“What Little Girls Wish ‘Daddies’ Knew”

Dear Brian,

So I saw an article come across my Facebook feed a few months ago titled “What Little Girls Wish Daddies Knew.”*  First of all, I DESPISE the term “daddy” so much that it evokes an actual physical reaction in my stomach.  You know, the same kind of reaction that forces all of the food in your stomach to go hurling towards the toilet at 80 miles per hour after eating some bad fish; so I’m gonna just go ahead and change “daddy” to “father.”  After reading this list I did start thinking about the fact that I’ll never be an Aunt as you never did have any children of your own.  But I do know that had you chosen to become a dad that you’d have been a really, really great one.

As long as I have you, can I talk to you about something? I feel like sharing that list with you along with my thoughts of “what not to do” regarding each of the 25 statements about raising an emotionally stable and confident daughter.  I know you would have made a wonderful dad, so you can rest assured that these thoughts are not directed at you– but, rather, are some (let’s just call them “hypothetical“) thoughts I have for the “less-than-stellar” fathers that are out there who are currently stunting the healthy development and self-image of their daughters.  I shouldn’t have to clarify for you that being a “good” father doesn’t stop at providing the basic needs such as food, shelter, health and education because you and I always did think alike where this was concerned.  So with that, I give you my thoughts on how not to contribute to a daughter’s emotional deterioration:

1. How you love me is how I will love myself.  If you consistently put all of your needs and wants in front of my needs as your child you raise me to believe that I am also undeserving of seeking a partner in life that will put me first.  If you tell me that you love me in the third person such as “daddy loves you” it will make me feel as though I am undeserving of hearing those meaningful words from you, or anyone, and it will create a fear that it isn’t safe to express emotions and feelings.

2. Ask how I am feeling and listen to my answer, I need to know you value me before I can understand my true value.  This should begin at a young age so I grow up feeling that I have a voice and that I matter and that I am worth something.  A piece of advice?  Turning the TV volume up and saying to me, “Shut up, I can’t hear the damn TV!!” when I am talking with Mom about my accomplishments at school that day isn’t the best approach.  Putting me down and for being too shy to try out for a school play or musical or group sports is hurtful.  And when I do actually muster up the courage to get involved with something, it is more hurtful yet to never show up to any of those events.  Saying, “Oooh, daddy is tired and his favorite TV show is on tonight.  You don’t really need me to be at your concert, right??” tells me that I have absolutely no value to you.  And asking for my “permission” to get out of going to support me is just manipulative and cowardly.  You also shouldn’t consistently compare me to others by saying, “This isn’t a good grade!  I bet so-and-so gets better grades than this…why can’t you get grades like so-and-so??”  Or, “Hey Peggy Sue tried out for the school play, why can’t you be more like her and get involved like Peggy Sue?”  I could offer you the same question– “Peggy Sue’s Dad shows up for her performances– why can’t you be more supportive and involved like Peggy Sue’s Dad?”

3. I learn how I should be treated by how you treat my mom, whether you are married to her or not.  Always putting your own needs first, not ever listening to her needs and wants, putting her down in front of me when she shares her feelings, belittling her by groping her breasts inside her shirt and her genitalia inside her pants in front of me, getting her gifts that YOU want instead of things you genuinely believe SHE would like for herself, never spending a single wedding anniversary together in 40 years because you’d rather spend it hunting with your buddies every single year because you say “she doesn’t mind,” telling her to “shut up,” sleeping with someone else just before you propose (you know, just to “make sure that getting married really feels right or not”), letting your own mother treat your wife with limitless disrespect… all of these things would be examples of how NOT to behave if you want me to have a healthy idea of what a truly respectful and deeply loving relationship with a man should look like.

4. If you are angry with me, I feel it even if I don’t understand it, so talk to me.  TALK to me.  Don’t yell or make me feel bad about myself.  Use kind words so I learn that conflicts within a close relationship are nothing to be feared and that they can, indeed, be worked out in a loving and open manner.  I need to learn that a disagreement doesn’t need to be feared as a potential end of a relationship.

5. Every time you show grace to me or someone else, I learn to trust God a little more.  Ummm…. I’m not into the whole “god” idea so this one I could comfortably skip over… you’re off the hook on this one.  However, I will say just this one thing– calling yourself a “christian” man but yet doing all of the things I’m saying NOT to do in this list is laughable, to say the least.  Going to church every Sunday, praying for others, doing “good deeds” in the community and overall outwardly appearing to be what you deem a “godly” man mean nothing if you put all things, including yourself, in front of your own family.

6. I need to experience your nurturing physical strength, so I learn to trust the physicality of men.  Well, this one just pisses me off a little bit.  I’m plenty capable of opening a pickle jar by myself (usually)… and the idea of me needing to trust the “physicality” of men I just find unnecessary and insulting. Besides, I should learn to trust my OWN physicality so I feel comfortable defending myself. Soooo… moving on.

7. Please don’t talk about sex like a teenage boy, or I think it’s something dirty.  It would be a good idea, and just plain honorable, to not point at a couple having intercourse in a movie and say to me, your young daughter, “Look at that!  What is that man doing to that lady???”  In fact, might be best to just change the channel and make sure the entertainment I am taking in is not only respectful and tasteful, but age-appropriate.  I would also recommend that you refrain from sticking your hand down your wife’s shirt and/or pants while holding my gaze and saying, “Hey, look!  What?  What am I doing to Mommy? See, it’s OK, she likes it, see??”  And should I try to look away and avoid what is happening, you should not call me by name, look straight at me with a twisted gleam in your eyes and giggle as you see me squirm with discomfort and an obvious urge to come to my Mother’s defense.  All of these things tell me that sex is not a “mutual exchange” but rather something that happens TO a woman.  It makes it seem dirty and uncomfortable and one-sided, not something special that two loving, people in a committed relationship share.  Even when I’m grown, it is not necessary for us to have a dialogue about my own sex life; so when I say I am meeting my boyfriend for lunch it is absolutely NOT appropriate to ask me with a grin if that is what I call a “nooner.” All of these messages will undoubtedly cloud for me the difference between affection and sex– and will teach me to confuse the two easily and to seek out the wrong kinds of “affection” from men in my later years.

8. When your tone is gentle, I understand what you are saying much better. You can show you are angry without screaming at me.  Please discuss issues with me in a respectful way– I deserve to know that even when you are angry that you still care about me.

9. How you talk about female bodies when you’re “just joking” is what I believe about my own.  Here’s a few pointers… Don’t point at a woman walking by or on the television and say to me, “Geeeeez, look at her.  Her boobs are huge!  Look how short her skirt is!  She wants people to look at her, doesn’t she??  She sure is pretty, isn’t she??  Do you want to grow up to look like her??”  Don’t tell me dirty jokes that teach me that my body is something to be objectified or embarrassed by or stared at by men or that sex is something to be feared or given up unwillingly. If you must tell these jokes, tell them to your adult, male friends.  Not your 8 year old daughter.  If I learn from you that women are objects and that their looks are so terribly important, I also learn that as I age and my looks deteriorate that I in turn lose my intrinsic value.

10. How you handle my heart, is how I will allow it to be handled by others.  If you consistently make promises you can’t keep or only support me when it is “convenient” for you then I will learn that I’m not worthy of unconditional care, love and support– and will not expect any more out of my relationships with men.  If you spend more time pointing out my flaws or what I’m doing wrong than praising me for the good things I will continually feel as though I’m not deserving of praise or affection and won’t be motivated to try harder because it just wouldn’t matter to you, anyway.  If I bring an “A” paper home and try to show it to you when you’re watching TV please praise me for it instead of saying, “god dammit, I can’t see the TV… move, I’ll look at it later!!”  You’re the parent– so you ultimately set the tone for how things will go for the duration of our relationship.  If I grow up feeling ignored, not cherished and inferior I learn very early on what to expect out of you and, in turn, will obviously not want to offer you the attention, time and care that you failed to provide during my childhood.  You reap what you sow, you know? If you plant a dead seed you can’t be angry when a flower fails to grow for you.

11. If you encourage me to find what brings joy, I will always seek it.  If I don’t ever see you expressing any true joy in life I will have trouble knowing that it even exists. If I only see that you are not happy with your life, with your co-workers and friends or even with me, I don’t see what true happiness or joy should look like. I need you to encourage me to find things that bring me happiness for my own sake, not for making YOU happy or to give you something to brag about.  I need to know that whatever my path that I may choose that you will support it regardless of whether or not it is something you’d have chosen for me.

12. If you teach me what safe feels like when I’m with you, I will know better how to guard myself from men who are not.  There are so many ways to make a young girl NOT feel safe.  It would be helpful to begin by respecting my boundaries– in all areas.  For instance, if I am a child who is deathly afraid of heights, it would be cruel to shake the car as it carries us over the top of the ferris wheel and laugh at me for crying as I beg and plead with you to stop.  Or say I’d been in a serious car accident and was in the hospital having recurring nightmares about that accident; it would be horribly heartless to put on a stock car race on the TV in my hospital room and to pretend you don’t see me crying as I plead with you to change the channel because I’m still having flashbacks about the crash that occurred just days ago and can’t handle watching cars racing just yet.  Attempting to re-enact the very same car accident by very slowly driving off the road in the same location as where the crash occurred as I cry, beg and plead with you to stop from the back seat… well, that’s just plain sadistic.  Dismissing my feelings and fears because you don’t agree with them or think they aren’t warranted only serves to tell me that I don’t deserve to have my feelings respected regardless of whether or not they make sense to you.  I need to learn that a relationship is about caring enough to respect others’ boundaries and limitations and loving them anyway.

13. Teach me a love of art, science, and nature, and I will learn that intellect matters more than dress size.  Even if you do encourage me to explore art, science and nature but still openly objectify women in my presence, or even objectify me, I will learn that my appearance is of greater value than any of those things.

14. Let me say exactly what I want even if it’s wrong or silly, because I need to know having a strong voice is acceptable to you. Regardless of whether or not something I’m saying to seems silly or wrong… I need to know that you LISTEN to me.  Not that you’re hearing me while waiting for your chance to talk interrupt me with your own thoughts but that you’re truly listening to what I’m saying so I know that having my own thoughts and opinions is OK and that you care about how I feel. It will make me feel as though I matter to you as a human being, not just as your daughter.

15. When I get older, if you seem afraid of my changing body, I will believe something is wrong with it.  On the flip side, if you look at me too long in a bathing suit, or comment on my figure or put an inappropriate amount of focus on my physique or my appearance I learn that my primary value lies not with my mind nor my integrity.  The same goes for my close friends… if you begin to comment on THEIR changing bodies to me (i.e. how well-developed their breasts are) then I will fear you are going to be watching for these changes in my own body and will be ashamed of it and won’t want to invite my friends over anymore.

16. If you understand contentment for yourself, so will I.  If you are never satisfied, never seem to get any joy out of life or out of having me as a daughter then I’ll never know what it is like to be content with myself… at least without a great deal of work and effort.

17. When I ask you to let go, please remain available; I will always come back and need you if you do.   As a parent, you should always WANT to be available and remain available for years to come.  If you show a disinterest in being supportive of me early on I will certainly feel little more than apathy and detachment in return.  Again, you get back what you put into a relationship.

18. If you demonstrate tenderness, I learn to embrace my own vulnerability rather than fear it.  If I’m busy working on something which requires my focus (like school work, for example) please don’t interrupt by teasing and poking and teasing and poking and teasing and poking and teasing and poking after I’ve asked you 17 times to please, please, pleeeease stop interrupting.  When you don’t listen to my pleas and I finally explode with a, “Please, I told you to STOP I’m trying to study!” it would be absolutely unacceptable for you to yell at me, “god dammit, I can’t even talk to you damn kids!  You don’t want anything to do with me, I get it!!!”  I may be a child but I still absolutely deserve to have my boundaries respected!

19. When you let me help fix the car and paint the house, I will believe I can do anything a boy can do. I need to be encouraged to believe that I can do anything I set my mind to… and you shouldn’t compare me to other people or I grow up doing the same– allowing my self-worth to be set in terms of how I compare to others’ abilities and achievements.

20. When you protect my femininity, I learn everything about me is worthy of protecting.  I feel some of these statements are redundant… this being one of them.  I’ll refer you again to numbers 7, 9 and 15 for this one.

21. How you treat our dog when you think I’m not watching tells me more about you than does just about anything else.   For example, hitting the dog so hard with a broom that it actually breaks in half… or teasing the cat relentlessly until he finally has enough and bites you and to punish him for sticking up for himself you throw him against the back door… or slamming the dog pen door into the side of the dog resulting in a wound requiring a substantial amount of stitches… all examples of things that might give the impression that you are to be feared, not trusted.

22. Don’t let money be everything, or I learn not to respect it or you. If you are continually spending money impulsively on “the next greatest thing” like the first microwave to come out, the first Betamax player, the first camcorder or timeshares we don’t need but condemn me for spending my money on something YOU think is unnecessary then I learn from you that the way of your world is “Do as I say, not as I do.”  I need you to set a good example for me to follow so I learn financial responsibility and stability.  And when your wife, my mother, admits that she tends to spoil me with money and things in an attempt to make up for the emotional connection lacking from my father I learn to self-soothe in the very same way– by spending money on myself, often money I do not have.  When I learn that “things” can make up for what I’m lacking inside I am never satisfied.

23. Hug, hold, and kiss me in all the ways a father does that are right and good and pure. I need it so much to understand healthy touch.  You, as my dad, do not need to physically touch me in an inappropriate way to be abusive.  Performing sexual things to my Mom in front of me is abusive and under no circumstances is that OK.  When you do this and see she is uncomfortable with it and politely asks you to stop and you persist it teaches me, in a sense, that women are here as an object to please men regardless of whether or not we are comfortable with what is happening.  When she nervously says “stop it” and you laugh and continue to do that to her in front of me it is a clear string of messages: “I do not care that you are uncomfortable. Your feelings are of no consequence to me.  I am allowed to do this to your mother despite her discomfort or yours.”

24. Please don’t lie, because I believe what you say.  This includes not going back on your word.  When you promise me you’ll be at my talent show performance you should be there– and no, getting me to give you my “permission” for you to get out of it is not an acceptable loop hole for not attending.

25. Don’t avoid hard conversations, because it makes me believe I’m not worth fighting for.  When I see you yell each time you and Mom have a disagreement and it ends in an explosive “then why in the hell did you marry me” followed by a week of mutual “silent treatment” and talk of divorce I do not learn effective communication and fear that each argument might be “the end” of the relationship.  I need to learn that true love means working through difficulties together by communicating effectively and that a relationship can even grow from these experiences.

Thanks for listening, dude.  I know you understand why I had to do this.

Love,

Laura

*The original article can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tara-hedman/what-little-girls-wish-daddies-knew_b_4581782.html

5 thoughts on ““What Little Girls Wish ‘Daddies’ Knew””

  1. Laura, I know how hard this post was for you to write and I commend you for your courage, strength and determination to tell the truth- as gut wrenching as it is. As you know, I was the daughter of a father who also did not demonstrate healthy relationship boundaries or behaviors, so I know what that does to a developing child AND the effects it has on that same child when she becomes an adult. A parent’s abusive behavior leaves scars that become sub-conscious patterns that play out in future relationships and the survivor of abuse continues to experience the negative repercussions in every area of her life. That said, the fact that you can identify “what dads should know” is evidence of your healing process. You are not in denial or attempting to justify or downplay your father’s behavior- you are naming it and exposing it for what it was/is: abuse. Thank you for being brave and speaking out. You never know who may read this and who may silently feel validated and supported by your words. Keep up the fight. Love you!

  2. This is a wonderful post. It kind of makes my stomach hurt and I’m so sorry that this was your experience, but you have expressed it in a beautiful way.

    I hope that your life continues in a way that brings you peace and comfort. 🙂

    1. Thank you for saying that. While I know it isn’t the kind of horrific trauma you read about in the newspapers, it is reassuring to know someone read it and thought, “that isn’t ok.” Thank you for that! <3

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