Dads, I'm not asking you to be overly gooey with your daughter and "pal" around with her. Start out with the "guy" stuff that seems more acceptable. Two things I'm keeping in mind while I write this. If your daughter is a teeny-weeny jelly beany, you've got a head start. If your daughter is elementary school age or older, it's soooo not too late. Get a "sense" of where you should start from the ideas presented here.
Like Mom (caps intended here, too!...We're important, why are we NOT a proper noun?), it's a dance between "telling" her what to do and "showing" her what to do. Preaching to the choir here, but "walk the walk" and model for her. Talk is not only cheap, it's costly if she sees you being a hypocrite. Remember when your parents told you, "Do as I say, not as I do"? As kids, we just knew that just wasn't right. And, kids are really focused on fairness. They need guidance, not being dictated to, and hypocrisy is a huge deal with them.
Starting the "life conversation" with your daughter requires a "stage"...I know it's silly, but I'm thinking it's rather like sumo wrestling. The wrestlers start out "sizing" each other up and moving around the circle in this odd fashion and then, they engage! Oh, how they engage! You may not be a "handy" guy, but there are things you can do to "engage" her. You two may end up learning together. You'll certainly learn a lot about each other during a "project". Why don't the two of you "start" by re-painting her room?
Bring up the subject with her. Make sure you advise Mom and put some boundaries on her. She can offer suggestions to you as to what your daughter will like, but that's it. Maybe your daughter has mentioned some ideas to Mom and you can pose them as a starting point. If you "echo" her ideas before she brings them to you, she will see you as being "in tune" with her! Look at just a few magazines with her and see where her thinking is going. Develop a plan with her including a time line and responsibilities and get started.
You see, this is about more than hanging out with her, you are teaching her competencies that will last a lifetime. You'll teach her that planning and preparation are critical for avoiding mistakes and achieving an outcome that she'll like. When you run into a problem, ah ha!, the problem-solving algorithm of life....what do I do now is a chance to tolerate the unexpected? You'll teach her who to reach out to and how to evaluate the advice. Yes, ask the cashier at Home Depot who is the best "paint guy". The cashiers know everything because they are usually women and women need to know this stuff because information keeps us safe. They also have a tendency to "look out" for the girls.
You are teaching her to respect you. You know "stuff". Even if you don't know stuff, your willingness to learn and put your "ego" on the line tells her a lot about you. You are fearless. Later, when it comes to talking to her about the low-life bad boy she is absolutely in love with, she may just pay a little more attention.
Start out by talking about driving when you are driving. Ask her to pay attention to situations that can develop her judgment. Experience is the biggest factor in fatal car accidents and those involving serious injury. Every now and then, point out what someone else is doing and your own judgment about the "moves" you make. Ask her what she would do. Don't make a nuisance of yourself, but make it a "teachable" moment from time-to-time.
What about car safety? It's all about the people. Here are some tips:
- "Janie, I don't care what the circumstances are, I'll never ask or punish, but if you feel unsafe, get out where you think you can be safe and Mom and I will pick you up. If you run into a grocery store and feel as though you have to call the police, do it. Don't think twice." Teach her that her instincts are trying to protect her and she shouldn't let her mind talk her out of it. Instincts are there for a reason.
- Tell her never to park next to a van with sliding side doors. If she comes out and sees that a van is parked next to her, get in on the other side. Many women who are kidnapped are "grabbed" in this way.
- She just can't "outfit" her car so that it is easily identifiable as belonging to a woman. It's just inviting trouble. It is thought that at any given time, 200 women are missing in the US. They are in the trunks of cars or the backs of vans. She needs to stash "girl stuff" in the trunk. A Florida State Trooper once told me about this strategy that serial killers and rapists use when he saw I had a "vanity" plate on the front of my car. I never even thought about it when I was putting it on. Make your car gender neutral. These predators are already skilled at what they do, why make it easier for them???
- Teach her what to do when she is broken down. If she is on the freeway, stand on the other side of the guard rail if possible.
- Drive on the rim of a flat tire if you need to! We'll pay for the damage.
- Be willing to die where you stand. Once you are taken to a second location, you are going to die anyway and the things that will happen before you do are indescribable.
- Be willing to ask for help. Don't want to go out into the dark parking structure after work? No one there to help you? Call the non-emergency number of the police and ask them what to do. It might seem lame, but "Can you live with the consequences of being raped?" Besides, cops love to prevent crimes. With the horror show they see daily, an opportunity to keep someone safe is a pleasant diversion.
- Give her permission to be brave about getting the help she needs. You can't rewind life for a "do-over".
- Keep your car in good working order. Unlike Penny in The Big Bang Theory, if a light comes on, do something.
- You take her to get her car inspected, the oil changed, whatever. Let her observe you "talking the talk" with the mechanic. Involve her in the conversation ("Anything feel unusual about the way the car handles, stops, etc.?")
- Teach her how to check her tire pressure and the criteria for getting new tires. Teach her how to shop for tires.
- If you live in a cold climate, teach her cold climate maintenance. Frosted windows cause accidents.
- Teach her how to replace her windshield wipers.
- Teach her how to keep track of her battery life and the "behaviors" that take place before it dies.
- May sure she has AAA membership with unlimited towing.
- Teach her how to verify if the "unmarked" car that has pulled her over really is a cop
- Teach her what to do when/if she is pulled over by a cop.
- Grilling a steak and how to do it safely
- How to use basic tools (get her a small tool kit and teach her how to use them!)
- Money-budgeting, investing, saving
- Predatorial behavior of men and women
- "Come backs" she needs to use to protect herself; handy "scripts" are critical
- Ways to get out of dangerous situations
- What men are thinking...
- How to evaluate the men in her environment, especially the work setting
- Choosing an apartment location and the kinds of locks (doors and windows) she needs to keep herself safe
- How do know when she is being taken advantage of or "groomed" for abuse
If you and your daughter don't typically do things together, start slowly. It will feel awkward to you both if you take too much of an interest in her life and participate too intensely right away.
- Take her to the movies
- Look at the grocery list on the counter. Taker her the grocery store. Find out what she likes to eat. Buy stuff you wouldn't ordinary buy just to "explore". Who knows, she just might like sardines! Ha!
- Look in the newspaper for fun things you can take her to (city park art shows, etc.) Take her to a car show. Take her to a a car dealership and look for cars. Teach her how to read the "sticker". Ask the salesman what he would teach his daughter about buying a new or used car.
- Volunteer to take her and her friends to concerts and other places. You can really get a sense of "who" your daughter is by observing during these events. You can also get a handle on her choices in friends
- Volunteer to take her shopping (there's no way to describe all of the things you'll learn from this little adventure...just observe!). If you take her shopping and she emerges from the dressing you and asks you, "What do you think?" DON'T grimace...say, "I think blue looks better on you" instead of "Have you lost your mind? That's toooo short!" If Mom disapproves, back Mom up and have Mom take her to exchange/return it.
- Take her anywhere she needs to go (typically, Moms do this, but you let Mom know she needs to check with you so that you can have chances to take her). Driving her to her friend's house says a lot to her friends and their parents if you are doing the day-to-day activities with her.
- Invite her to go with you to do things. If you are running errands, grab a Starbucks and get on the road. You just won't believe the things you will learn from her as you sit side-by-side in the car facing forward and having the distraction of the environment around you. Kids just spill their guts in the passenger seat. All kinds of things come out.
Before you act on anything or respond to her in any way, think about how you want her to describe you to her friends. What are the words you want her to use to describe you and behave consistently with that thought.
- Assume she knows nothing (she actually knows "close to nothing").
- Show her, every day of her life, what kind of man you are. Treat her mother with care and respect even if you are divorced, divorcing, hate each other...whatever. If you don't, daughter will wonder when you will turn on her. Trust me on this.
- Treat all women well. Avoid saying unkind things about any woman. You can be honest and question their "honesty, ethics, integrity, behavior", etc. Don't allow yourself to be abused, but avoid the words that make us girls cringe. You know what they are...
- Teach her your values which include being grateful, charitable, honest, kind, integrous, patient, generous, competent, caring, committed, adventurous, helpful, respectful, and having a strong work ethic. You don't have to tell her how much you love her, you have to show her. Telling her now and then means more if there's credibility behind it.
- Buy her birthday gifts that that will last a lifetime. This may sound daunting, but it isn't. Buy her a book of quotes from someone who really saw life for what it is...Albert Einstein, for example. I have one of his quotes in my office. It means so much to me that I had it calligraphied and framed: Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts. Stop for a moment and think about how profound that it. Watch her in her life and listen to what she values and make your gift a reflection of that value. Perhaps you won't buy her a "thing"; perhaps you will fund an experience for her that will shape who she is. Memories last so much longer than "things". Take her camping, go to a national forest or to a professional performance (ballet, symphony, etc.) or a sporting event of her choice.
If you do a good job and she is a good student, she will become a daughter who is satisfied with her life, contributes to the world, is honorable and self-respecting. When you close your eyes for the last time, you can say to yourself, "She's going to be OK without me; I taught her well". How do I know? Because I am absolutely certain my father said this to himself when he closed his eyes for the last time. Thanks for everything, Dad.
TTFN, Claudia Rodgers McCulloch