In a world where the relationship between fathers and sons often comes first, what should dads share with their daughters? What can they offer that is sustainable?
As the older brother of three boys, I certainly didn’t have insight growing up with my brothers. And honestly, as a father of a girl, I didn’t start thinking about this until a year after she left home. However, after some success with hindsight, the wisdom of a Nobel laureate and the insights of Australian researchers, we can confidently say that fathers can contribute to the wisdom, wealth and well-being of their girls.
My own initiation into the world of fatherhood was decidedly inglorious. I thought I had done most of the work finding the name of our soon-to-be-born daughter: Sydney Anne. It reflected the vibrant beauty of a world-class city with a flowering of British royalty.
I was less prepared to help my wife during her 15 hours of labor in the hospital. Armed with a biography of Theodore Roosevelt and very disgusted, I hoped to overcome the ordeal with as little exposure as possible to one of life’s divine events. Amazingly, I gathered enough courage to cut the umbilical cord.
Over the years, my idea of fatherhood has changed. Initially, I was the noble hunter, meaning the main breadwinner who traveled the world (largely to restore my own reputation) and brought home a salary.
The headwinds of a few professional setbacks have humiliated my most ambitious inclinations and fatherhood has become a duty that I have fulfilled to the letter, but not yet fully in spirit.
Around the time Sydney entered high school, I was ready to learn how to be the father my daughter needed.
Before realizing that I could offer something valuable in terms of education, future prosperity and physical fitness, there was something “daily maintenance” that made the last three years of his life at home memorable. .
Driven more by my addiction to Diet Coke than any noble intention to “interview” my daughter, we initiated the ritual of driving to the gas station to take in copious amounts of carbon dioxide almost daily. The side benefit was that I began to learn more about his decision-making processes, his serious involvement in school, and his steady progress through trial and error as I learned to step back.
Education therefore turned out to be a key aspect of what I shared with my daughter. Indian Nobel laureate in economics Amartya Sen says a father’s interest in his daughter’s education improves the health of the next generation.
How did this apply, then, in the first world? Given the generally excellent state of public education in the United States, that meant doing things beyond school that coincided with his interests. She likes reading. So why not attend as many author conferences as possible?
At first it was tedious. I remember hearing Rick Riordan talk about “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” electrifying a hot high school auditorium full of energetic teenagers. But there was something amusing in these outings. We then discovered that Ransom Riggs, author of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, was speaking at the King’s English Bookshop. We also went to BYU to hear Richard Paul Evans talk about his craft. These are now treasured memories.
My contribution to my daughter’s wealth was tied to what I shared with her about writing. The same Sen argues in “Development as Freedom” that giving girls control over wealth enhances their ability to succeed financially and socially in adulthood. As a writer and teacher, I shared the wealth of my failures, not by design, but by virtue of the fact that I wrote a 500-page book that I was convinced would win the Pulitzer Prize. and I talked about it constantly with her.
While that didn’t happen (it’s still sitting on my desk), she got interested in writing. I found that I could read drafts of anything she wrote and offer my encouragement. Over time, she became an excellent writer in her own right, publishing her work and being interviewed on civic engagement in highly visible publications. She will be a terrific addition to someone’s political campaign.
Finally, I discovered that dads can contribute to the physical well-being of their daughters. Australian researchers recently identified the beneficial emotional and physical effects of fathers and daughters exercising together. We decided early on to eliminate tennis as a common activity after our first rallies resulted in my visit to an orthopedic surgeon, who repaired a torn ACL. Walking has become our favorite activity.
Now we spoke regularly about his writing, his participation in debates, his applications to university, and my more modest aspirations for writing and teaching. Three miles together a few days a week did everything for our mutual benefit, without intentionally “father and daughter” planning anything.
Daughters and sons need their fathers, but there are specific benefits that daughters derive from fathers who are aware of their unique potential, even when it’s just natural and unintentionally suffocating. These include shared wisdom, shared wealth, and improved mutual well-being.
Evan Ward is an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University and a proud father of a daughter and a son.