By: Martin Bearg, Esq.
When I was growing-up, my father would have his work week, which I heard about at dinner each evening, and then his weekend routine of going to the cleaners, mowing the lawn, doing repairs to the cars and going to the hardware store (before Lowe’s and Home Depot). I cannot remember him saying “I love you,” but he demonstrated it by taking me with him, and teaching me various skills.
When I became a father of a daughter, I not only made certain I ate meals with her (often making them on weekends-French toast, waffles and pancakes), but I took her on Sunday mornings to have breakfast with my twin brother. Like my father taught me, I taught her to ride a bicycle, and at 16, I taught her to drive.
Knowing my former spouse was an absent parent, when she was about ten years old, I broached the subject of a woman’s period. She bluntly told me she knew all about it from health class in school. Nevertheless, there were times when I had to pick-up the pads or tampons she needed.
As someone who writes fairly well, my daughter would ask for help with her English assignments or other writing assignments. She actually wanted me to write the paper for her the first time, and after crying and screaming, she settled down and I told her that this was her homework, not mine, but I would be happy to proofread and make suggested changes. For most of middle school and high school, this worked well, with her winding-up with good grades. Many times she would email me something she wrote at home to my office so I could make suggestions, which I emailed back to her.
As a youngster she wanted to play T-Ball, so I attended T-Ball games. As she got older, she jumped into music and played six instruments. I was at each recital and many marching band performances, even giving my time to help the pit crew set up to perform at half-time.
We had our arguments. All children, both males and females, believe that their parents are out-of-touch with the world until they reach about twenty-one, but the key to my success was not yelling, even if I was yelled at. I told my daughter (and son) I was not their buddy. I was their father. I did not yell at them, and they did not have the right to yell at me. I tried explaining why I would or would not permit my daughter to do or not do something (once it was as simple as denying her the right to get pierced ears before age twelve-I know this is a custom in some nationalities and I do not make this statement as a criticism). She did not have to like it. She did not have to agree with me, but I wanted her to be treated as an adult and know my decision was not arbitrary. This understanding came very early (ages 1-3) as I never threatened to punish, even if it was merely taking us both home from a party, a restaurant, or other event without following through.
My daughter was struck with cancer at the age of 16. I took her to almost every appointment for treatment. I called around the world to see what, if anything, could be done. I spent every lunch time and evening after work by her bed, but let her friends be with her on weekends and attend school when she was well enough to do so. Demonstrating love, but not suffocating her.
My daughter is no longer alive, but my son knows, and my daughter knew, that I love them and that they could/can count on me. Having a child changes one’s life from being self-centered, or sharing with a wife (and hopefully extended family), to having to remember you just cannot pick yourself up and go out with the boys or to a movie without arranging for a babysitter or until they reach an age they can care for themselves. Hopefully we give them values, by both having discussions about personal matters and world events, and perhaps even some faith or religion. Kids learn by seeing and listening.
I am not an expert on parenting. None of us are. We all make mistakes. I told my children when I did and apologized. It does not make us less respected or in control. It shows our children that they can screw-up (obviously, we pray it is not a biggie) and feel that they can come to us for advise, guidance, or help. It is creating that bond of love, and doing things you would rather not do that helps us have a good father/daughter relationship.
Remember, if your mother or mother-in-law is still alive, or you have a sister, and you have a good relationship with them, they can be the greatest helpers in helping you to understand your maturing daughter and handling some things that you are uncomfortable doing. You need not be alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Martin Bearg is a father and attorney living in New Jersey.
- On Raising a Daughter
- Lessons from Dad: Becoming a better parent
- A Letter to all Father’s with Daughters from the desk of a “Daddy’s Girl”
- 10 Steps to Calmer Parenting
- Teach Your Daughter to Embrace Her Differences