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Portland, OR
USA

I exist to help dads learn to communicate and engage with their young adult daughters.  I provide resources from my vast amounts of research and experience with dads and daughters, and this is the place where you'll find the tools you need to become the hero you've always wanted to be.

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A Daughter Needs Her Dad to Help Her Build a Lemonade Stand (Metaphorically Speaking)

Michelle Watson

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The adage is true—life gives out lemons. To you, and to everyone else, including your daughter.


Without asking, I know what you want for her. Out loud you might say, “I pray for my daughter to be happy and fulfill God’s plan for her life.” That’s nice and honorable. But your unspoken thoughts want something closer to perfection.

 

You imagine your little girl will be a well-recognized scholar/athlete/leader through high school, graduate college in four years with an impressive degree, get married to someone just like you in her twenties, give you three perfect grandchildren in her thirties, build a dream house just a few miles away from yours, and stay happily married for the rest of her life.

 

I have no statistics to back this up, but that “perfect” scenario probably happens to less than one-tenth of one percent of all girls.

 


Taking it one step further. Dad, if you start expressing those thoughts to your daughter, you might be saddling her with a list of impossible standards and expectations that drives her away and leaves her feeling like a permanent failure. She values your approval. It’s quite possible that she wants to meet a man like you and build a family like the one in which she grew up. But that has to come out of her gifts, goals, and dreams. Not yours.

 

When a dad puts his daughter on a track of specific expectations, there’s a high likelihood that an unexpected jolt of reality will take her off that track. We live in a fallen world in which sin, disease, abuse, accidents, discrimination, mental illness, materialism, deceit, and a long list of other nasty things lurk just around the next corner. We don’t need to look for explanations or excuses. Sometimes suffering happens as a direct result of our bad choices. Sometimes bad things just happen.

 

If you’ve already painted the impossible perfect scenario for how your daughter’s life will look, that canvas should be taken down off the wall before anyone sees it. Especially her.

 

What happens when she gets cut from a team or doesn’t get into the college of her choice?

What happens when one bad choice leaves her unmarried and pregnant?

What happens when she and her husband can’t get pregnant?

Or a child has Downs?

Or her husband turns abusive? 

When illness, accident, or some seemingly random series of events leaves a gaping wound in her heart, mind, or soul, will you still be her champion? 

 

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When life gives her lemons, your daughter needs her dad to help build a lemonade stand.

 

There may be other people in her life that love her almost as much as you. But you’re the one who has dreamed about her future since before she was even born. You see how the pieces fit.

 

You know how to take the bad stuff and help turn it somehow into good stuff.

 

When the issues require human hands to be involved, raise yours. Be the hero with the hammer to build that lemonade stand.

 

Teach your daughter to squeeze every drop out of every lemon and add just the right amount of sugar, and stand beside her as she enjoys some ice-cold refreshment. Don’t forget to say thanks when she shares a glass with you. Don’t be surprised when she also offers a glass to others she meets on the road of life. 

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Takeaway

It’s quite a balancing act. Pushing our kids to reach for the stars. And being there to catch them when they fall. One more reason God made dads with strong arms and strong hearts. 

 

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” 

—Augustine 

 

 

Excerpt from 52 Things Daughter Need from Their Dads: What Fathers can Do to Build a Lasting Relationship by Jay Payleitner, 2013. Used by permission.

Helping Your Daughter Live With An Open Heart

Michelle Watson

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 (Hey everyone…I know this is heavier-weighted content, but hang in there…I promise it will be worth it!)

Every once in awhile a speaker will communicate truth in such a way that it literally touches a core place inside the listener. Dr. Larry Crabb has been one of those truth-speakers into my life. I’ll never forget hearing him speak a few years ago where his insights were so impactful that I chewed on what he said for days, culminating in my telling him through tears the impact of his words on my soul and spirit.

The reason I’m sharing this with you today as a dad of a daughter is to empower you to guard and protect, lead, and champion your daughter’s heart with increasing precision because her open heart is her lifeline to health, vitality, purpose, and vision. I believe this will give you insight into why it’s vital that your daughter’s heart stay open in order to be the woman God created her to be.

Here is the essence of Dr. Larry’s seminar on gender:

In Genesis 2 when Adam first saw Eve, he called her “iyshah,” a female form of the word for man, “iysh.”  However, in Genesis 1:26 and 27 when God says, “Let us make mankind in our own image…male and female He created them,” these are two different Hebrew words to denote gender. “Zakar” is used for male and “nequebah” for female. 

During his talk Dr. Larry said, “I don’t think you women are necessarily going to like the meaning of the word for female, but here it is: Nequebah literally means punctured, bored through.”  Hmmm…that was indeed a very unexpected, odd definition of the word in my opinion. Our collective responses in the room led most of us to turn toward each other with puzzled looks on our faces.

He then took us to 2 Kings 12:9 where we read that King Joash commissioned Jehoiada, the high priest, to “nequebah” the lid of a box for use as a container of money for repairing the temple. The box was opened as a vessel that was used for God’s purposes.

 

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Dr. Larry further explained that “nequebah” means “to be opened while arranging yourself consistently for a larger purpose than you.” I LOVED hearing that!  My spirit began to awaken with curiosity as I was now intrigued and wanted to hear more.

Bridging this concept then to Jesus on the cross, he noted that it was literally this act of being punctured and bored through that demonstrated Jesus’ openness to God’s larger purpose both in Him and through Him. Clearly Jesus understood and lived out the meaning of surrendered openness as a reflection of the depth of relationship He had with His Father. He modeled the beauty of submission, surrender, obedience and openness.  

Even today I continue to ponder this truth that Jesus made the choice to suffer and die by allowing Himself to be punctured and bored through. And I still am overcome with emotion as I celebrate the reality of Christ’s selfless love, a love that has truly aligned itself with the core of who I am as a woman. I had never thought of Jesus’ death on the cross in this way before.

I see now---according to this definition---that Jesus has fully identified with me as a woman (since God, the Three-in-one, isn’t gender specific) and I revel in knowing that He still connects with me as a female in this way.

The reality for me, a woman with an abuse history---where I have been taken advantage of, violated, and overpowered by more than one man---has been to activate instinctual self-protection whenever I don’t feel safe. In fact, throughout a bulk of the first four decades of my life I would often put up an invisible internal wall out of fear that I would be “punctured” again. Sometimes those walls have been literal (where I’d create physical distance) whereas at other times it was an unspoken barrier that people would feel around me that gave them the message that I wasn’t available or open to relating.

 

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The truth is that I used to feel threatened as a result of someone activating or bumping up against my deep-seeded fears. It used to tap into my core terror of being crushed or bored through or stolen from. I can tell you honestly that in those instances I never intended to be brash or harsh. But when I was triggered, my openness would close off and I would go into fight-or-flight mode.

I know that God longs for me to reconnect with His original design for me as a woman, one who is open and vulnerable, willing to be used by Him to impact others by inviting them also to respond with openness.

I have found that by welcoming people into my heart, my life, and my home, I experience the redemption of God’s original purpose for me as a woman: one who lives vulnerably without fear, all the while being open and released to give and receive only what is for God’s purposes. 

And from this incredible place of healing and freedom, the walls of self-protection are no longer needed when I focus on Him as my Protector.

Dr. Larry closed by giving us one of the most incredible definitions of being a woman that I have ever heard:

“A beautiful woman is so at rest in God’s delight in her that she enjoys her undamageable beauty such that she invites others to connect and relate openly not guardedly, invitingly not controllingly, courageously not defensively---to encourage another to be consumed by God’s beauty at any cost to herself so that she can reveal God to His community.”

As a father, why not use these words to guide your prayers for your daughter so she can connect to her beautiful female essence while reflecting the God who made her in His image!

 

Approachable Parenting by guest author Andrea Lucado

Michelle Watson

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Some people might assume that my family is "extra holy" because my dad is Max Lucado, pastor and author of books such as He Chose the Nails, He Still Moves Stones and Six Hours One FridayPeople might even think that my family sat around at night and listened to Dad practice his sermons and then rose early every morning to read our Bibles before school.

While there was certainly Bible reading and sermon writing in the Lucado household, my experience growing up probably looked similar to that of many other kids who grew up in a Christian home. There were days of laughter and love — and days of fighting, drama and rebellion. Being Lucados did not make us immune to these things.

My two sisters and I provided the typical array of parenting issues for my mom and dad: attitude problems, arguing, back talk, and eventually, drinking, boys and sneaking out. But these were not parent fails; these were human fails. Because I am a sinner, raised by sinners, I was going to sin and do dumb things — especially during adolescence.

Some adolescent behaviors are inevitable, and I don't believe parents have much control over them. What they do have control over is their response. My parents were careful with how they chose their responses. My sisters and I subconsciously understood this: Our parents are approachable. They love us and will forgive us, but we will have to learn from our mistakes.

This parenting approach was illustrated beautifully for me when I was 16 years old. During a time in my life when I had doubts about my faith and a strong desire to be popular, I was spending the night at a friend's house and we decided it would be a great idea to sneak out without her parents' knowledge. We wanted to meet up with boys . . . who were smoking marijuana.

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Although we didn't get caught, the next day my friend — in a bout of desperation or guilt — admitted to her mom what we had done. Her mom then called me and said she would have to tell my parents if I didn't confess to them first.

Most teens might squirm, bargain, deny or do whatever they could to avoid an open confession to their parents. I considered those options and then determined that confession was my best option. I'm certain I was able to do this because of the environment in which my parents had raised me.

Approachability

At first I was afraid to confess my rebellion to my parents, but 16 years of experience had taught me that they were approachable. Whenever I walked into my dad's office, he would look away from what he was doing and give me his full attention. Whenever my mom was cooking dinner, I would sit at the kitchen island and vent about what happened at school that day, and she would listen. When I needed my parents to listen, they were always available.

With this confidence, I walked into my parents' room, preparing myself for honesty and bracing myself for consequences.

Grace

I talked to my mom first. She was sitting in her prayer chair, where I could always find her in the mornings and at various times throughout the day. I sat in the chair opposite her (my dad's prayer chair) and before I could say a word, I began to cry — somewhat hysterically. I was ashamed and afraid of disappointing her. Eventually, through broken speech, I told my mom the full story. And then I kept going. I told her about the other times I had sneaked out of the house. I told her about the parties I had been going to and lying about. I told her that I drank sometimes and that I knew I was rebelling, but God felt so distant that I didn't know what else to do. 

As I confessed, my mom began to cry with me. Her eyes were kind, and even though I could see she was hurting, she listened for as long as I needed to talk.

In my mom's gentle reaction to my confessions, I knew she understood. What I feared would horrify or devastate her did not. She, too, had been a teenager faced with temptations, and she did not think I was doomed. Her tears were grace to me.

Discipline

Of course, the conversation with my mom was not the end of things. I knew there would be consequences because my parents had always disciplined my sisters and me. Rules were rules in our house.

After my dad came home from work that night and heard the full story, he sat me down and asked a few questions: Why did you do it? What were you hoping would happen? How well did you know these guys? 

He listened to my pitiful responses and then explained how my behavior had not only broken the rules, but had also endangered me. He told me that I, as a 16-year-old, had not considered the risks of spending time with people I hardly knew and who smoked pot. My dad always wanted his daughters to understand the reasons behind the boundaries he and Mom had set.

With a calm yet stern voice, he detailed my punishment. I was grounded for three weeks, and I was to stay away from certain influential friends for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time. He assured me that he loved me, but I had broken his and Mom's trust, and when that happens, restoration is in order.

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Restoration

Because my parents had established a home of grace where they listened and were slow to react (James 1:19), my heart was transformed. Rather than growing distant or angry with my parents, I actually did what so many parents demand: I thought about what I had done.

That's when I realized that I didn't like the "bad-girl" gig. I wasn't any good at it, and I wanted the real me back. I wanted Jesus back, too. I wanted my faith to be as strong as it had been before. It took some time, but I was on the path toward the restoration of my parents' trust and restoration in my relationship with Christ.

The journey, though not perfect, was made possible by parents who were approachable, extended grace in abundance and disciplined in love.

 

Andrea Lucado is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. This article first appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. She has recently released her first book, English Lesson: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith.

Copyright © 2015 by Andrea Lucado. Used by permission.

 

What Your Daughter Really Longs For

Michelle Watson

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I wish you could sit in my counseling office, even for part of a day, because you’d hear what I consistently hear from teenage girls and 20-something women.

You’d hear how often they doubt themselves, how often they fear a future without a boyfriend to love them back, how often they don’t know how to express what’s really going on inside so tears flow freely without words. You’d hear how often they can’t get their feet on the ground when their primary relationships are in turmoil, how often they feel they don’t matter because they haven’t yet figured out their purpose, and how often they wonder where God is at in the mix of the confusion and conflict, disappointments and delays, heartbreak and hopelessness.

And if you were there with me, the two of us would actually realize that we were standing on sacred ground. For whenever someone invites us into their deepest, most vulnerable place--that place that is raw and real, where it’s messy and complicated--we actually receive a gift. To be trusted at that level is an honor of unparalleled proportion.

Dad, do you know how privileged you are when your daughter lets you know her at that depth? I guarantee that she wants to be known by you and it’s up to you to create an atmosphere of acceptance where she feels safe enough to reveal her heart to you.

It’s in the context of that personal relationship that you will pour into your daughter’s heart from the overflow in yours. And just in case she doesn’t quite have the words to tell you what she needs, I’ll do my best to say it for her.

She longs for you to notice her.
She longs for you to listen to her.
She longs for you to affirm her.
She longs to know that you believe she is worthy.
She longs for you to never give up on her.
She longs for you to be patient with her. (especially when you’re struggling the most to do so)
She longs for you to keep your promises.
She longs for you to comfort her with your steady, solid, strong, masculine presence.
She longs for you to validate her. (even when she doesn’t make sense to you)
She longs for you to love her where she’s at, flaws and all.
She longs for you to tell her what you see when you look at her.
She longs for you to express why you love her.
She longs to hear that she’s beautiful in your eyes.
She longs for you to choose her even when everything else calls for your attention.
She longs for you to pursue her even when she pushes you away for a season.
She longs for you to give of yourself and your resources. (which tangibly tells her she’s valuable)
She longs for you to humbly admit when you’ve blown it and ask for forgiveness.
She longs for you to be present and involved because it says that her life matters to you.

The more you care about her longings, the more she will connect with them herself.

And the more she connects with her longings, the more she will thrive while saying, “all my longings lie open before you, O Lord.” (Psalm 18:24).

To Fight or Not to Fight, That is the Question: Navigating Dad-Daughter Disagreements

Michelle Watson

One of my favorite things is receiving emails from dads and daughters who ask questions about how to better their relationship. Not that I always have the perfect answer, but there’s something refreshing about an authentic, heart-felt inquiry that opens up an honest interaction. I respect the courage it takes to ask vulnerable questions that have the potential to start movement towards proactive change.

Here’s a question I received recently from a 20-year-old young woman:

Hi Michelle,
I think it would be helpful if you talked to dads about how to handle disagreements. My step-dad and I had a big fight over the weekend and it left me feeling like although we have improved our daily relationship, nothing has changed when it comes to the big stuff. I think it would help the fathers that you work with to learn conflict resolution skills.

Let me ask you a couple of questions as you ponder her words:

1. Does this sound like a woman who wants a better relationship with her step-dad, or one who doesn’t care about how they relate?
2. Do you think her underlying belief may be that her step-dad is to blame while she carries little to no responsibility in how things went down?


I tend towards believing that she must care about their relationship or she wouldn’t have written me. I also hear her implying that her step-dad bears the primary weight of responsibility in moving their relationship in a better direction, which happens to be something I agree with.

Here’s why:

  • You, dad, have to lead by example.
  • Change has to begin with you.
  • You must set the tone for how you want your daughter to respond to you and to others by modeling healthy interactions with her. 

For example, if she yells at you and you yell back, things will quickly disintegrate and deteriorate (which you already know, right?!). So you cannot justify a harsh response to her when she has a disrespectful response to you or there’s no parent in the lead.

Believe it or not, your daughter doesn’t like it when her relationship with you is off-kilter. In fact, we girls don’t do well when our primary relationships are out of tune. So even when our defensiveness rears its ugly head, underneath it all we want there to be harmony. I’ve discovered that men typically want the same thing.

Here are a few ideas to help you as a father lead your daughter in resolving conflict:

Dad, I realize that it’s super hard, if not impossible, to pursue your daughter’s heart when one or both of you are heated. I also know that in order to lead your daughter in a way that is congruent with your heart goals you will need to embrace humility and gentleness while remembering how much she deeply matters to you (as opposed to focusing on her reaction to your reaction or vice versa).

This week I’d love to see you choose one thing from this list of ten resolution ideas and let me know how it works…in the trenches.

Turn the fight to right by leading with love. It’s the best way to diffuse a disagreement…every single time.

Understanding Your Mysterious Daughter

Michelle Watson

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I often hear fathers tell me that their daughters are complicated and complex, confusing and unpredictable. Believe it or not, I have discovered that we girls are not as hard to understand as we may seem! 

My decoding strategy for you is coming to you straight from the one Man in all of history who always got it right when it came to relationships.  Of course you know who I’m talking about: Jesus. I figure there’s nothing better than learning from the best!

Here are five “easy” steps to decoding and relating to your daughter, especially during those times when things are emotionally intense.  

(And if you don’t want to read further and just want a one-step plan, I would say to be gentle, soft, and calm.  And yes, those ARE manly words, I assure you, because only a strong man can accomplish this…it’s hard!).

Here goes:  There were two sisters, Martha and Mary, and they were close, personal friends of Jesus. He knew them and they knew him. For better or worse.  

Let’s pick up the story (from Luke 10:38-42 if you want to look it up later) where Martha is overly reactive, super stressed, and basically freaking out.  

If you can relate to experiencing any of those realities in your home, listen to what Jesus (with his male energy) did to enter the fray with his frazzled female friend. 

1.  He lets her vent to Him while He listens to all of it.

Even when she dramatically tells Jesus that he “doesn’t care” (false assumptions always take place during meltdowns) she continues by crying about having to do everything “by myself.” And if that wasn’t enough, she then barks at Jesus and demands that he tell her sister to help her. Surprisingly, he doesn’t lecture but listens and essentially absorbs her intensity by being her sounding board.

2.  He says her name twice….gently and lovingly. 

There’s something calming when any of us hear our name.  And for us girls, it’s grounding for us to be spoken to by name. If you speak your daughter’s name with love in your tone and in a gentle way, she will come towards you----maybe not right away, but it is a powerful, healing strategy that works.

3.  He sits with her in her emotional reality.

Notice that he doesn’t try and talk her out of what she’s feeling or try to get her to think rationally. No lecture. No criticism.  Jesus knows that she couldn’t hear it anyway while being so worked up.  So he simply stays with her, looks at her, validates her, and puts words to what she’s feeling, calling it “worry” and “upset.”  He tenderly names her emotions. No judgment.

4.  He highlights all that is on her life plate.

As girls we are wired to multi-task.  That’s why we can talk on the phone, paint our nails, watch a show, and do homework…all at the same time!  Yet all of a sudden we reach our max and then comes the explosion.  Again, this is where we need gentle grace not power positions.  Jesus just told Martha that he knew she had “many things” going on, leading to her melt down.  How kind of him to notice.  If you validate all that is pressing in on your daughter, your words will go long and far to make her feel heard and understood. 

5. He directs her to focus on one thing.

Jesus tells her that “only one thing is needed.”  The implication is that it’s about focusing on Him as the one thing rather than all the needs around her.  When we girls get overwhelmed with the much, we need gentle, supportive guidance to take it one thing at a time.  Breaking it down into bite size pieces is immensely helpful when we’re breaking down.

Summing up:  When your daughter is melting down sit alongside her and listen to her vent, move towards her and lovingly say her name. Tell her that you understand that she is “worried and upset.”  Let her know you do see that she has a lot on her plate, and assist in helping her to focus on one thing.  

I know it’s easier said than done but these five things will make all the difference in the eye of the storm when you are there trying to keep up with her complexity.  And after the storm has passed, the main thing your daughter will remember is that you Dad were there in it with her.

Healing Hurts, Healing Hearts

Michelle Watson

A friend of mine recently told me something he believes to be true about most men. He said that rather than risk being viewed as incompetent, men tend to cover up their insecurities by acting like they know things…even when they don’t.

So that raises a couple of questions for me as one who deeply longs to see healing take place between dads and daughters. If what my friend said is true, I find myself asking:

  1. What would it take for men to be wiling to step in to learn new things they inherently don’t know?

  2. What would it take for you as a father to be willing to reach your daughter’s heart in new ways, especially when it includes the challenge of listening to her hurts, especially when those hurts are from you?

Dad, whether you have a great relationship with your daughter right now or not, I believe that you want peace and harmony. I believe that you want to mend the brokenness that may exist between you. Yet if you’re like many of the dads I’ve had the privilege of interacting with, you may not quite know how to go about making that happen.

Because my desire is to ally with your truest desire to strengthen the way that you and your daughter relate, here are FOUR PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS to help with healing her hurts, which subsequently will help to open her heart:

1. PHYSICAL SPACE: Go to where your daughter is (face-to-face if possible) with a readiness to listen, not defend, your position.

Here’s how dad Brent says it: “The physical space and relationship between me and my girls is important. If possible, I try to walk into her bedroom (her turf), and I try to place myself physically in a lower position than she is. It might sound strange, but if my daughter is sitting on her bed, I intentionally sit on the floor so she is looking down at me. I am taller than both of my girls and I never want to be in a conversation where I am looking down at her. I find if I sit down on the floor, lean back, and cross my legs, the non-threatening posture says to her, ‘I want to have a two-way conversation with you,’ instead of ‘I am here to tell you what for …’ “ 

2. EMOTIONAL SPACE: Be willing to sit with her through her emotional responses without criticism, disgust, impatience, or anger.

Here’s how 25-year old Andrea said it, “I am beyond blessed that my dad has provided for me and been there for me through thick and thin. However, we’ve never ever fully seen eye-to-eye. I think it’s partly because we’re so much alike. But more than that, if he says something is 30, I say it’s 29. I don’t know what happened, but years ago we stopped hanging out, and honestly, it was probably around the same time that he started saying ‘30’ and I would counter with ‘29’. And it was probably around that same time that I started thinking he didn’t understand me. But beyond thinking that, I believed that he didn’t want to understand.”

Fathers often tell me that they struggle to pace with their daughters through the messy process of working through emotional things. Yet I promise you that if you don’t react to her reaction and simply make a decision to repeat back to her what you hear her saying (which is called “mirroring”), you will discover that she will go through the intensity much faster and there will much less collateral damage. She will also bond more deeply with you because she will feel that you want to understand her.

3. MENTAL SPACE:  Take time to ask questions that draw out her thoughts and feelings without interrogating her or just questioning to gather information.

Here’s what 20-year old Katie had to say, “My dad has started putting his heart out on the line for me and it has meant everything to me. He wasn’t always very good at it, but I can tell he’s trying. I guess I would say that he’s now chasing me with his love and taking the time to get to know me on a personal level by taking me on Daddy Daughter Dates (we call them “DDD”). We’ve even finally talked through some of the tough stuff in our relationship. I have come to respect my dad even more than I already did, and as a result, we’ve grown closer than I ever thought possible.”

This is a daughter whose heart opened and responded positively when her dad initiated and connected with her while he courageously talked about challenges they’d had in the past. This dad was willing to stay engaged in a hard conversation (which involved talking and listening) in order to connect with his daughter’s heart. I guess you could say that the meeting of their minds led to the meeting of their hearts.

4. SPIRITUAL SPACE: Be willing to push through your potential discomfort and initiate praying with her about things weighing on her.

Here’s how 15-year old Lexi said it, “I know my dad isn’t as comfortable with the God stuff like my mom is, but he’s started praying with me at night and I love it. It means so much that he comes in and sits on my bed, holds my hand, and then says a prayer over me before I go to sleep. He just started doing it and though I’d feel awkward telling him this, it’s making a big difference. It makes me feel protected…and special.”

Dad, the truth is that God has given you a daughter to facilitate your own personal growth. So as your love for her pushes you out of your comfort zone, let today be a day you choose to move into her space in one of these four areas---physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.

Because a girl with a healed heart will open it to the world around her…and she’ll always know that her dad helped make it happen.

Dads are Thermostats, not Thermometers: Lessons from a Military Dad

Michelle Watson

Jackson Drumgoole is a field grade Army officer and the senior force management advisor to the Commanding General of the 7th Infantry Division on Joint Base Lewis McChord. Today he shares two of his top goals as a father of three girls.

As a dad with three daughters - one 12-year-old and two 9-year-olds - I am learning as I go, just like you. And having been in the Army now for 22 years, I find that the learning process for me as a father looks a lot like life in the military with a mix of challenges and defeats, successes and victories.

I know as fathers it’s easy to bring home the stress of our jobs, even though we know that it never bears positive dividends when we do. Here are a couple of proactive strategies I’ve found that help to support putting my love for my girls into action.

This first goal focuses on my interactions with them while the second centers on me.

1. Divide and comfort vs. divide and conquer

I have discovered that when my pre-teen "snaps" or acts condescending towards her younger siblings in my presence I address it immediately. Oftentimes, I make sharp corrections in order to deescalate the situation, which typically goes like this,

“Honey...is that your best response?”
“Does that sound like something that I or your mother would say or do?”
“NO-DUMPING-BUCKETS!”

Everyone in the house already knows that this means to never intentionally demean another person. We are constantly teaching respect, honor, and esteem in our home during times of peace.  

Nevertheless, at the first opportunity, I separate my little ladies for "age appropriate" counseling, comforting, and family reconciliation. What's so interesting for me is learning how well they each articulate their desire to be respected by the other siblings.‬

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My wife and I have laid a tremendous amount of groundwork, as a married couple of 15 years, in modeling proper conflict management. We also stress the importance of maintaining family integrity and respect.

Additionally, because my two 9-year-old daughters so admire their big sister and desire to be valued and respected by her as a peer, I simply use the power of the word “remember.” When interacting with my 12-year-old, I may say,

"Do you remember how you felt when you were 9 years old and...”

This automatically shifts her from a defensive posture and places her in a mentoring role. When interacting with my 9-year-olds, I may say,

"Remember, you girls will be pre-teens very soon and...”

This gives them a sense of hope, and they immediately start giggling and celebrating with youthful optimism.

I must also remember that these little ones are simply flesh and blood looking to be accepted, seeking to be adored, and longing to be appreciated. It is my honor to be able to provide that for them.

My heart’s desire, as a father, is to foster an atmosphere of love, respect, and cohesion while creating amazing memories for my children. It is essential that each of them know that I am here to not only protect them physically, but emotionally as well.

2. Pull over

After a long stressful day at work, I so look forward to jumping in my car, turning on a podcast or favorite song and getting home as quickly as possible. There is always so much on my mind and it seems impossible to turn off: deadlines, presentations, the next “thing to do,” questions, doubts, things to coordinate, things to uncoordinate…my head is spinning just thinking about it and I know that I am not alone.

I often find myself taking my stress home and downloading on unsuspecting loved ones. What used to be an everyday routine family reunion when I came home, turned into a run-for-cover-retreat event for the kiddos. For my family’s sake, I found something helpful that I would love to share. It’s very simple and takes as long or as short as you’d like. 

Simply pull the car over. 

David Code, author of Kids Pick Up On Everything: How Parental Stress Is Toxic To Kids, suggests the most critical thing that we transmit to our kids is not our declaration of love, but to provide them with a sense of calm and the absence of stress. Code suggests that stress causes our little ones to accommodate for these vague senses of impending danger which impede normal brain development. 

Code claims that in the famous rat experiments, what’s being transmitted from mother to pup is not love, it’s peace: “By spending a lot of time grooming her pups, the mother rat is saying to them, ‘times are so good and predator-and stress-free that I have lots of time to lick you guys.’” The same reasoning applies to dads, minus the licking.

This is a part of our protection and preparing plan. Code recommends creating calm around them so that they feel no sense of danger.  

Now instead of going straight home, I’ve found that it helps to:

  • pull over and decompress

  • put things in perspective

  • walk into the house creating an atmosphere of calm, safety, peace, and protection.

Proverbs 15:4 reminds us that the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. 

Remember Dads, we are thermostats not thermometers.

Be the First

Michelle Watson

You were the first man to…

  • hold her hand and win her heart

  • give her a kiss and snuggle her close

  • read a bedtime story and tuck her in bed

  • wipe her tears and calm her fears

  • save the day and scare the boogey man away

  • teach her to ride a bike and throw a ball

  • lead by example, working hard to provide

  • treat her like a lady, giving respect

  • love her for being uniquely her

  • treasure her, the apple of your eye

All of these things are solid and good, necessary and wonderful, essential and positive.

But it can’t stop there---especially as she matures. Here are a few ways to grow right along with her:

Are you now the first man to…

  • say you’re sorry when you’ve hurt her heart

  • admit fault when you’ve been harsh

  • humble yourself, asking her to forgive you

  • soften your tone before she softens hers

  • listen to her when she’s had a hard day

  • have her back when she needs support

  • believe in her when her friends betray

  • embrace her after a guy breaks her heart

  • hug her and hold her and dry her tears

  • go the extra mile when she has a need

  • extend grace like has been done to you

  • pursue time with her and engage her heart

Dad, you were her first love and that will always be true. 

And now you have an opportunity to keep the first love theme going by being the first to model kindness, forgiveness, grace, and compassion. Let her know by word and deed that she can always run to you because you’ll always be there.

Why not choose one thing off this list of firsts so you can more proactively put your heart of love for your daughter into action today.

Why not be the first to initiate and lead while making that change to enhance your relationship with your daughter.

Better yet, why not be the first to write to tell me about it at drmichellewatson@gmail.com. I always love hearing from you.

Who’s going to be first?!

An Open Letter to Dads of Daughters

Michelle Watson

On this Father’s Day weekend, I want to give you a gift from my heart to yours…a gift of words. (I know that probably isn’t exactly your first choice, and you’d much prefer a paddle or a fitbit, but this is the best I can do from afar!). I want to begin with some validation and encouragement (just in case you don’t hear it enough!), and then end with a challenge.

As a father, you no doubt have a lot of weight on your shoulders and I’m guessing that you often feel overwhelmed with all that’s expected of you, even though at times you try to ignore the intensity and immensity of that reality. (I know this because many of you have trusted me enough to tell me what this is like for you).

And much of the time you find it easier to push away the discomfort of facing your own inadequacy so that you don’t have to sit in the space of admitting that it might actually be true  that you’re not enough.

But if you peel back the layers and allow yourself to be honest, even vulnerable, you’ll discover that every other father is feeling the exact same way---with a sense of being less than competent, at least when it comes to relationships. Perhaps it’s most noticeable when the women in your life say they need more from you or point out areas of ineptness. And that’s when you find yourself falling into a pattern of slinking back into your shell (or, as author John Gray says, into your cave) to find safety from the perceived attack.

But dad, you weren’t made to shrink back and hide. That’s not where you thrive. You were created to pursue and conquer, to hunt and gather. The truth is that you’re at your best when you’re taking action while proving to yourself and the world around you that you have what it takes to courageously go after the things--and people--you love and believe in.

So here you are, living each day with a wealth of experiential knowledge, some of it amazing, and some of it painfully debilitating. Yet all of it has brought you to where you are today, shaping the way you see yourself…and everyone around you. And it’s out of the overflow of all those experiences that you parent your daughter.

Now here’s where I’m going to go a bit deeper by addressing the “painfully debilitating” part.

Those devastating experiences, when left unhealed, lead you to believe that you don’t have it in you to live any differently or respond in ways other than the hand you were dealt. Those wounding interactions have left you stuck, which then have you repeating unhealthy relational patterns that really don’t work for you---or your daughter, for that matter.

Sadly, I meet too many deflated men who have lost their drive and ambition, especially when it comes to pursuing relationships. Somewhere along the way they’ve succumbed to the lie that they can’t be more than their history or their failures while believing that they’re destined to repeat mistakes that were modeled by their fathers.

Truthfully, this whole way of thinking and interpersonal relating breaks my heart because I see men who have shrunk back while using self-protective strategies so as not to be hurt again, usually like they were as kids. But those strategies create distance between them and the ones who call him “dad” while also keeping their offspring from reaping the benefits of being loved by the one man whose opinion matters most.

To make matters worse, instead of rising up to meet the challenges of fighting to maintain close relationships, men with these defaults too easily resign themselves to a position of impotence rather than being valiant pursuers and initiators, traits that I believe God created all men to embody in their DNA.

You see, when a father steps back, removes his armor, concedes before engaging, and walks away (literally or figuratively---such as when he is there physically but not emotionally), not only is he deflated, but so are his kids. Further, something disastrous happens inside of him when he believes that he doesn’t matter and instead defers to their mom. That’s when something inside him starts to atrophy.

From observing men these past seven years since founding The Abba Project, I’ve noticed that something begins to die in a man when he believes that he can’t rise up, change, make a difference, or lead his family. Even this past weekend I talked with a dad who said he’s a terrible father and seemed resigned to that fact. I literally stood in front of him and wept. Yes, it was awkward for a minute or two, but my heart was breaking for his children…and for him…because it seemed like he was believing a lie that his story can’t be rewritten at this point in his life. 

So what do you do if you didn’t get what you needed from your dad? What if that empowering, strengthening, life-giving deposit was never transferred from your father to you? Are you forever destined to a sense of stifling inadequacy in the core of your being? I don’t believe so.

Today I stand aligned with your spirit and affirm that you are a son of the best Dad ever.

And He as your Father makes you enough. 

Don’t let another day go by where you believe the lie that you don’t have what it takes to be a great dad. With God pouring His resources of “enoughness” into your depths, you will have enough to pour into your daughter (and son).

Humbly ask for supernatural help while being open to letting your Heavenly Father fill you with His wisdom, insight, strength, courage, tenacity, tenderness, compassion, and on it goes. God says if we ask for wisdom, He’ll give it. No questions asked, no groveling, no earning His favor. It’s simply His gift.

As you pray this prayer, I guarantee that if you sit in stillness and listen, God will download ideas that will lead you to connect with the unique needs of your daughter. Spend at least five minutes waiting for the download to come, and then immediately act upon the things God tells you in order to reach the heart of your girl. You might think you’re fabricating things as you listen, but it will get much easier to trust God’s voice when you put into action the ideas He gives you and see that they work.

So even if you don’t hear it enough: You matter. And every day that you give of yourself to your daughter is a day that changes her life…and yours.

Dad, I wish you the happiest Father’s Day ever and I CELEBRATE YOU as you continue to embrace the most important job you’ll ever have: being a dad.