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Portland, OR

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.


Dad, Why Are You Backing Away?

Michelle Watson

The other day I was getting a pedicure and had a unique experience (yes, toe pampering just happens to be one of those indulgences I justify under the “self care” category of my life). Now before you stop reading because you’ve decided that this doesn’t sound like a blog that speaks to men, hang in there and I promise it will.

You see, what I love most about the whole foot extravaganza thing is that it is a type of forced rest. I can kick back and relax while flipping mindlessly through at least ten or twelve magazines, trying my hardest not to think about anything that might stimulate even the slightest level of neurotransmitter activity!

On this one particular Saturday I was seated next to a woman who I’m guessing had way too much caffeine en route to her appointment. In a much-too-loud-for-normal-salon-etiquette voice she enthusiastically introduced herself to me. “Hi…I’m Samantha…what ya reading there?”

To be honest, I was a bit irritated at first because I really didn’t want to talk. It wasn’t anything personal; I simply wanted to be quiet. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t have much choice but to join in because this woman was going to keep knocking on my door until I answered.

As often happens when meeting a stranger, we got to talking about what we both do. Of course this opened up the topic of dads and daughters. That’s when the conversation took a right turn into her heart space.

This 25-year old woman dove head first into the story of her father, the man she lost five years ago, the dad she lost much too soon. With passionate energy she expressed how much he meant to her and how he could never be replaced. It was then that she shared something a bit more vulnerable, something that struck a familiar cord because I’d just had a similar talk with a group of dads who were addressing this same topic from the other side of the solar system.

"As soon as I grew boobs our relationship changed forever. The wrestling stopped. I was 13 when it stopped and I didn't know why. I was an adult when I figured it out. It changed from 13 to 17. I felt abandoned by a man who had been there my whole life and I didn't know what I had done wrong.”

Did you hear it? Did you hear how she spent years blaming herself for her dad’s withdrawal from her?

We girls do that. In all of our relationships, frankly. Psychologists call this “self referencing.” It’s very different from narcissism even though at first glance it could possibly look the same. This isn’t about thinking that we’re the center of the universe. It’s that we think if you get to the center of our universe then you’ll discover that we’re not worth the pursuit. We often struggle to be okay within ourselves and think it’s a matter of time before you’ll come to the same conclusion.

Here’s what I want to say to those of you who are fathers: I know you don’t always know what to do or where to hug when your daughter’s body starts changing. It’s like your little princess somehow turns into a young maiden overnight and rather than potentially pressing into “the wrong placesby accident, it seems easier to back away. Sometimes you would rather do nothing than do it wrong.

But you can’t do that. As a token female I want to say that when we’re hugging someone, our bodies don’t feel any different in that region than any other part. To say it bluntly, when I’m hugging my dad or a guy friend, my breasts aren’t an erogenous zone.

Listen to what Ken, a former dad in The Abba Project told another dad who was navigating this with one of his daughters:

“You know, if you back off she’s going to internalize it as something being wrong with her.”

Well said, my friend.

Then Mike weighed in:

“I used to wrestle with my daughter and then I stopped for the exact same reason. But since doing this group and seeing how important it is to connect with her, I’ve started wrestling with her again. Guess what I’ve noticed? She’s hugging me more!”

Dad, please don’t pull away when your daughter hits adolescence. She needs you more during those years than ever.

The reality is that when you step back physically you are leaving her open prey for guys to swoop in and fill the void. And since this post is a bit more candid than others I’ve written, I might as well keep it going by saying that the best contraceptive your daughter will ever have is that of you showing her healthy physical affection as she grows older, demonstrating what safe touch feels like in the context of honored boundaries. This will go farther than any lecture you could ever give on boys or safe sex.

Samantha really did end up being a delightful woman once I was open to interacting. And not only did she give me permission to share her story but she wanted me to be sure and let fathers know how much they affect their daughters when they are in that prepubescent stage.

“I know its awkward but she's hasn't noticed yet. Don't be the first one to pull away. You'll regret it forever. Luckily my dad and I had enough time to repair our relationship. I was 20 when he passed. He went from diagnosis to passing in just eight weeks.”

Hearing Samantha’s story highlights a very central truth that I hope every dad hears: you are leaving a lasting legacy in your daughter’s life and she is worth every ounce of investment because she’s your forever deposit.

Show your daughter what real, safe, healthy affection feels like---two strong and loving arms of her dad wrapped around her, communicating with demonstrative action that she is valuable and worthy.

Have you hugged your daughter today?

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