They say there is nothing like the relationship between a daughter and her father. You are our heroes, our dragon slayers and The Keepers; you keep us safe, guard our little hearts and build the foundation for the woman we are to become. When we are little you are the strongest man we’ve ever met. You can do no wrong. Until we get a little older and boobs and boys come knocking.
Then you turn crazy.
Well, my dad did. I hope you managed to keep it together better than mine. Boys completely knocked him off his Superhero game. In the event you haven’t gotten to those days of dating and independence, let me give you a little insight taken both from personal experience and interviews I’ve conducted with women on the subject of self esteem and messaging.
You, dear dads, will teach us boundaries and how we should expect to be treated by men. You alone are the example we will weave into our relationship fabric and we will either be subconsciously conditioned by your messaging or consciously decide we want the exact opposite of you and what you’re trying to sell.
Wouldn’t you rather consciously navigate the years where we scare you the most?
How you speak to women, be it our mother, the women in our community and those that work for or with you, we hear you. We hear the compliments. We hear the scorn. We hear the, “Oh, you women…” or “Just like a woman…” and the teasing smile on your face doesn’t make it any less impactful, What about us women? Do all guys just put up with us? We must be a real handful. I should just be thankful to have one that deals with me.
We also hear the way you talk to or look at women when you are with your friends. If you flirt with women other than our mother, degrade women, even jokingly, we are being told we are lesser, other, and if we have our wits about us, we begin to lose respect for you. That hero you once were suddenly looks weak, flawed. Our foundation begins to shake because we could trust you when we toddling, eating solids and writing letters, but navigating social circumstances are the bigger lessons, dad. They’re the ones where we need you to come through for us. We need to see men who respect us behind our backs. Now more than ever.
When puberty begins, please don’t roll your eyes, disappear or leave it to our moms. We need to believe we’re normal and still your little girl when our bodies are betraying us. That’s how it feels. Did you know that? We are mourning our little girl days and scared of new attention. Men begin to look at us differently and we aren’t ready for it. We need our fathers to treat these moments as milestones and have the hard talks. When you hide from us or tell us to cover up the bodies we don’t know what to do with, you are telling us there is something shameful about what is happening. In my interviews with women there is a direct correlation between self esteem around sexuality when parents don’t talk to their children about the “birds and the bees” or act as if a woman’s body is shameful. It breeds the understanding that a woman is for the pleasure of men, which leads to promiscuity, when puberty and conversations around sex are ignored and pretended away. Please don’t fail us here.
In the past 72 hours I have had conversations with two very different women from two very different walks of life who attribute their self image to comments their fathers made about their bodies. One worried she may be betraying her father’s legacy by acknowledging that his warnings about her burgeoning shape, and hips more specifically, colored the way she viewed her body for the rest of her life. The other also shared that her diminished relationship with her body was a result of the “Freshman 15-ish” that her father aggressively encouraged her to lose.
Both dads were great dads. Neither realized their messaging was doing damage in a society that teaches a boy his body is a machine and how to fuel it for maximum performance, yet teaches a girl that she is her size and gender. The ad men are not kind to us, dad. We need you to take that into account.
My father didn’t talk to me about weight. That never came up and for that I am thankful. It was his viewpoints on modesty and men that did me in and it wasn’t intentional. I was taught that my body was something to hide because of what it could cause men to do or how they would respond to me. It was shameful and I believed any attention I got was a direct result of how I presented myself. My dad, a good man and a great father, had no idea I began to disconnect from my own body. I have spent most of my life hiding under clothes too big for me so as to not bring on unwanted attention. It took me until this year to wear yoga pants outside my home or the gym and it was because of a dare.
Oh my God, yoga pants are so much more comfortable than jeans on a four hour flight. Bless you, Jess, for that dare.
Dads, please don’t be scared of us. Don’t disconnect. We need you when you think it is time for mom to take over. Maybe you can’t have the same conversation, but you can be the man that, through your presence, convinces us that no man who thinks we’re gross or annoying simply for being a woman is worth our time. That is part of your charm –your protective nature. You are the first man in our life. We just ask you to consciously set the standard for the ones who come next and realize your words are indelible.
After all, we will always be your little girls at heart.