By Dale Reeves
Almost 28 years ago at Humana Hospital in Clear Lake, Texas, my wife gave birth to our first child, a daughter. Interestingly enough, both my wife and I (before meeting each other) had always wanted a Rachel, so we had no difficulty in naming our firstborn. Two years later my wife knew from the doctor what the sex of our second child would be; I didn’t want to know—I wanted to be surprised. We had names picked out for both a boy and a girl. On October 3, 1988, in the same hospital in which child #1 was born, #2 came along. It was at that moment that I knew what my future as a parent would be—I was destined to be a dad to two daughters.
I had read all the research that documented how important the relationship of a dad and daughter is to the emotional and spiritual well-being of girls. (Thank you, Dr. James Dobson!) As a youth minister, I had witnessed firsthand what could happen to girls who didn’t grow up with a healthy relationship with their dads. As I left the hospital a few days later with my wife, my mother-in-law, and baby Courtney in tow, and headed home to my house of estrogen, I determined that I would be the best possible father my daughters could ever have.
The Best She Can Be
At the end of the day, our job as dads is to know the natural bent of our children and nurture them so that they grow up as mature, emotionally stable, lovers of God. (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Proverbs 22:6.) The apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master” (The Message). As I understood it, my job was to gently but firmly lead them to have a heart after God. At times that might involve some tough love or discipline, but it always involves a relentless pursuit of their best, in the same way that our heavenly Father pursues us.
This Father’s Day, I stand at the brink of performing the marriage ceremony for our daughter Courtney. I am so excited about welcoming another dude into our family. (Shout out to you, Adam!) I’m asking myself if I’ve done everything that I needed to do to equip my daughter to be the best she can be as she begins a new family.
We could have a very long discussion about this, but for our purposes today, I’ve chosen to address three traits that I think are necessary for our little princesses to thrive in the grown-up world.
As my girls were growing up, I coached their softball teams. Not only did I want to see them develop self-discipline, learn to win confidently, and lose graciously, I also knew they would need to develop some toughness to survive all this world has to throw at them.
I’ll never forget the day that Courtney asked her mother and me what she should do on the base paths if a girl was standing in her way. So, as I was coaching third base and my wife was sitting in her folding chair, Courtney ran over the other team’s shortstop on her way to third. As the pig-tailed shortstop sat in the dust crying, Courtney looked up, in front of God and everybody, and exclaimed, “But, Mom, you told me to do that if the girl was in the way!” A bit of embarrassment and pride coursed through my veins at the same time.
Ah, tenacity. I wanted my daughter to grow up knowing who she was and whose she was—a confident daughter of the King, someone who would not be led astray by pressure from her peers or subject to the whims of those who did not know who they really were. I think my girl is pretty tenacious.
In Philippians 4:2, Paul pleads with two women in the early church, Euodia and Syntyche, to “iron out their differences and make up” (The Message). I’m not picking on women in the church here because I’ve seen plenty of grown men not able to get along (and I’m not just talking about on the church softball team). Courtney never liked what she called “chick drama” when it reared its head in the late elementary and middle school years. Some of her best buds have been guys, probably because of that reason. She stayed away from much of the drama and, as a rule, got along pretty well with everyone.
As my girls were growing up, we talked a lot about the differing personality traits in our family using the model popularized by Dr. Gary Smalley. Courtney knew she was a bit more like her father (the otter) than her mother (the beaver), but had learned very well how to interact with her sister (the lion). I felt like Courtney had a pretty good lead on understanding how her personality would mesh with Adam’s as they talked about this recently in their premarital counseling. It served her well as a soprano in a girls’ a cappella ensemble in college, currently as a high school math teacher, and I believe it will help make for a happy marriage.
We have the responsibility of helping our girls get along and play well with others. Their future happiness depends on it.
Paul is speaking to all Christ followers when he says, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12, New Living Translation). But, oh, how we fathers need to hear those words when it comes to loving our daughters. Just as godly tenacity is missing from some of our grown-up daughters today, so is tenderness. Perhaps we’ve swung the pendulum too far these days in which heroines like Katniss Everdeen, Princess Merida, and Queen Elsa have taken center stage. (Don’t know who they are? Ask your daughter or granddaughter.)
Sometimes in the quest to teach our daughters toughness, we’ve left tenderness behind. Their future spouses need them to be tender, loving, gentle, feminine, and beautiful, just as God created them to be.
The Best I Can Do
Humorist Garrison Keillor has said, “The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan.”
Guilty as charged—a pat of butter. Some of the most precious moments I experienced as a dad were one-on-one with my Courtney.
We still joke about the time that we had taken a spring break trip to visit Washington D.C. as a family. We spent the night at a motel, and as we turned in for the night we had told our daughters there would be a continental breakfast the next morning. Courtney popped up out of bed, got dressed first, and couldn’t wait to walk down the hall with me as we headed toward the breakfast area. As we walked hand in hand, she said to me proudly, “Daddy, I can’t wait to get to taste foods from all around the world this morning.” I hated telling her that was not the meaning of continental.
The first movie I ever took her to see was Beauty and the Beast. Not a bad example of tenacity, harmony, and tenderness! Some years later when we were at Walt Disney World, I actually got chosen to play the part of the Beast in front of lots of vacationing families for a show called “Storytime with Belle.” In the shadow of the castle, both of my daughters looked on and laughed, half-proud and half-embarrassed.
At times in our daughters’ lives we get to be their heroes; at other times, absolute nerds. Regardless, we have been given the privilege to make the best use of the time we have. For this reason I encourage you with these words from musician John Mayer: “Fathers, be good to your daughters; daughters will love like you do.”
Dale Reeves is the pastor of adult discipleship for Christ’s Church at Mason (Ohio).
Dale Reeves and Jess MacCallum have created a book of advice for fathers of daughters.
In each of these short, bite-sized chapters, fathers will be encouraged and challenged with sound, biblically-based advice, equipping them to guide their girls in the Christian faith—plus, they’ll encounter some humorous, common-sense tips along the way.
Available in July.