I know I write a lot about encouraging dads to lead with vulnerability. I realize that can sound a bit cliché at times but the reality is that relational bonding and strengthening happen when we’re honest. It’s about choosing to disclose the less-than-admirable stuff, the imperfect stuff, and the insecure sides of ourselves. This is where we more deeply connect on a human level.
I truly believe that if dads were more willing to let their daughters see them admit failure and talk about a few of their insecurities and flaws, even opening up about their fears, it would go a long way towards building stronger father-daughter bonds.
Today I’ve decided that it’s my turn to practice what I preach. I want to put myself under the microscope as a daughter, as a woman, and open up about what it was like for me ten days ago while attending my first all men’s conference. I think it’s good when we can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and this past week I got to put on some good old-fashioned, size 12, combat boots and try them on for size, despite swimming in the darn things.
You’ve heard me say over the last six years during my travels to Mars (Reference: Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus) that I’ve discovered that men would often rather do nothing than to do it wrong.
Said another way, it’s easier sometimes as men to default to a passive stance with an unobtrusive posture, which is a less risky position when in unfamiliar territory. And we all know that this comes into play at various stages when fathering a daughter.
See if this sounds familiar: Your daughter hits puberty and you are completely lost because the playbook that used to work for parenting her now seems to be obsolete. So rather than admit embarrassment when you have no idea what to do or say or confess to the shame you experience after you’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time (based on her intense response), it’s easier to get defensive or shift the focus to what she’s doing wrong rather than acknowledge that your own stuff got triggered. (It’s amazing how kids seem to know exactly how to find those hidden buttons and push every one of them, isn’t it though?)
This past week my buttons got pushed. At a men’s conference, of all places. Let me set the scene for you:
I walked into the exhibit hall and it was clearly a male domain. I cannot recall where I have felt more exposed or where I felt like I so clearly stuck out in all my life. It’s almost hard to put into words but I’d say it felt a little bit like being on the 25-yard line during a televised NFL football game while the cameras are zooming in closely to the ball right before kickoff. But in this scenario the ball is bright pink. And I’m the ball. Everyone is acting like it’s a typical game but truthfully we all know something is a bit different. And we’re all feeling it though no one is saying anything.
I’m not gonna lie: being so exposed wasn’t easy. I could feel all my insecurities rise to the surface. I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t know where I fit. I was a bit out of my element and wasn’t sure what to do with my awkwardness.
But I had no other option than to sit in the discomfort while “feeling my feelings” (I know that may sound like a Venusian comment but, truth be told, it’s a human comment because we’ve all been created with the capacity to feel real emotion). I hadn’t anticipated it being quite this difficult until I was actually there. I wasn’t sure if maybe even some may have thought I was there to “crash their party.” But now that I was on site, it was game face on.
So in a way that I can only describe as being consistent with my true self, I decided I’d jump in and talk with whoever was willing to engage in conversation. I had to put myself out there in order to secure any possibility of a positive outcome.
Then on day two, I had the surprise of my life. After I gave my presentation, I unexpectedly experienced one of the most generous, kind, embracing outpourings of support from a group of men than ever before in my life! I had men affirming me left and right, encouraging me and telling me that I had “hit it out of the ballpark.” I share that not to sound egotistical but to say that I was blown away at the way they surrounded me and made me feel like I was accepted on their team as they stood there rooting for me.
So why am I telling you this story? Because I think that a lot of what I felt at this all men’s conference is akin to what you sometimes feel as a dad to a daughter.
It’s when much of what is required doesn’t always come naturally or perhaps isn’t in your wheelhouse. It’s those times when you try to engage your girl but then, when you least expect it, your buttons get pushed----the inept, outnumbered, insecure, over-your-head, out-of-your-league, can’t-do-anything-right buttons that make you feel defeated before you even start.
All of those realities are what I experienced this past week.
But here’s what I discovered about myself through this experience that I will translate into words that can apply to your daughter. I am hoping they will inspire you today to keep staying the course:
- Don’t walk away, concede, or give up when the challenge in front of you to connect with your daughter leads you to conclude that it’s too hard, or she’s not worth pursuing, during this particular stage of her life.
- Walk into the uncomfortable emotional spaces where real feelings exist because if you push through them, it means there’s a powerful opportunity to discover that you are more courageous than you thought you were.
- Get ready to discover relational surprises and miraculous results just around the bend, right past your fears or insecurities, or just to the side of intense relational realities.
- The unexpected reward is worth the cost and the risk.
I know we’re all in this together and you, Dad, are the reason I write these blogs each week, the reason I wrote my book, and the reason why I lead dads in The Abba Project. I want to live out the things I encourage you to do, and this week I had an opportunity to put into action the things I encourage you to do.
I want to challenge you right now to take time this weekend to walk into one fathering fear.
Maybe it’s that talk you know would be wise to have about sex or God or boys or boundaries. Maybe it’s about making amends for something you know you said that hurt her while you choose to honestly admit your own humanity. Maybe it’s about doing something you know you need to do to get yourself in alignment so that your backstory aligns with the truth of who you are (ranging from engaging your own spiritual practices to anything you’re doing that doesn’t sit quite right with your core values).
Whatever it is, may you be courageous this week, and in the process, discover new things about yourself.