Dads are somewhat notorious for being poor communicators where feelings are concerned and, for some reason, that’s particularly true when it comes to their daughters. Regrettably, daughters often interpret their fathers’ silence (or awkwardness) in the face of life circumstances that demand (or would greatly benefit from) a heightened degree of vulnerability to mean that their dad is disinterested in them, lacks empathy or, worse yet, is simply insensitive to their needs. Sometimes, daughters harbor those perceptions for the better part of a lifetime (https://donblackwell.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/a-daughters-heart). And yet, nothing could be further from the truth! To the contrary, if the men I met during the course of our daughter’s illness (and, more recently, at conferences and webinars that I’ve been privileged to host) are fairly representative of the whole (and I believe they are), most dads care deeply about their daughters. Moreover, though we may sometimes appear to be “clueless” as to how to go about accomplishing it, I suspect every dad silently thirsts for a closer (i.e., more emotionally intimate) relationship with their daughter. I certainly do and while lately I think I’ve done a better job of figuring things out – at least where the vulnerability piece is concerned – I know all too well the sense of longing for (and uncertainty of the means to achieve) that objective, which is what led me to write this post. So, if my fellow dads will permit me, I thought I’d share a few “secrets” of our own collective hearts in the form of an “open letter” to daughters everywhere, who may still be wondering about us and, more critically, about our feelings towards them:
To Our Little Girls –
It seems like only yesterday that we held you in our arms for the first time.
It was love at first sight.
From that moment on, you’ve held a very special place in our hearts – a place reserved only for you.
When you were little, it was “easy” to let you know that. We could hold you tight, comfort you when you were sad, tell you bedtime stories and tuck you in – and we did. You probably don’t remember those special father/daughter moments, but we do.
But, as you grew older, things got more complicated for us where you were concerned.
You were becoming young women, perhaps before both of us were ready for all those changes – and we weren’t at all sure how to respond, how we fit in to your emerging womanhood.
We wondered if it was still “okay” to hold to you as tightly as we once did (or hold you at all), to kiss you, to tuck you into bed – to dry your tears and comfort you.
We looked for other ways to stay connected with you and share our love, ways to stay engaged in your life, to discern the role you wanted us to play as you entered your teenage years, but we confess we struggled with that – a lot.
We assumed, without asking, that your mom was the person you wanted/needed for all those “girl (and boyfriend) things” and that you would let us know if/when you needed us and how we could help.
Between your mom and your friends (who took on an increasingly important role in your life), it seemed like you were doing “just fine” and growing more independent (and less in need of us) with each passing day.
Part of us was content to watch you grow, but we missed you – we missed “us”.
Only now have we come to realize, however, that we may have missed the most important thing of all – the realization that you were missing us too and maybe even misconstruing our distance and seeming “absence” as indifference.
If only we had known then what we know now.
If only, rather than trying to “guess” at what each other was thinking or hoping one of us “would get it” from the unspoken “bread crumbs” we were leaving in each others’ lives, we had simply talked, allowed ourselves to be more vulnerable with one another.
Maybe we could both be a little better about that going forward?
In the meantime, lest there be any doubt in your mind, know this . . .
there has never been a day since you were born when we haven’t loved you,
a moment that has passed when we haven’t thought of you,
an occasion where we weren’t proud of you or felt disappointed in you or
a time that we wanted anything but what was best for you –
today is no exception, nor will tomorrow be.
Because, while we may not always be great at showing it, let alone expressing it (!), we love you and we value you!