She Calls Him Dada

By , on June 19, 2014


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Some things, we will never outgrow.

My own personal list includes:

A good animated film. Disney classics? Bring ‘ em on! In this regard, I will never outgrow my favorite heroes and heroines, princes and princesses, and best-loved characters from my favorite books and movies.

Comic strips. I still thumb through the pages to head straight to the funnies of the morning newspaper; opting to read these first – some sort of buffer for another day of presumably bad news in the world of grown-ups.

Cotton Candy. Pink or blue. Or pink AND blue. Candy Corn; the kind you get at theme parks. Halloween candy. CANDY, period.

Theme parks. And fairs. Plus carnivals.

Shiny coins. Shiny glass stones and marbles. Shiny jewels. Shiny anything.

Picking at scabs. Especially since we were always told “not to.” Gross? I suppose so. But undeniably irresistible and inexplicably fun.

The Crayola 64 Pack. With exotic colours like Carnation Pink, Periwinkle, Indigo , Wisteria and Raw Sienna. The sight of all the colours standing at attention; the distinct, familiar smell of wax and whatever usher in wave upon wave of nostalgia. And how can you ever outgrow the cute little sharpener built-in to the side of the box? No way, no how. (pity that this has now been removed in some of the packaging variants.) This shall forever remain a classic, timeless, ageless toy.

Paper dolls and pop-up books. These are art forms, in their own right.

Costumes. I adore them! I wear them every chance I get; Halloween or otherwise. My ongoing project? Maleficent, of course.

This list could go on, and we could lose ourselves on the topic of being young at heart; forever a child; nurturing a youthful spirit; and how to get to Neverland. We could; and oh, what fun that would be. But perhaps another day.

I will, however, add one more item to the list of things and such that I shall never outgrow…

Being Daddy’s Little Girl. No matter how old and wrinkly I get.

 

No longer “Mama only”

I have always enjoyed a good relationship with my Dad; something for which I am forever grateful. And now that I, too, am a parent, with a daughter of my own, I am happy to see that my daughter also has a solid relationship with her Dad.

Gone are the days when the adamant “Mama ONLY!” was the operative phrase: as in, “Mama only will carry me,” ”Mama only will put me to bed,” or ‘I want to go with Mama only!” The transition was a bit challenging for me, initially (for I have always been more attached to my daughter than I care to admit,) but understanding the value of the father-daughter bond has helped me to see this in a different light.

 

The father-daughter bond

Fact: A girl’s father is one of the most influential people in her life. Don’t take my word for it, please. There are countless studies to back this up. From infancy to toddler stages, ‘ tweener to teener years and well into adulthood, the relationship between a father and his daughter is of great import. A healthy, strong relationship can spell the difference between a healthy, strong view a girl has of herself. And this bears significant impact on the overall course of her life.
My Andie is in her teen years, and I see how she looks to her Dad for guidance, and how her opinions of her Dad as a man, as a person, shape her opinions of other men, herself, and much of the world, in general.

A father’s influence in his daughter’s life shapes her self-esteem, self-image, confidence and opinions of men.

Michael Austin, associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University and editor of “Fatherhood – Philosophy for Everyone: The Dao of Daddy says that: “How Dad approaches life will serve as an example for his daughter to build off of in her own life, even if she chooses a different view of the world.”

“What matters in the father-daughter relationship is that Dad seeks to live a life of integrity and honesty, avoiding hypocrisy and admitting his own shortcomings, so that she has a realistic and positive example of how to deal with the world. He should try to model a reflective approach to life’s big questions so that she can seek to do the same,” he adds.

As we can surmise, it is therefore crucial for fathers to cultivate their relationship with their daughters; and this process starts early on. From birth, actually.

 

Diaper Dads rule

These days, in most parts of the world, the task of parenting, from the get-go, is now shared with dads. A big chunk of today’s society advocates fathers as equal partners in care giving. Gone are the days when moms were the only ones getting up for the dreaded 2 am feeding, or the even more dreaded dirty diaper doodies – I mean, duties. Diaper dads rule, and moms couldn’t be more thankful.

Dads are taking on the challenge of being as hands-on as they possibly can, and are perhaps realizing how awesome mothers are (smile!). From diapers and feedings, to bedtime, bath time, and calm-the-crying baby time, dads are more actively involved.

I will never forget as Andie was yanked out of my tummy (yes, I delivered via C-section, putting my Lamaze dreams to rest) in seeming unceremonious fashion, it was her Dada’s voice that soothed and comforted her cries of protest and anger. We had taken the time to make an audio tape, in which we spoke to her, told stories, laughed – that sort of thing – like the excited parents to be that we were. We played the recording regularly over my distended belly for the last few months of my pregnancy, not really sure that it would make a difference, but ecstatic to find out that it did. In utero, she knew the sound of our voices, and she recognized her Dada’s voice soon as she came into the world.

This early bonding between father and daughter is a crucial time, and defines the beginning stages of a very important relationship.

Austin says that: “Dads need to spend time with their infant daughter, taking care of her physical needs and supporting her Mom.”

He also adds that once his daughter enters toddler years, the bond can be strengthened during playtime. “It is essential that Dad gets down on the floor — on her level — and plays with her,” Austin says.

And play with Andie at her level, Dada always did; often getting as grimy and grubby as she.

The toddler years are also a great time for dad to teach his daughter new things: explore the outdoors, develop an interest in music and art, or learn to ride a bike, maybe. I watched, as Andie and Dada went on short walks, looking for bugs, or spent hours doodling with finger paints and making a giant colourful, happy mess. To this day, Andie loves art and exploring.

 

When hormones go wild

As Andie entered and emerged from the tweener into the teener years, bonding has become a tad more complex than simply changing a dirty diaper, offering a comforting milk bottle, or building a tower of blocks. Dada is often befuddled – and frustrated – by mood swings and raging hormones. Blast those raging hormones!

It’s at this stage that many dads lift their hands in surrender, choosing to back off rather than engage in battle they don’t always understand. Austin advises that, during those often trying teen-tween years, “dads should focus on cultivating a trusting relationship so that their daughters feel secure talking with them about what’s going on in their lives. When necessary, dads should apologize and ask for forgiveness, as this both shows respect and love to our daughters and heals the hurts that are inevitable in daily life together.”

Instead of backing off, getting frustrated, or getting angry, dads are encouraged to continue working on developing a relationship based on mutual trust with his daughter. He must continue to show support, affection, and understanding, realizing that this is not an easy time for his daughter, either.

As she learns more about her own identity – who she is and the kind of person she wants to become – Austin stresses that “it’s imperative that, no matter what, dads avoid the temptation to pull away or withdraw during this sometimes challenging stage of growing up.”

Fathers are enjoined to offer verbal encouragement, whenever they can. Daughters thrive on positive words from their dad, as much as they are crushed when they feel they’ve let daddy down.

The battle with hormones gone wild can more often than not be won by keeping lines of communication open, taking time to listen and listen some more to your daughter, being sensitive to her feelings and keen on what’s really going on (raging hormones can present quite a confusing situation, on the surface), and by taking a position of active involvement in her daily life (her hobbies and interests, for instance.) When a father is directly and actively involved in his teener-tweener daughter’s life, this helps lessen whatever insecurities she may be dealing with, and helps increase her confidence in herself and her abilities.

 

The mark of dad

This involvement and perseverance pays off in ways that fathers (and mothers) will most definitely be thankful for. The effect of the father-daughter bond is far-reaching, bearing impact well into years beyond the teens and tweens.
The mark a dad leaves on his daughter’s psyche is almost indelible in nature, and can be as destructive as it can be constructive. Sadly, ask any victim of abuse, and they will perhaps tell you of wounds so deep, they fester and often fail to scar.

This bond – or the lack thereof – generally helps set the course on which women live their lives.

Studies conducted by numerous family-oriented research groups have shown that daughters who have healthy and strong relationships with their fathers:

  • Have better grades in school
  • Feel better about themselves
  • Are more assertive without being aggressive
  • Feel more confident in relationships with men in general
  • Are more likely to be admitted to graduate school and get a degree

 

Further, Austin points out that the in a majority of instances, the relationship a daughter has with her father bears weight on the type of men that women choose to date and even have long-term relationships with. The goal, of course, is for fathers to set a positive example, and help shape their daughter’s perspective of men in a positive way.

“He must, first and foremost, treat his daughter with respect and love. Whether or not he is married to or still together with his daughter’s mom, showing respect to her mother is essential as well,” Austin emphasizes.

“He must also value women as human beings, and not as persons to be used. Daughters will see what their dads believe about women by how they value and respect women, or by how they fail to do so,” he adds.

 

Leaving a legacy

Developing and strengthening the father-daughter bond is vital in the early and middle years of a girls’ life. Maintaining it is a lifelong process. The rewards, however, go way beyond a lifetime; for a good father-daughter bond can leave a legacy for generations to come.

Andie calls her father “Dada;” for she, too, has not outgrown him.

And if she’s lucky, she never will.

And if we’re all lucky – and work at it – Andie’s daughters (should that be in her cards) will have with their own Dada all the wonderful things she has with hers.

 

Father's Day photo collage card made by Andie for her Dada, Andrew. (Courtesy of Andie Duarte-Syyap)
Father’s Day photo collage card made by Andie for her Dada, Andrew. (Courtesy of Andie Duarte-Syyap)