I don’t know if dedicating blog posts is a proper thing to do—but I’m dedicating this one to my father, Jason Mohler.
Some girls are naturally a “Daddy’s girl.” I’m one of them. But every daughter, apart from her propensities, benefits from a lifelong wholesome relationship with her father. The quality of their relationship can—and often does—make or break the quality of family life, youth groups, church life, marriages, and the next generation. This Father’s Day, I want to refresh in our minds the value and beauty of intentional father-daughter relationships.
It Can Be Done Well
All my life I’ve shared a wonderful, open, free relationship with my daddy. And it has been a major shaping influence on who I have become. From the time I stretched on tiptoes to “play the piano”’ with him, to when he gave me my high school diploma and a big hug, and even now, my daddy is my hero. I know beyond a doubt that he loves, likes, and cares about me. I admire and respect him more than any other man. When I was little, he was perfect in my eyes. I firmly believed he could do anything. Marvelous wisdom was shown in all he said and did. He seemed to always know the best thing to do, to lead our family and church with rare discernment, and to know God more closely than I thought possible. Among my group of little girl-friends, we would argue about whose dad was the best. (They all knew deep down that mine was.) After many disputes, we compromised and agreed that we each had the best father for us.
In my teenage years, as I grew in knowledge (and criticism), I found that—surprise surprise!—my daddy isn’t perfect. He has shortcomings that show up in daily life. He isn’t a flawless husband to my mama. He makes mistakes—and apologizes. Yet my respect for him grew as I watched him turn to Jesus when he lacked love, wisdom, and grace. Built on the foundation of our closeness growing up, it wasn’t hard for me to keep honoring him even after I outgrew the rose-tinted glasses of filial adoration. Another big factor was observing my mother’s unconditional respect for him, and she knows him best. If she had been tearing him down and magnifying his flaws, I would have learned to do the same.
You know how the things that bother you in other people, are often things you struggle with personally? It’s that way with my daddy and me. We’re similar in many ways. While I’d like to just focus on the admirable traits that I inherited from him, we also share many of the same weaknesses. So it’s very easy to criticize those things when I see them in him. It takes the humility and love God gives to forgive his weak points and mind my own. Relational dynamics like that have strengthened our friendship and built character, and how I wish every daughter could enjoy the same richness!
Daddy has raised a son and three daughters for God, and maintains a special closeness with each of us even into adulthood. It didn’t happen overnight, and it hasn’t been without rough spots. Daddy put thought and time into us. He made hard, “weird” life choices for the well-being of our family. Reserving one evening per week for quality time with one of us children has been a major contributor to the health of our family life for many years. On those nights he will say to us, “I love you, no matter what,” or “I’m glad I get to be your daddy,” and what a deep sense of security those words give! One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is the morning of my seventh birthday, when Daddy came to wake me up, bearing a little potted rosebush in full bloom. He was sensitive to my likes and interests, and knew me well enough to know what lights me up—unlike many fathers I have observed. Practical ways of “speaking love” like that really make all the difference. He took time to befriend each of his children and shepherd us in the ways of King Jesus—even his daughters, although we are more complicated to relate with than his son. The moral of the story is: our communities and the world need more fathers like him. Not perfect, but purposeful.
Our Need for Better Father-Daughter Relationships
The relationships between fathers and daughters have been seriously neglected. It’s an element of Christian family life that very few give attention to. The consequences are long-lasting and far-reaching, affecting our churches, others’ view of God, and future marriages. Just maybe, the youth “drift” in conservative churches which concerns parents so much, stems partly from this overlooked area. Converse with any young lady and within ten minutes you can usually tell if she’s a thankful daughter, an indifferent daughter, or a resentful daughter. Watch her be a wife and mama and you’ll see the trickle-down effects of a healthy or strained relationship with her dad.
It’s saddening how few of the young women I’ve known enjoy a healthy relationship with their dad. How few have grown up with fatherly friendship and affection showered on them. The thing with this lack of good father-daughter relations is that the side effects rarely show up until the teenage/young adult years. From the outside everything can seem happily normal for a while. But in every girl, from babyhood to womanhood, there is a daddy’s-love-shaped hole in her heart. When he fills it, by loving her well and earning her trust and affection, she will thrive. She’ll be free to bloom into sweet, carefree girlhood, secure in who she is and confident of her daddy’s love and protection.
A young woman who has not felt her father’s love will often try to fill that hole in her heart with other things (though she should first go to God). She may form hyper-attached friendships with other girls. She may pour that adoration onto girls she admires, often the sort who negatively influence the insecure. Having little closeness to and respect for her dad will affect how she relates to other authorities. Eventually, she will seek attention from boys in any number of ways. In adulthood she may date men who just make her feel loved, not considering their real character, out of desperation for the heart-to-heart care of a man. She will feel a certain emptiness all her growing-up years, and try to fill it with unhealthy substitutes. And as I said earlier, it’s bound to affect her marriage and parenting.
To the Fathers…
If you have a daughter (currently or in the future), please don’t underestimate the value of a strong relationship with her. Yes it takes work, time, intention, even discomfort. The care of her heart as she grows up is no small responsibility. Conflicts will arise, your personalities might clash, but it’s worth it all. Parents are the first type of “God” that children ever experience—so love and care for her, from little up, the way God loves you. Let her know you want to help bear her burdens, and lead her to the arms of the Heavenly Father.
Treat her with dignity, as a gentleman treats a lady, especially as she matures into womanhood. It can be hard for fathers to continue a close friendship as their daughters leave behind the fun, carefree stage of childhood. But the quality and richness of her young womanhood is impacted for better or worse by how you interact with her. Treat her how you want her future husband to treat her—because your relationship is practice, in many ways, for how she will love and respect him. Bear with her inconsistencies and moods. Be a steady, dependable father she can count on through her good and bad times.
Let her know you like her as much as you love her. Call her “daughter” or “princess” once in a while—you have no idea how much good that does a girl’s heart! Maybe even tell her you think she’s pretty, or looks nice today, or anything like that. Such little remarks can spare her much heartache from body image or self-esteem issues. A good-night kiss on the cheek and semi-regular hugs, from the toddler stage to early teens and maybe beyond, will go a long way in satisfying her built-in need for affectionate, pure physical touch from a man. Include her in your work, play, and leisure when appropriate. One-on-one time is huge—it’s definitely been the single biggest contributor to my relationship with my daddy. Incorporate all five of the love languages as she grows up. Find out which ones she especially values. Speak them at every opportunity. I could go on and on. The bottom line is, your daughter thrives under loving fatherly attention, and shrivels up inside without it.
To the Daughters…
You might have a wonderful father who is easy to submit to and appreciate. Or maybe your father hasn’t been a good protector and caregiver, and it’s hard. Either way, your part is to cultivate friendship with him. Maybe you’re not a “Daddy’s girl” and are only close to your mom. Still, make it plain that you look up to him, want his input, and appreciate his authority. Even when you don’t feel it, it’s amazing how words and actions can lead your emotions! Speak respectfully. Discover his preferences and go out of your way to “make his heart glad” (Prov 27:11). Verbally appreciate his strong points. Pray about the weaknesses you see in him. Watch for chances to be one-on-one and initiate open conversation. Confide in him and ask for advice. Think of ways you can express each of the five love languages to him in daily life—even better, figure out which ones speak love the loudest to him.
Our fathers have a far more experienced and wise perspective on life, and we do well to heed what they say, especially during the teenage years. It’s so freeing to be able to talk together about modesty, music, friends, church problems, young men, your dreams, your walk with God, world events, theology—anything. So do what you can to reach some level of confidence with him. Entrusting the affairs of the heart to your dad is a tremendous safeguard against heartbreak. Naturally, there comes a time when you’re an adult and things are up to you, not him. But even then, in an ideal relationship, you still welcome his counsel.
Maybe there has been actual or suspected moral failure in your father’s life. Maybe he has put up a relational wall to keep his wife and children from getting too close. In painful home situations, healing father-daughter relationships takes even more hard work. It’s difficult to rebuild trust once broken—but let me point out that it is possible to honor your father even if you don’t trust him. And by the way, it’s also biblical, so we don’t have an option (Ephesians 6:2).
I know there are many—too many—girls in conservative churches whose fathers are disengaged, absent, or abusive. The hurt that results is unimaginable, and to those girls I can only say I am so, so sorry. We have only one perfect Father, God, the Source of our life and the truest Lover and Protector of our hearts. That sounds cliche, but it’s true. God loves us through many different mediums, and I pray we all are awake and receptive to that perfect love. Only be careful how your view of your father might have distorted your view of God. The lack of a father’s love does leave a hole, but it can be more than filled by the intense, constant, unfathomable love of our Heavenly Father. No matter how awful your situation, may He say to you, “Daughter, your faith has healed you” (Matthew 9:22).
I have been blessed with a loving and purposeful daddy, so it’s easy for me to talk about this. We also need to listen to the fathers and daughters who’ve had difficult relationships, and care for and learn from them. Of course, most of what I’ve said here is applicable to father-son relationships as well. From a broad perspective of the church today, we have much room for improvement in the health of our parent-child connections. We can’t afford to go on thinking they don’t matter. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, please start taking steps to get better acquainted. Show your love for each other in spite of clashing differences. Learn to like each other. Trust and respect each other. Communicate clearly. Laugh together! It’s worth all the discomfort, and all of your other relationships for generations to follow will benefit. Most importantly, loving your children and honoring your parents is one thing that God has unmistakably called us to. The Father and the Son set the perfect example. Now our part is to follow and obey, with the help of the Holy Spirit. May next Father’s Day find us all a bit closer to the beautiful father-daughter harmony for which God designed us.