If you’re a father to a girl, you’ve no doubt heard the John Mayer song “Daughters.” Mayer sings: “Fathers, be good to your daughters,” and the thoughtful song details the very impactful role fathers have on their daughters’ lives, influencing their relationships and the rest of their lives. As dads, we have tremendous opportunities to teach our daughters qualities like strength and independence—to stand up for themselves and to underscore that tenacity isn’t just for the boys.
These ten rules for my daughter illustrate that spirit.
Embody the ability to believe someone else when they tell you how they’re feeling. Grow as a person by being a support for others when you are able. Don’t ignore a new perspective just because you don’t understand it already or because you haven’t experienced it. You’ll learn so much more about this world—and about others—if you can practice empathy.
Develop that empathetic sense by listening actively. Pay particular attention to what others are saying, especially when they are struggling with something or providing you with specific information. (This can mean a friend in need or a teacher requiring your attention in school.) Catch the details. Give indications that you know they’ve been heard. This will help you grow as a person, and it can also save lives and help others improve.
Set Boundaries and Say No
While active listening and empathy are essential, you come first in your life, unless you decide to have children of your own. If something makes you uncomfortable, if you already have obligations, or if you don’t want to participate in something or accept someone else’s labels or limitations of you, you can and should say no. Set boundaries and only move them if you decide your level of comfort has changed. If you don’t want a hug or any other physical contact, you do not have to accept it. If you aren’t able to handle someone else’s problem now because you have too much homework or stress, let them know and provide them with another resource. You are the most crucial person in your life.
Be Assertive and Don’t Settle
Decide what you want and don’t settle for less. Whether it’s academic success, love, or your future career, don’t settle. Always respect those boundaries and the standards you set for yourself. Doing so will help you be an example, leader, mentor, and healthy parent if you choose to take on any of those roles. Re-evaluate what you want from time to time, as your needs and desires will change throughout life, as you will. Never forget your own needs: they are paramount to your success and crucial to supporting any other roles you take on.
Your Body, Your Rules
No one should make decisions about your bodily autonomy except you. If you’re not comfortable with something, you can be assertive. Set those boundaries, and set the rules. Being bold can be helpful on a date or if people at a party offer you drugs or alcohol. You can lean on your support system for strength in this regard: your parents, teachers, mentors, and your religious institution (if you choose to be religious) are here to support you making healthy choices for yourself.
Society conditions girls and women to apologize a lot. Of all the rules for my daughter, this one is the trickiest to catch. If someone else messes up or gets in your way, it isn’t on you to apologize. Apologies are meaningful when you genuinely do commit an error or hurt someone (and you will because even the best of us do). But not for other people’s mistakes.
Learn Practical Stuff: Continuously
From car maintenance to cooking to bank account balancing and computer coding, learning practical stuff is important and empowering. It will also help you empower others, as you can teach them. Practical things are useful, but they can also save you time and money. Think about how meaningful it is to bake a cake for someone’s birthday versus buying one, or how much money you can save by changing your car’s oil. Women who lead their own lives learn practical stuff—and they never stop learning. And as a rule for me, I am here to teach you that.
Play to Lift
“Play to lift” is an improvisational theatrical term describing how performers can make decisions to provide opportunities and improvements to the other actors. If life is a stage, this mentality surely applies. While you should always maintain your self-interest, think about how much stronger your community can be if you lift others up instead of competing with them. And think about how much that network of folks will help you through your life. Healthy competition is good, but when it turns sour, think about how much more you can accomplish by working together.
Indulge Without Guilt
You’re a hard worker with much integrity. Don’t forget to treat yourself now and then. Eat that ice cream. Take that vacation. And as you take on more roles throughout your life, never forget that each role is only one part of who you are. You are your own person with your own interests, and you deserve your own occasional indulgences. What will you want to do?
Love Fiercely and Endlessly
There is no limit to love, and that’s how I feel about you. I am trying to teach you to love fiercely and endlessly. As long as you lift others up and remember your boundaries and spirit, you will have a cup overflowing when it comes to your ability to love. Share it with those who deserve your time; then share some more. You’ll brighten up the world, and you already have brightened mine.
Are You a Dad Who Loves Your Daughter?
Do you enjoy taking an active role in your daughter’s life? Congregate with other dads on Fathers EveⓇ, the night before Father’s Day. We’re committed to raising our daughters with a strong sense of self. Join the brotherhood of fathers and follow us over on Facebook.