited.
But whenever, for your daughter’s sake, you can fight, you must. How you fight, how you persevere, how you manifest your courage will always influence your daughter. Sometimes perseverance for your daughter’s sake means sticking with her crazy mother. Maybe it means sacrificing your own happiness for hers. This is what heroes do. It is what your daughter expects. Making the heroic choice at work, in marriage, and throughout your life will shape your daughter, who she is and what she becomes. You need to lead her wisely, consistently, heroically.
And sometimes heroism gives us second chances.
From Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Dr. Meg Meeker, chapter 1.