You always make me laugh when I read your column and I hope you can help me.
My husband Paul and I have been married for 10 years now and we love each other very much.
We have a very bright and sweet 6-year-old daughter and I’ve started to notice that although Paul loves her unconditionally, he has a hard time connecting with her.
I don’t expect him to do girly stuff with our daughter but worry that he is missing the best times to connect with a girl. Soon enough she will be off to college, with a boyfriend and I want her to look back and remember the great times she had with her dad.
He is not rude to her at all, I just wish there were a stronger bond between them. On our daughter’s part, she is a very shy and reserved girl and I feel that if the connection doesn’t come from him, it would never happen.
How can I approach the subject without hurting my husband?
Thank you and I hope you can make me laugh again…
Fiona, Long Island
Picture a beautiful little girl, younger than six, in a pink leotard, white tights, and tiny ballet slippers. Her little hands are perched on top of her head, but she’s too shy to pirouette across the dance floor in front of the other girls and their mothers. Now, picture next to her, a man, nearly six feet tall, close to 200 pounds, in that same position, twirling across the floor in coveralls and steel-toed boots, about as gracefully as Jabba the Hutt. Yep. That was me. And now, at fourteen, my daughter still laughs about it… and will always remember it.
Can Paul still connect with his daughter? Absolutely. Is he going to have to do some girly stuff? Probably. But you can help him. Here’s how:
Start with the truth… Sit Paul down and tell him just what you told me above. It may sting a bit, but this is about your child, so he’ll understand. This is an important situation and he either doesn’t know it’s happening, or doesn’t know what to do about it. When girls and boys are babies, there isn’t much difference between them, other than the plumbing and fixtures, but at age three or four, little girls can get confusing to dads. “Can I play football with her, or do I have to get her a dolly? If I play too rough with her, will I make her a tomboy? (and is that ok) When she cries, do I tell her to suck it up or do we talk about her feelings?”… and it gets more confusing, not less. Talk to Paul now, before she gets breasts and he moves into the garage.
Help them find common ground… As my daughter got older, and consequently more girly, it was harder to find interests we shared (They don’t make pink ballet slippers for my size 11 feet, and those tights are brutally confining.) Great interests for my daughter and I were music and books. The Beatles’ songs I sang to her as a baby have grown into the songs we now listen to together on our way to the mall. And all of those bedtime stories I read have turned her into a voracious reader. Now we trade books and have our own exclusive book club; just the two of us. And she’s started to write… (I’m grinning like a proud poppa!)
Teach him to Stretch his Mind… The common ground thing only goes so far. Eventually he’s going to have to go into some less than masculine territory. My daughter’s musical taste took me into “Jonas Brothers” land for a while (was Joe the cute one?), and quite a few of “our” favorite books contained shirtless vampires. (That’s right; I was team Edward. You want to make something of it?) He needs to understand that looking (and feeling) ridiculous for his daughter’s sake says a lot about how much he loves her. Other moms will think he’s great. Other dads have all been there. How his daughter feels is really all that matters. Feeling embarrassed is for suckers.
Tell him to think “boyfriend”… Like it or not, one day she’ll be dating. The way he treats her now will play a HUGE part in how she allows boys (and eventually men) to treat her in the future. Not paying attention to her feelings, showing no interest in her hobbies, making her feel like her ideas are foolish and not worth listening to; these are all things that a dad would choke a boyfriend for doing to his daughter.
As dads, men need to be extra careful to set a good example. If she plays Barbie, he should be Ken. At the tea party, he is a distinguished gentleman. He should open doors for her and offer her his arm when they walk. He needs to treat her at least as well as he would want a boyfriend to treat her. Remind him that dads are the first men that daughters ever have a relationship with. He needs to be a really tough act to follow.
There’s no overnight fix for connecting with a child, but it sounds like he loves her and you love them both, so my Magic 8 Ball says the outlook is good! Kiss and hug them both… and I hope I helped.
William Jones is originally from the tiny town of Alton, Illinois, and now lives in the tinier town of Reisterstown, Maryland. He is a happy husband and a proud father of three, and writes as a hobby, in those few moments he finds between husbanding and daddy-ing.