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Dr. Seuss Weighs in on Fathering

Michelle Watson

It's Archive August! This blog was originally posted on 4.10.2015 

As we all know, in any profession there are brilliant and skilled doctors who have expertise and know-how in very specific areas.  

Not unlike docs in the medical, dental, or psychological professions who bring their best to their patients, there is another doctor with whom most of us grew up, someone our parents turned to time and again. No, I’m not talking about Dr. Spock (who literally was the “go-to” guy for my mom as she raised me in the 60’s).  I’m talking about Dr. Seuss!  

I love the fact that in some of his well-known children’s books he actually addresses the relationship between parents and kids.  Most of us (actually, I mean me) perhaps never really thought of it like this until now, but I think that Dr. Seuss could probably enlighten us on a thing or two when it comes to father-daughter dynamics since he is the most infamous children’s doctor of all time. 

Of course the beauty of a childhood story is that we don’t always have to give much thought to every minute detail.  But being that I’m a shrink, I do have a curious desire to ponder what subtle undertones might be conveyed in this classic, Hop on Pop.  Let’s review what the good doctor was saying, shall we?   

Here is an excerpt:  (feel free to read along as you reconnect with your “inner child!”)

Sad.  Dad.  Bad.  Had.

Dad is sad.

Very, very sad.

He had a bad day.

What a day Dad had!

Hop.  Pop.

We like to hop.

We like to hop on top of Pop.


(Pop now finally sits up with a stern, angry look on his face while two bewildered children sit stunned as their dad says…)

You must not hop on Pop.

After this section in the book we don’t hear about dad again until the end (which has me a bit confused regarding the title since there’s really not much coverage of the actual hopping on top of Pop!).  

Then finally, right before the last page, we’re introduced to one more important thing about dad. We discover that he can read big words like “Constantinople” and “Timbuktu.”  I don’t know about you but it’s nice to know that the father in the story is intelligent and capable.

The question I now pose is this:  What has Dr. Seuss taught us about fathering and could there be any life lessons tucked into these few short pages? 

Let me take the liberty to highlight a few things I’ve gleaned from Hop on Pop:

1. Dad has emotion.

2. Dad doesn’t hide his sad emotions from his kids (especially his very, very sad ones).

3. Kids like to play with Dad. 

4. Dad lets his kids get close to him even when he’s had a bad day.

5. Dad allows his kids use him as a jungle gym (maybe it doubles a new kind of “play therapy” to cheer dad up after a hard day while also meeting his kids needs).

6. Dad has a limit on how much interaction with his kids he can handle when he’s stressed.

7. Dad abruptly STOPS the connection of interactive play when he’s had enough (a.k.a. dad sets a boundary).

8. Dad is smart and understands complex words and concepts.

These eight observations about dads are one thing, but now I’d like to take it a step further and translate them into eight things I believe are important for dads to know in relation to their daughters based on the “deep insights” taught by our favorite doctor:

1. We daughters are very dialed in to your emotions and moods, dad.

2. It’s okay to be real and let us see your sad emotions as well as your happy ones.

3. We like it when you are approachable even on your very bad days because we care about you.

4. We need you to let us physically connect with you on good and bad days; truth be told, sometimes we need safe touch from you on our hard days too (By the way, did you know that when you hug or kiss someone that oxytocin is released in your brain, which counters cortisol, the stress hormone?  Lesson: Give more hugs and kisses on your very bad days and you’ll both feel better).

5. We know you have a limit on how much you can handle and it’s understandable when you’ve hit that point.  

6. We’d prefer that you not scream and shout at us when hitting your max capacity but we do like knowing you’re human.

7. It’s okay to set a boundary when you need to, but please remember that you are teaching us how to handle intensity by your example. 

8. We really do like the fact that you are smart and can decode big words and concepts.  We love it when you educate us on things you understand and know.  And even if you can’t solve all the world’s problems, for some reason we like to believe you can.  

So there you have it:  A few thoughts about fathers that I, as a daughter, think are worth underscoring about the father-daughter relationship.

Why not choose one of the things listed here and make it happen today with your daughter: 

  • Show vulnerable expression of your “softer” emotions (like sad)
  • Hug her even if you’ve had a bad day
  • Lovingly (not abruptly) communicate when you’ve had enough or are maxed
  • Set healthy boundaries with her by modeling what that looks like
  • Teach her something new so you can both grow smarter together 

Thanks Dr. Seuss for teaching us a thing or two about little kids and big kids alike from your vast base of knowledge.  We’re deeply indebted to you and are ready now to “hop” into action! 

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