When I was fourteen years old, my Dad took me to the mall. It was in the 70’s, and charm necklaces were very popular. Even though it wasn’t the holidays or my birthday, he bought me a small gold charm to add to my collection. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant to have lunch together.
Decades later I still remember this afternoon we spent together. It was a rare occurrence for my Dad and me to do something just the two of us when I was a teenager.
Father Daughter Relationship
When I was younger, we spent more time doing things like going to the town pool, playing board games and hitting the penny in the yard. But as I matured, we seemed to have less to talk about, and our interactions became more awkward. It felt like most of our conversations were about the chores I hadn’t done, and my typical teen moodiness had me choosing to stay in my room with the door closed whenever I could. My dad gave up and let my mom be my primary parent while he decided to focus on my two younger brothers who he could relate to easier.
I worried that a similar gender divide would occur in my own home when my daughters became teens. When they were younger, my husband spent a lot of time with them. He did an adventure guides program through the local Y where dads and daughter went away together for two weekends a year. He also coached their recreational soccer and basketball teams. They all had a lot of fun with these activities, and it was a great way for them to spend time together while also getting to know their friends.
But once the girls were in high school, they no longer needed a parent coach. My husband missed spending time with his daughters in this way, and like my father, he became unsure of how to relate to them.
Fathers and Teenage Daughters
He would come home from work and try to ask about their day, but they were knee deep in homework and not in the mood to chat.
He began looking to me as a conduit of what was going on with the girls, not wanting to pry into their life or say the wrong thing to them for fear of an eye roll or another form of dismissal.
It would have been easy for my husband to allow me to do most of the parenting of our daughters while he focused his time on our young son who loved his company. However, it wasn’t what any of us wanted.
He didn’t want to give up the opportunity to know his daughters, even if it was challenging—and at times exasperating—trying to get them to let him into their lives.
So, he kept trying.
While sometimes he needs to ask multiple times and face some rejection, he does manage to get them to go on occasional runs or bike rides with him. He takes an active interest in the classes they are taking at school and offers to help them study when it’s a subject he feels confident in explaining. Somehow he manages their good-natured ribbing in stride when the girls mock his clothes, music taste or corny sense of humor, knowing it’s an easy way for them to bond with him and with each other. He doesn’t ask too many personal questions, preferring I take the lead on most of these issues. But he never misses an opportunity to tell them how much he loves them or how proud he is of their accomplishments.
I’m glad he didn’t give up. Studies show that a positive father-daughter relationship is incredibly valuable. Young women who have a strong connection to their fathers do better academically, have higher self-esteem, and make better relationship choices. My husband was determined to be thick skinned and not let the girls shut him out of their lives.
Recently, my younger daughter needed a ride home at the end of the college semester. Usually, my husband and I would take the trip together since it’s a long boring ride to her school, but commitments at home made it necessary for him to go alone, and it worked out great.
It gave the pair a chance to spend some quality time together packing her room and then having lunch. I was upset to miss the opportunity to hear her talk about her school year, but if I had been there, I am not sure my husband would have taken as active a role in the conversation.
Instead, he was the first one to hear her stories about college, classes, and friends. He enjoyed their time together and was grateful to be able to spend one-on-one time with her.
I hope that she remembers their afternoon together as fondly as I remember the one I spent with my Dad so many years ago.