Hey guys. This ones for you.
I was never a big Valentine’s Day type of guy. Never really got into it. Sure I’d send my best friend some flowers or try to make the girls in my life feel special. It just never really got me super excited. Something did change once we had a few girls in the house. The first year that the five were with us, I chose to schedule date nights with all three of the girls for the month of February. It didn’t take me long to realize that we were beginning a tradition that would have far more impact than just a fun night out.
Many girls in foster care or adoptive families have witnessed some things that we can’t even imagine. Some have witnessed father’s walk out the door and never come back. Others have witnessed men in their lives that could care less about them. Some little girls have been violated, scaring them emotionally and physically. Many have witnessed violence directed at them and the people they love. Girls with these experiences of men will begin to think that’s how a man acts and that’s how he treats those he says he loves. These girls will often go on to date men with these same traits, continuing the cycle of violence and pain. Why should they look for a man that treats them with dignity, respect, and kindness? They’ve never known men like that. It certainly won’t feel familiar. It won’t feel safe. And they probably won’t even think they deserve a man like that. It’s because of this, I believe we, as the men in their lives, have opportunity. We get to rewrite the narrative of what it’s like to be a man. This is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Regardless of their sexual orientation, I want them to know how they deserve to be treated by men.
It became clear on my first daddy / daughter date night that February 2014. On the days leading up to the date night, I told each girl how excited I was and how I couldn’t wait to spend that time with her. I believe that creating anticipation of the night, builds into their feelings of being special and valued. When the night finally arrived, I intentionally made all the efforts to be chivalrous to make the point: You’re worth being treated well. I helped her put on her coat, opened the car door for her, and opened all other doors along the way. As we were at dinner, I made sure to comment about her beauty (making sure to balance her inner strengths as well as how pretty she looked). I want her to know how I see her and the value I see in her. I want to build into her dignity and self-respect. I want her to experience healthy, genuine love.
At the time we did the first daddy / daughter date night, I had a teenager and two grade schoolers. So what I did and how I acted varied based on the ages. I actually took the two younger girls to a community daddy / daughter date night where there was a dance floor. At a certain point in the night, the hosts had the girls sit in the middle of the dance floor while the dads circled them. “My Girl” by the Temptations played and a bunch of grown men looked into their daughters’ eyes, telling them how special they were through a song. This was something completely new to my two girls. They fidgeted, giggled and struggled to make eye contact. But I kept singing to them. I kept looking at them, meaning every word of the song and expressing my love to them. Once the song was over, one of them commented that it was “weird.” I laughed. Because that’s okay. She’s never experienced anything like that before. And it was weird for her. Here were a bunch of men being gentle, kind, and loving to a group of girls. That was something she’d never seen before. It was weird.
In our house, daddy / daughter date night happens each year in February. But I continue make a point to build into my girls throughout the year. Since my girls are African-American and I’m Caucasian, I make a strong effort to point out their beautiful brown eyes & skin. When I see African-American women in the community wearing their hair natural, I comment on the beauty of their hair. I want my girls to be proud to be black women. I want my girls to feel beautiful as African-Americans. I also find ways to comment on women’s strength. Just today one of my girls was wearing a shirt that said “Strong” on it. I said, “That’s right. Girls are strong.” Little comments like this continue to build confidence and self-respect. Trish has helped this cause by getting books from the library that celebrate female diversity, talent & strength. One book in particular addresses the variety of princesses in the world, not just the Disney ones (“Princess Grace”). I want to make sure I read this book to my girls so that they hear my voice sending this message, as well as Trish’s.
So, to all you Dads out there. I challenge you to build into your little girls this February, whether they are 2, 12, or 22. They need us. Our world today has far too many examples of men that have used their strength to dominate, humiliate and abuse for their own benefit. Our little girls need us to make a change. Start small. Go big. It doesn’t matter. Just do something special this month. I’d love to hear your stories and see your pictures! Share with me what you decided to do.
We’re in this together.