by Kelly de la Rocha
Back when I was small enough to fit in a shopping cart, my father often took me on crazy, imaginative adventures like that one. Although some grown-ups might say he was behaving inappropriately, and certainly not acting his age, my dads antics werent all bad. In fact, they may have actually helped me to become a well-adjusted grown woman.
By bringing me on that silly spin around the store, my father was teaching me some important lessons: that its okay to do something that goes against stereotypes, that its all right to be wacky and creative, and that what other people think isnt always important.
Research has shown that a womans self image, and the way she perceives men, has a lot to do with her early experiences with her father. "Fathers are the first men that daughters ever love. They teach their daughters what men are, and what sort of treatment their daughters should expect from them." explained Ken Canfield, Ph.D., the father of three girls and president of the National Center for Fathering, an organization that aims to inspire and equip men to be better fathers.
Being the first man in a girls life is an important responsibility and a wonderful opportunity. A fathers influence, or lack thereof, can be profound. Studies have confirmed that girls with little or no contact with their fathers are more likely to drop out of school, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse and become pregnant as teens. However, fathers who choose to be actively involved in their daughters upbringing can help ensure their girls will grow up to be self confident, respectful of their bodies, aware of their self worth and prepared for life in the "grown-up" world.
Although those are serious lessons, they can often be a lot of fun to teach. Following are 15 ways for dads to help their daughters grow up confident and healthy, while having a great time in the process:
1. "Rough house" together. "I think the key to being a parent is to not act your age," advised Joe Kelly, the father of two 20-year-old daughters and executive director of Dads and Daughters, a group whose goal is to help fathers become more involved in raising their girls. Get down on the floor and wrestle, tumble and generally "horse around" with your daughter. "Its fun and a chance for some good bonding," Kelly said. When your daughter gets too old to pin down on the floor or toss up in the air, a big bear hug can often do just as much good.
2. Host an impromptu picnic for your daughter and her friends. While flipping the burgers, take the chance to get to know the people outside your family who are an important part of your daughters life.
3. Get outside and exercise together -- play catch, jump rope, take a walk, ride bikes or shoot hoops. Studies have shown the more physically active a girl is during childhood and adolescence, the less likely she is to get pregnant, develop an eating disorder, drop out of school, abuse drugs or stay in an abusive relationship. "I believe the more physically active we are, the more we respect our bodies -- how important they are and what their capabilities are -- and we dont want to defile them," explained Kelly.
4. Cuddle together. Put some fluffy pillows and warm blankets on the floor, pop some popcorn and read stories or watch one of her favorite movies. Snuggling is a great way to create an emotional bond.
5. Give her a sense of history. Dig out your old photo albums and share them with your daughter. Show her where she fits into the family tree. Tell her stories about what life was like when you were growing up.
6. Make a point to really listen to what your daughter is saying. Take your eyes off the newspaper or the football game and listen not only with your ears, but with your eyes, as well, suggested Canfield. Focus on whats important to her -- what she thinks, believes, dreams, feels. Ask questions to draw her out and then close your mouth and really listen to her answers. "Listening sends the message that her soul is more important than her skin," said Kelly.
7. Take your daughter on a date. Make reservations, dress up, open the car door for her, and show her what its like to be in the company of a gentleman.
8. Become involved in her school activities. Make sure your daughter has the same opportunities as the boys. Go to her games and concerts, encourage her to be active in school clubs. Join the PTA. Why not volunteer to help coach one of her teams?
9. Take your daughter to work on Take Our Daughters to Work Day (the fourth Thursday in April) and on other days as well. Introduce her to your co-workers, give her a tour of the building and let her see you in action. "Teach her that work is more than just a place," suggested Kelly, "Show her what it means to work, that money is power and that the way she invests her time is power," he counseled.
10. This Fathers Day, surprise your daughter by taking her on a nature hike or for a boat ride on a nearby lake. While youre alone together, ask her about her week. Give her a males perspective on her questions and problems.
11. One rainy Sunday, have a junk food cook-off with your daughter. Teach her your favorite chili recipe and ask her to share some of her kitchen secrets with you.
12. Write your daughter notes that say you love her and that you are proud of her. In the notes, give some examples of what makes her a special person. Leave one in her lunch bag, e-mail one to her, or leave one for her at school when you attend "meet the teacher night."
13. Take your daughter on a camping trip. Sleep in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Roast marshmallows and look at the stars. Together, savor the peacefulness, far away from the hassles of everyday life.
14. Take her shopping at the mall and get to know what types of clothes she likes and what music she enjoys listening to.
15. Laugh together. Show your daughter the joy life can hold. Why not try out the shopping cart train the next time you visit a department store? ,p> The list of wonderful ways fathers can spend quality time with their daughters could go on and on. Unfortunately, the time dads have to spend with their little girls will not go on indefinitely. While shes still little enough to read bedtime stories to, while shes still waiting anxiously for you when you come home from work, and while youre still the most important man in her life, take full advantage of your status, dads, and enjoy every minute of it.
Kelly de la Rocha, of Fleetwood, Pa., is a freelance writer and editor, a mother of two, and the daughter of a wonderful, imaginative, crazy dad who still likes to take her on adventures. Correspondence may be directed, via e-mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org
200 Ways to Raise a Girls Self Esteem, by Will Glennon
Fathering - Strengthening Connections With Your Children No Matter Where You Are, by Will Glennon
How to Father a Successful Daughter, by Nicky Marone
Dads & Daughters web site: www.dadsanddaughters.org
National Fatherhood Initiative web site: www.fatherhood.org
National Center for Fathering web site: www.fathers.com
Joe Kelly, Executive Director of Dads & Daughters P.O. Box 3458 Deluth, Minn. 55803 1-888-824-3237 www.dadsanddaughters.org
Ken Canfield, Ph.D., President National Center for Fathering 10200 West 75th Street, Suite 267 Shawnee Mission, Kansas 66204 800-593-DADS www.fathers.com