Playing the 'Dad Card'

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Some time ago my adult daughter wrote asking me to play what she called the “dad card.” If you knew my free-spirited daughter, you would understand that this is not a common occurrence. She has grown up to be a confident young woman quite capable of managing her own life, no matter where she happens to be.

Later she confided that her confidence draws from the fact that she has the “dad card” up her sleeve that can be played in the unlikely event she might need it.

The “dad card” defined

The “dad card” symbolizes the strong relationship that should exist between every father and daughter—a relationship that endows her with the sure knowledge that she can invoke her father’s name and intrinsic authority to seek protection, comfort or security in time of threat or need.

It’s a relationship that must be built over time; it’s a relationship that will be tested during the stormy teenage years. Its strength is critical to her development and maturity because studies repeatedly show that you as a father matter more to your daughter than any other man.

On that day it mattered and she played the “dad card.” This experience caused me to think more deeply about the continual importance of the relationship between a father and his daughter. Do we value this relationship? More importantly, for me, had I given it enough ongoing attention?

The prophet Malachi highlights the importance of the father-child relationship in our time by prophesying that the “hearts of the fathers” must be turned “to the children” and the “hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6 Malachi 4:6And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
American King James Version×
).

To be sure, the heart of the father must focus on all his children, but this article focuses on the father-daughter relationship. The curses referred to by Malachi are the naturally occurring consequences resulting from the violation or neglect of timeless principles contained in God’s revealed instruction—”remember the Law of Moses,” Malachi urges his end-time audience (Malachi 4:4 Malachi 4:4Remember you the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
American King James Version×
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For every 21st-century father seeking a strong relationship with his daughter or daughters, two books are a must-read: The Bible and a recent book by pediatrician Meg Meeker, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.

The Bible contains timeless principles that, properly applied, will equip your daughter to succeed in our complex world. Dr. Meeker’s straight-talking book confirms their contemporary validity from a medical practitioner’s perspective.

The good news, contemporary culture notwithstanding, is that you can have a significant influence on your daughter’s development and success. In fact, Dr. Meeker’s research and years of clinical experience confirm that you may well be the person who can have the greatest influence.

No loving father can look into the crib of his newborn daughter or gaze into her eyes in the years to come without feeling a sense of pride that awakens protective instincts deep within him. It can also arouse serious feelings of inadequacy at the daunting task at hand. Still, Dr. Meeker claims, and the Bible confirms, that it is a task that can be mastered—imperfectly perhaps but, even so, not without great positive influence.

A father’s role model

The Bible is a book about family relationships. It even describes salvation in familial terms: “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18 2 Corinthians 6:18And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
American King James Version×
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God’s commitment to His family is eloquently articulated in what is perhaps the most-quoted passage in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×
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Fathers, if you want your daughters to be strong enough to face the many challenges of our contemporary world, then you must so love your daughter as God loves you and be willing to give of yourself for her.

Your daughter needs you to both love her tender and love her tough. Stated another way, you must be strong enough to protect her from her surroundings—and at times from herself—yet sensitive enough to hold and hear her when she needs your tender touch.

Tall order? Absolutely! Lofty expectations? Perhaps. Impossible in our contemporary world? I don’t think so—and neither does Dr. Meeker nor the God who created the relationship in the first place.

What is God’s plan?

In the very beginning God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”—for the purpose of filling the earth (Genesis 2:24 Genesis 2:24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×
). Mankind was created to build familial relationships, to have children and nurture those children with the express purpose of enabling God through Jesus Christ to bring many to glory—to salvation in His Kingdom (Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
American King James Version×
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God expects fathers to play a critical role in His great plan. The Bible unequivocally defines the family as a unit headed by a father and mother with the father occupying the primary leadership role.

The apostle Paul provides guidance that is essential in building a strong father-daughter relationship: “And, [you] fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 Ephesians 6:4And, you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
American King James Version×
, King James Version).

Teach principles, without provocation

Paul’s admonition to use a child-rearing style that nurtures rather than provokes is especially important in building a strong father-daughter relationship. Further, it defines the Lord as the source for the “nurture and admonition.” This sets a very high standard but leaves no ambiguity about the fact that the relationship between a father and a daughter must be built on godly principles.

Paul undoubtedly knew the classic instruction in child rearing given by God through Moses around 1,500 years before: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 Deuteronomy 6:6-7 [6] And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: [7] And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
American King James Version×
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The “words” referred to in this passage—summarized in the Ten Commandments—form the basis for a principled life that is at odds with our contemporary culture of lust and license. Nevertheless, these timeless principles form protective boundaries for the family and the father-daughter relationship.

A key element in this passage is the instruction to the father that these principles should first “be in your heart.” One of the ground rules of successfully instilling principles in your daughter without provocation is that you must be convicted of those principles yourself. If you stand for your principles, your daughter will consider you a hero. If you try to instill principles in your daughter of which you are not convicted, you become a hypocrite.

The power of a strong example

Dr. Meeker lists teaching your daughter who God is as one of 10 secrets every father should know about building a strong relationship with his daughter.

She relates an anecdote about Heather, a patient who stopped by for a checkup just prior to leaving for college. Heather expressed her excitement about learning Spanish so she could work at an orphanage. To Dr. Meeker’s query about why Spanish, Heather responded:

“Now, Dr. Meeker, I know you’re gonna think this is kind of crazy and it might not make sense to you, but, well, you see, every morning, my dad and I were the first ones up in our house . . . My dad has really strong faith. That’s why he got up so early every morning to pray and read the Bible.

“My dad’s a happy man, but he’s not one of these guys who talks to everybody. Sometimes he would talk to us about God, but mostly he liked to just live what he learned from his Bible reading in the morning. Anyway, every day I went off to school, I felt so good knowing that my dad had gone to his chair and, I’m sure, prayed for me that day.

“I can’t tell you how good that felt. Somehow, I know that helping poor people, particularly poor kids, would make him really happy. I mean, he wants me to do what I want to, but I really want to be like him. He would do this. And, you know, Dr. Meeker, I want to know what my dad knows about God. I think that working in an orphanage might be a good way to do that” (Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, 2006, pp. 191-192).

This story illustrates the powerful influence a father genuinely committed to his principles can have on his daughter. This father either knowingly or unwittingly followed the instructions in Deuteronomy for teaching principles: “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

Dr. Meeker’s observations from the course of her medical career confirm the effectiveness of this approach in the father-daughter relationship: “When she’s in your company, your daughter tries harder to excel. When you teach her, she learns more rapidly. When you guide her, she gains confidence.

“If you fully understood just how profoundly you can influence your daughter’s life, you would be terrified, overwhelmed, or both. Boyfriends, brothers, even husbands can’t shape her character the way you do. You will influence her entire life because she gives you an authority she gives no other man” (p. 8).

According to Dr. Meeker, many fathers wrongly assume that they have little influence over their daughters, particularly during the teenage years. Nothing could be further from the truth. If your relationship is strong—and even if it is not—your daughter craves your attention and influence. Give it to her every single day.

Love her tender

You are the first man in her life, and as such you will hold a place held by no other. Expressing love in word and in deed is paramount in building a strong relationship. Time and physical contact are very important to your daughter.

Jesus Christ took time and made physical contact with the children who came to Him: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there” (Matthew 19:13-15 Matthew 19:13-15 [13] Then were there brought to him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. [14] But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. [15] And he laid his hands on them, and departed there.
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From the time your daughter is young, she craves your affection. This continues as she grows up: “Fathers often assume that their teenage daughters want to be left alone and don’t want to be hugged. This is not true—in fact, it couldn’t be more wrong. She needs your touch during these years even more than when she was five . . . Just be dad: be confident, defend her and be supportive, and don’t back away from hugging her” (p. 96).

Your love must also be articulated in words and symbolic gestures. Dr. Meeker suggests writing notes expressing your pride and love. As with physical affection, this becomes even more important during the teenage years leading to adulthood.

In my case I pondered long and hard how I might effectively communicate my support and feelings to my soon-to-be teenage daughter.

Finally, I came up with a plan. I took my daughter to a nice restaurant on her 13th birthday to present her with a “coming of age” gift I had acquired after considerable thought. It was a heart-shaped gold locket attached to a gold necklace that was hers to wear. It came with a matching gold key that I would keep.

Her heart, I told her, was very precious and needed to be protected. In the coming years as she would grow into an attractive young woman, I explained, men and boys—some good and some bad—would begin competing for her heart. The locket was there to remind her of the value of her heart and that I held the key to it for her protection. When the right guy came along, I assured her, he would be courageous enough to come ask me for the key.

To my delight, the presentation had its desired effect—she loved it. Three years later I augmented our symbolic agreement with a diamond and a poem. Other jewelry came and went, but the necklace with the heart-shaped locket became a permanent part of her wardrobe—worn every day through high school and college into adulthood.

Expressions of affection and support are precious opportunities fathers cannot afford to miss because they build a relationship that will be able to weather the stormy seasons that are sure to come. However, when difficult times do come, the strong relationship will carry the day.

Love her tough

The difficult part of being a father is to know how and when to love your child tough—but that also is part of your job and your daughter expects and needs it. She needs to know that you will be there during hard times, puberty, bad attitudes and all.

There are times when she will test your resolve—you are her dad and you must have her best interest at heart and protect her from herself and her peers. You must provide enough freedom for her to learn and enough protection to keep her from irreparable harm.

Dr. Meeker relates the story of another patient, 16-year-old Chelsea, who wanted to go to the movies with her 17-year-old boyfriend. Her father wisely told her that she could go but that she would have to answer some questions for him. He asked her what she would do if her boyfriend asked her to go to the drive-in instead. She would go, she responded.

What if he pulled two six packs out of the trunk. Would she drink? Would she ride with him if he got drunk? No, she said, she wouldn’t drink and she would call for a ride home.

How many beers would it take to make Tom unable to drive? “ ‘Come on, Dad,’ she said, ‘It’s not hard to tell: maybe six or seven beers.’ Chelsea’s answer, [her father] admitted, caught him off guard. She had given all the right answers all along. Then, bingo, [with her wrong answer] he was reminded she was sixteen, and that meant he needed to move in the fences. Loving Chelsea meant no drive-in, no beer, but one movie at the theater, and then straight home afterward” (pp. 54-55).

This example shows that even good kids need guidance as they navigate the path from adolescence to adulthood. Often the right course of action, as was the case with Chelsea’s father, is not popular.

The strength of the relationship you have built will carry you through when tough decisions are necessary to protect her and keep your principles intact. As Dr. Meeker explains:

“Defending her in a toxic culture is challenging when she is eight, nine, and ten. The challenges can intensify as she grows older. Notice that I said ‘can.’ This is because I’ve found that girls whose parents are reasonable, firm in their guidelines, and not overbearing understand early on that their parents are on their side and ‘get’ what is going on in their world. That minimizes battles over movies, clothes, and the rest” (p. 99).

Use your “dad card” wisely

Your daughter needs a “dad card” that symbolizes your unconditional commitment to her. It will endow her with the confidence and character to succeed in life.

It is a daunting task and one that can only be mastered by playing the “dad card” available to you—a strong relationship with your loving Heavenly Father, the God of the universe. Paul urges us—fathers included—to go “boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×
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It is a card you cannot afford not to play. Only God can teach you fully how to be the right role model and pass on His principles without provocation. Only He can give you the love, both tender and tough, that will endear you to your daughter so she will feel secure and protected even when battle lines are drawn. Only He can enable you to have the wisdom and balance required for the important task of building and sustaining your relationship with your daughter.

Reach out to God, study His Word and act on your paternal instincts. Your daughter will thank you for it on the day she needs to play the “dad card.” GN

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