She looked so beautiful in white. My sweet baby girl. Holding back tears, I watched my daughter walk down the aisle. I remember thinking to myself, “There goes my little girl. Gosh, I sure hope she doesn’t poop herself.”
At just 21-months-old, she was, of course, the flower girl, and not the bride. But still, I proudly watched her going down that aisle toward her mommy. And then I had another thought, “Someday she is going to be the bride.”
And then, with that new thought, I hoped that I wouldn’t poop myself . . .
All fathers with daughters realize it eventually. Our little girls are going to grow up. They are going to start dating. They are going to fall in love, get their hearts broken, make bad decisions, make good decisions, and—eventually—get married.
When it comes to her choice in a husband, it’s easy to relinquish the responsibility. “She’s an adult,” you’ll tell yourself. “I did the best I could. I can’t choose for her.”
This is only true to a point. For at least the first eighteen years of her life, you are (or should be) the sole model of manhood and masculine love for your daughter. I’m not saying that if you have a mustache, she’ll marry a man with a mustache, but I am saying that you have a responsibility to help your daughter navigate her future romantic endeavors.
The best way you can honor your daughter is by being there for her.
Think of it like this. You are going to influence her romantic life no matter what (even if you run out—especially if you run out). Everything you say and do is impacting her ideas and beliefs about love, sex, and romance. Want to be a positive influence? Follow these five simple (but far from easy) tips.
1. Honor Her
The best way you can honor your daughter is by being there for her. This means spending quality time together. And by quality, I mean quantity—a quantity of quality time! This means showing her (not just telling her) that she is more important to you than the title on your business card, your golf score, and the car you drive. It means regularly doing things with her that she enjoys and wants to do (even if you hate doing those things). It means undivided attention. It ultimately means sacrificing for her, over and over and over.
Honoring your daughter also means striving to choose the-best-version-of-yourself each day. When you are at your best, your daughter reaps the benefits. She will see how a man should act. She will see how a man should speak to her. She will know what it means to be cared for and precious. Your best self is her best defense against bad men.
2. Protect & Defend Her
You are her daddy. From inside the womb, she becomes familiar with your deep voice. As a baby and toddler, she is in awe of your size and strength. When you fail to protect her, it’s confusing for her. Protecting her doesn’t necessarily mean fighting off predators (though it might —so stay in shape!), but it does mean teaching her about drugs and alcohol. It means having awkward conversations about sex. It means cutting through the lies of modern culture and telling her the truth. It’s about being counter-cultural because you know the culture is against her, you know the culture doesn’t want her to be happy. The culture wants her to be pretty—and to spare no expense to accomplish it.
When you held your baby girl for the first time, I hope you realized your life was no longer your own.
Protecting her also means setting rules she will not like. It means disciplining her and enforcing boundaries that will infuriate her. It means saying no and teaching her the beauty of modesty. When you set rules, when you put her safety and sanctity above her current opinion of you, you are telling her that you love her and that she is worth it. And she will understand this . . . eventually.
You must be involved in her life—even if it’s embarrassing for either her or you. It’s about knowing where she is going, what she is doing, what music she’s listening to, what movies she’s watching, and who she is spending her time with. It means teaching her how to make great decisions. But it also means not exploding when she makes a poor decision. It means hugging her and telling her you love her before lecturing her. It means comforting her when a boy breaks her heart. It means trusting her enough to make some decisions, and loving her enough to make some decisions for her.
It also means getting to know the men in her life. When your daughter starts dating, don’t let these boys off easy. Make them come to the house to pick up your daughter—no honking from the car. Shake their hands. Ask them what time they will be bringing your little girl home. And if they fail to keep their word, let them know you are disappointed. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, your approval of any guy will mean the world to your daughter. It will mean more than her friends’ or even her mother’s approval. If you disapprove of a man, tell her, but have reasons ready. If you like a boy or man in her life, tell her that, too!
Your daughter will largely form her sense of body image from you. Reinforce that she is just right. That she is beautiful and worthy of love.
3. Uplift Her
Girls are more verbal than boys. While you could probably get away with watching the game silently with a son, your daughter needs more than that. She needs you to constantly uplift and affirm her. She needs to hear that you love her. She needs to hear you say it, and she might even need to hear you say why you love her. And she needs you to do so joyfully and, ideally, without solicitation. If she does ask, try not to respond begrudgingly. Your body language can uplift (or disappoint) just as much as your words.
Your daughter will largely form her sense of body image from you. Reinforce that she is just right. That she is beautiful and worthy of love. Hearing it from you matters a lot in terms of how she views herself and, subsequently, what she will seek in a mate.
You can get in trouble here, so be careful. If you are only ever telling her how pretty she is—or if you focus on only how good she is at sports or how smart she is—there’s a good chance she’ll latch onto these parts of her life (looks, athletics, or academics) and put an unhealthy focus on them to impress you. Instead, uplift her character. Avoid putting too much emphasis on just a few superficial qualities.
4. Love Her
Your daughter needs your affection. She needs you to kiss her and hug her. She needs you to go out of your way to love her—to prove it regularly. As a teenager, when she acts out, she is really saying, “Do you love me, daddy? Do you love me enough to fight for me?”
If you make her feel special, like she’s the only girl in your life . . . she will want that in a future husband.
If you don’t provide her the love she’s craving, she will go out (when she’s old enough) and find some man who will. You probably won’t like the man she chooses. Our culture is incredibly hostile for girls. Young boys and girls are inundated with sexual advertisements and television programs from a very early age. Movies depicting a very distorted version of love can have PG ratings. If you think this has no effect on them, you’re wrong.
If you love her completely and unconditionally. If you pay attention when she speaks. If you really listen to her, without getting angry and without trying to fix everything. If you make her feel special, like she’s the only girl in your life . . . she will want that in a future husband. In fact, anything less than that won’t be good enough.
5. Honor, Protect, Defend, Uplift, and Love Her Mother
Before your daughter can speak, she is observing how you interact with her mother. She is understanding and learning more about love and husband-wife relationships than you know. How you treat your wife will “tint” your daughter’s romance goggles as she grows older. For the rest of her life, she will view romantic relationships—including her own—with those tinted goggles. The filter you’re creating by your interactions with her mother will color her own perceptions of love. So be affectionate toward your wife. Try not to fight in front of your daughter. And avoid making petty, snide, or sarcastic comments to each other. Kids pick up on these things.
If your marriage is struggling, I urge you to try to make it work. Divorce is hardly ever the answer, and it is almost always not what is best for the kids. You have a culture screaming at you, “Do whatever makes you happy!” But divorce is devastating on kids. Are they doomed to a life of misery and pain? No. But they will face challenges that they wouldn’t have if you stayed together—every study confirms this. If you are already divorced, be as involved as possible. You can still be a positive force in her life.
When you held your baby girl for the first time, I hope you realized your life was no longer your own. This is your time to sacrifice for your daughter. Love her mother. Make it work. Be involved. And never give up.
When you get married, you make solemn vows. When you have kids, you are given this little person without any vows or promises or even instructions. That’s weird, isn’t it? You don’t have to make a single promise to be a parent. But here’s my suggestion. Make vows anyways. Tonight, take some time to make vows to your daughter—whether she’s five weeks old, five years old, or fifty years old. Promise to honor, protect, defend, uplift, and love her, through good times and through bad, for the rest of your life.
Because what’s the surest way to guarantee your daughter will marry a great man?