What Every Girl
Needs from Her Dad
It didn't start off as one of my top-ten days of being
a father, but it certainly ended up right near the top. In
fact, the day started with my having a dreaded conversation
with Kari, our oldest daughter.
Kari was going to turn sixteen-a major milestone
in most kids' lives these days. Like many soon-to-be-drivers,
there was the excitement and hope that a lovingly
used or perhaps even a new car with her name on
it would magically appear in the driveway. Only now I
was bursting that bubble, sharing with Kari the "final
word" that a car wouldn't be an option on her sixteenth
birthday-and not for that school year as well.
As we sat at the kitchen table, I talked with Kari
about the benefits of her saving money towards a car as
well as short- and long-term goals (i.e., spending money
on a car today versus saving for college tomorrow). I also
shared with her the challenge our small speaking ministry
was facing at that time. While many people suffered
far greater loses due to the terrorist attacks, in the three
months following September 11, 2001, we had eight different
speaking events cancel as a direct consequence of
that tragedy. In practical terms, that meant half of our
ministry's yearly income disappeared almost overnight.
And with all of those cancellations came missed paychecks,
lots of prayers, and belt tightening-and no
funds that might have been allocated for another car.
Before you write me letters, I know kids don't
needa car at sixteen. I also know that having a daughter (or
son) work to earn money for her own car is a far better
life lesson than just giving her one. And I know there is
nothing wrong with sharing a car, and we are blessed to
have not one but two cars that run well. But I also knew
that Kari is the youngest in her class, and living in affluent
Scottsdale, Arizona, she had watched classmate after
classmate turn sixteen and receive a car on their birthday
(and in several cases it was a new car, not a gently
Feel free to call me shallow, prideful, vain, or unspiritual,
but it still hurt inside when I sat down with Kari
that morning and told her, "Kari, even if it were an
option to get you a car, we can't afford to do that right
now." It is tough to look around at other dads who seem
to be able to provide so much in the way of tangible
things for their children and not get drawn into feeling
that because you can't do the same at that time, you are
somehow failing as a father.
I have to say I was proud of Kari's attitude that day at
the kitchen table. She was honestly disappointed, but she
took the news with grace and understanding. Yet what I'll
never forget about that conversation wasn't what happened
at the table that morning-but later that evening.
Kari and I were the last ones up as usual. She was
finishing homework, and I was working on an article due
the next day. She came into the study to let me know
she was going to bed. On cue, I got up and got her a glass
of water and followed her into her room. Though she is
a high schooler, we still follow the nightly ritual we
started when she was five years old of my getting her
water before bed. If my wife, Cindy, had been up, she
would have joined me. But it was very late and a kindergarten
teacher's day starts early. So it was I who tucked
Kari in that night, held her hand, and prayed a blessing
over her. As I started to leave, she kept hold of my hand
and pulled me back down on the edge of her bed.
Then she said softly, "Daddy, I know that was a hard
talk for you today, but can I tell you something?"
"Sure," I said.
"It's okay about the car.
You've already given me
what's really important
We both sat there as time froze for a moment. Then
her words melted into tears, and hugs, and finally smiles,
and then she fell asleep.
A Dad Who Was Never There
The memory of Kari's words and their deeper
meaning will stay with me for the rest of my life. On
one hand, hearing her words was a tremendous affirmation
for all the effort Cindy and I had put into
pouring our love and God's love into her life. Yet it
was also a poignant reminder that I didn't grow up
with warm, nighttime memories like that.
When I was growing up, my father didn't live under
the same roof I did. He left the family when I was an
infant, divorced my mother, and didn't reappear again in
my life until my brothers and I were in high school. I
spent years as an adult trying-though mostly failing-to
build a close relationship with my father. I even sat
and held his hand for eight and a half hours the day he
died of congestive heart and lung failure. Yet my father
died so emotionally distant from his sons, he didn't even
know the name of my youngest daughter when he died.
Certainly, I am not alone in not having a father at
home growing up. I'm standing in the same line as hundreds
of men I've met over the years who grew up
without an "in-house" role model. As a result, many of
us in this situation have struggled to connect with our
children, our spouse, or even with God. But while growing
up without a father certainly wasn't positive, it did
place in me a growing conviction that if God ever gave
me a family, things would be different in my home.
Being different from a neglectful father in your own
past is a laudable goal-but I also know that it takes
work, not just wishing for things to change. In fact, it
takes nothing less than "reversing the curse."
Reverse the Curse
When a father chooses not to connect with his
daughter (or son) then-like it or not, realize it or
not-he is passing down what the Bible calls a "curse."
In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, many
words carry pictures. The picture behind the word
curseis literally that of a "muddy trickle or stream." Whether
because of lack of rain or because the water upstream
had been dammed up, the picture of a curse is of a dry
stream with only enough moisture to dampen the
ground-not enough to provide a cool, longed-for, life-giving
Imagine you are a desert dweller, living in the ancient,
arid lands of the Bible. As you cross the desert, you finally
make it through the heat, rocks, and dust to what you
know will be a life-sustaining stream. Only once you
arrive at the stream, all your hopes and expectations turn
to dust. That's because instead of finding an oasis of life,
all you find is mud-caked misery.
cursecarries with it the picture of withholding
life, dirty water, unfulfilled longings, and deep
frustration. This graphic picture of the curse is certainly
what arose when Adam and Eve were driven from the
Garden of Eden into the wilderness-the curse that
Jesus died to reverse on the cross. ("But the Lord your
God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because
the Lord your God loves you." Deuteronomy 23:5
NASB; see also Galatians 3:13 and Revelation 22:3.)
In a spiritual sense, Jesus offered living water to
thirsty people who came to him, like the woman at the
well (John 4:10). He provided overflowing streams in
the desert to those who would follow him. But let's take
curseand apply it to what a father does or
doesn't do with his child-and particularly with his
Whether or not a father realizes it, a daughter looks
to her dad like a traveler looks for a stream in the desert.
But for many fathers and many reasons, life-giving
words, hugs, prayers, or affirmation are never poured
into their daughters' lives. Instead they are left with
only a muddy stream and a deep, nagging thirst in their
emotional and spiritual life that follows them into their
future. Only a few hundred clinical studies substantiate
this fact, a recent one being from the
Washington Post:"20 to 25% of children of divorce suffer . 'long-term
damage,' which includes lasting social, emotional or
In most cases, fathers who subtract from their
daughters' (or sons') lives aren't terrible people. My
father wasn't a bad person. Rather, most men who don't
connect with their children never had a loving father
themselves, and they simply don't know what to do.
This is why I jumped at the chance to write this
book. I wanted to provide a can't-miss, practical, put-into-action-today
bucketful of ideas that any father
could pour into his daughter's life-even if he, like me,
grew up without a father. What you will find in the
pages that follow are ways of providing clear, sweet,
thirst-quenching water of acceptance to your daughter.
This is a book short enough for a father to read on
both legs of a cross-country plane flight. But it is long
enough on ideas and insights to increase the level of
daily connection and caring between a dad and his
Little Things Count
So where does a dad begin to connect with his
daughter-particularly during those crucial years when
she is between eight and twelve years old? First, begin
with the knowledge that your decision to take positive
steps to bless your daughter will positively affect her for
the rest of her life. It is that important. During these
crucial years, your daughter will solidify her view of
men as well as internally decide whether she has a
bright future or feels shoved into the shadows of failure.
It is also the time when girls (and boys) make the
inner decision to be an optimist or a pessimist, and
linked closely with that, the decision whether their
heavenly Father is real and good or just some abstract,
uncaring concept. It is your actions, not just your words,
that will help shape her life.
Second, you will discover it is small, positive, doable
actions-like those you'll find in this book-that over
time will fill up your daughter's heart with what really
matters-namely, a heart full of your love and a heart
full of your heavenly Father's love.
For more than toys, more than boys, more than used
cars when she's sixteen, your daughter and mine need
and long for our acceptance, love, and blessing.
And in living out God's love for your daughter, you
will discover one of the most powerful ways to reverse
the curse from your own past, and heal the hurt you
may have experienced as well.
You Can't Hide Your Actions
I was only in second grade when the traumatic "parakeet
fiasco" happened in my home. One day our parakeet
escaped from its cage while I was at school. My grandmother
ordered my grandfather to catch the bird, and
after a long chase, he finally managed to throw a dishtowel
over Tweetie. However, as he held Tweetie and
attempted to lift the little gate to put the bird back in its
cage, the bird bit a large chunk out of the top of Grandfather's
right index finger.
Almost spasmodically, Grandfather squeezed his
hand and cried out, "Dumb bird!" (or some words to
that effect). My grandfather was an old Texan who had
spent his entire working life as a farmer and carpenter.
Even in his seventies, he had a steelworker's grip. While
he later swore on the Bible that he didn't mean to do
it, when he reflexively yelled out and squeezed poor
Tweetie in response to the pain, the result proved
instantly fatal to the bird.
What did my grandfather do with the now-deceased
Tweetie? In true Watergate fashion, he attempted what
came to be known around our home as "The Great
Parakeet Cover-Up." With Grandmother out of the
room-and knowing he was in huge trouble if she
found out what happened-Grandfather quickly put
Tweetie back inside its cage. He did so by wrapping its
little feet around the dowel perch that ran across the
cage, and pushing Tweetie over so he leaned up against
the side of the cage.
It was Grandfather's hope that somehow we would
think Tweetie was just asleep or had passed away peacefully
inside its cage. But the cold light of day brought forth
the truth. Or in this case, it was a room-temperature,
oddly shaped parakeet that led to pandemonium.
Why share this tragic story? Because it illustrates an
important point for every father.
Don't think you can
hide reality from your children or grandchildren. Don't
think you can fake a positive father image if it is not really
there.Luke 8:17 puts it this way: "But nothing is hidden
that will not become evident, nor anything secret that
will not be known and come to light" (NASB).
Our actions as a father do count, and like security
cameras mounted on ATMs, what we do is being recorded
in little minds and hearts day and night. Kids are like
God's little spies, always watching and remembering
everything-positive or negative. And our adding to their
lives, or subtracting, can't be covered up any more than
Tweetie's demise could be hidden.
Back in Kari's Room .
When I walked out of Kari's room, my eyes were
moist and my heart was overflowing with gratefulness.
In fact, I literally got down on my knees and thanked
the Lord for the father he gave me, despite all his failings.
And I thanked the Lord for filling in the missing
pieces and giving me the conviction to bless my own
children even when I didn't know how or where to
start. Finally, I thanked him for the hundreds of little
things that have helped Kari and her sister, Laura, know
at the deepest levels they are indeed loved and blessed
and accepted and special to me and to Jesus-with or
without a car.
Dad, nothing you can win or earn or conquer will
erase the ache of failing to connect with your own
children. I can think of some of the hundreds of men
I have counseled over the years-a two-star general,
an Academy-Award winner, a Hall-of-Fame athlete, a
famous race car driver, and a national platform pastor.
Each man has won great praise, fame, and fortune
in his particular arena-and each one lives with the
daily heartache of knowing his own children hate
him. (Many of those same children also hate or ignore
One of the most powerful ways to fill your heart
with daily deposits of inner peace and rest is to help
your daughter experience your love and God's love as
well (3 John 4).
May the Lord bless you as you seek to do all you can
to connect with your daughter in the days to come. And
know you're not alone in this task. Hundreds of fathers
visit the website www.strongfamilies.com, sign up to
receive the free weekly e-zine, and commit to being a
"home of light."
Men like you who are committed to loving the Lord
and their families.
Men committed to having strong families in these
Men who want to be everything they can for their