For Father's Day, my wife bought me a great book called, 'Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters', by Meg Meeker MD. The book goes through ten 'secrets every father should know' about raising daughters. I'm about halfway through and it is scaring the hell out of me! Truthfully, so far I have found most of the father-daughter relationship information fairly intuitive. The fact that girls can see their daddies as their heroes and that I need to model the way she should be treated by her boyfriends and husband because she will compare them to me (for better or for worse) is no great surprise. These things are daunting, but do not come as a shock. I mean, as a man, I have taken cues from my parents' relationship (for better or worse) and carried them into my expectations of, and behavior in, my marriage.
What I am most terrified about is the statistics in the book. The author is a pediatrician and quotes statistics that would (and probably should) terrify any parent of a daughter.
We are raising our girls in a world where:
1 in 5 Americans over age 12 tests positive for genital herpes
11.9 percent of females will experience forced intercourse
40.9 percent of girls aged 14 to 17 experience unwanted sex
11.5 percent of high school girls attempted suicide in 2005
10000 teens PER DAYcontract a new STD
90 percent of eating disorders occur in girls age 12 to 25
And those are just some of the hard studies. Girls are entering puberty earlier than they were a generation or two ago (as early as age 9). Just take a look around at the messages and images young girls are getting, even passively in the room when tv is on, let alone the younger and younger dissemination of sexual 'education' that they are in no way mature enough to understand.
This is definitely a world where girls need their daddies to be heroes and protectors. They need us to step up and keep them safe. Now as reassuring as it would be to just erect a gigantic electric fence, sit by the gate with a shotgun and call it a day, the possibility of 'locking up our daughters' is neither practical, nor any way to treat someone whom you love more than your own life. So we need another way to protect them.
The positive side of the studies in this book is that by being engaged, interested, caring..... basically by being loving fathers, we can make a huge difference in our daughters' lives. But, there are more messages out there that are bound to make that a bit of a fight for us. Anyone who has watched tv in the last, oh, 20-30 years can't help but notice a shift in the portrayal of dads on tv. Where we used to have Charles Ingalls, we replaced him with Al Bundy. Where Cliff Huxtable once tread, we have Homer Simpson shuffling (and drooling). Where Mike Brady would engage his kids and teach them something, we have Peter Griffin, need I say more?
The father in many modern tv shows has become little more than another sight gag, valuable to the plot, perhaps, but portrayed as a bumbling ass so that even when he gets things right, it's mostly by accident (think of Tim Taylor and Ray Barone). Fatherhood has been marginalized as men have been perceived in some sort of suspended adolescence. We are shown as slaves to our own desires and impulses. We are portrayed as selfish morons who begrudgingly put up with our wives and children in between golf games, sporting events and trips to the strip club. It is not a good picture. And although I'm sure there are some who are happy to accept and wallow in this example, judging by all of the dads I know, it is not an accurate picture. It is also the last thing our families need.
What our families need is heroes. They need us to be bold. We must be the head of the family, but also the servant of our family. We must be warriors for the protection of our loved ones. I don't mean warriors in the sense that we are armed with weapons, picking fights or waging war on a society fraught with danger at every step. We need to be spiritual warriors.
Allow me to explain this a little further. I have a first degree black belt in two separate styles of traditional karate-do. I studied those styles for almost eight years, yet I have never been in a fight. The training I did, if necessary, could have kept me from physical harm. However, what I learned in my training, is that the self-defense 'warrior' is really more internal. It was more in the way I carried myself, or being aware of my surroundings. All the time being confident that I could keep myself from harm if it were warranted.
These are the warriors that our families need. They need us to be strong, humble, caring, protective, and confident. They need us to listen, to set guidelines and be clear in our expectations. But most of all, they need us to be examples. Whether you have sons or daughters, you need to be an example of what a good man is. You need to show how a good man treats his wife, how he works for his family, how he listens and guides his children. Your sons will look to you as a mark of how they should behave and relateas they become husbands and fathers. Your daughters will gauge the way their boyfriends and husbands are treating them, by the example they saw at home.
We can't allow our role to be marginal. Our role can make a tremendous difference in the lives of our loved ones. This should be elementary, no-brainer kind of stuff. But as we are moving into the time when fathers have been trained in manhood by the television and we are battling the tide of irrelevance in the messages our own children receive, our job is not made any easier.
Might I suggest we follow the example of St. Joseph. When he brought Mary to Bethlehem, heavy with child, and there was no place for them to stay, he persisted and did the best he could for his family. When God's messenger told him to leave for Egypt at once, he did, without hesitation. He was a strong man, a humble man, willing to give of himself for his family and willing to listen to the word of God. Ask him to pray on our behalf that our Father in Heaven will provide these gifts and graces to us.
...and to quote another tv show from long ago, "Let's be careful out there!"