Ordinary dads are the real superheroes for daughters

The most important thing a dad can give a girl is the feeling she is special.
The most important thing a dad can give a girl is the feeling she is special. Photo: Supplied

When researching my book Ten Things Girls Need Most, I talked to hundreds of women about how their own childhoods had been, and what made those childhoods happy, or painful to remember. There were many insights that they shared, but the most intense and emotionally charged of all was their relationship with their fathers.

I could not believe how many women had felt hurt and damaged by the inability of dads to show their love, be present, and let daughters know that they really mattered. Some dads even conveyed that girls were less important than boys. The wounds from this were lifelong, and very hard to heal.

Every girl, from babyhood onwards, loves and adores her father, and longs for him to be what she needs. They want warmth, gentleness, a sense of fun, affection and for him to be interested in her and encouraging of her.

The most important thing a dad can give a girl is the feeling that she is special.

Not his "princess" based on her looks or being somehow better than anyone else, and not because she gets high marks or gold medals, but because she is his daughter, and he loves her just for that.

A tragic thing that happens to us fathers, especially from the older school of fathering, is that we see our only role as financial.

By the time she is a teenager, she knows he would do anything, and go anywhere, to make sure she is safe, and taken care of. If she is in need or trouble, he will be there.

Girls who sense this are not egotistical, they just have a deep inner contentment. Being a good dad is not dramatic or heroic; most of the time, it's in the ordinary things.

He shows up. He keeps his promises. He is strong, not in the sense of muscular strength, but being true to his word, reliable and there. How he treats her mother, of course, is another way she sees his attitudes to the woman she will become.

One great tip is to have regular dad and daughter times: going for a meal or to a movie, just the two of them, but it can be just a trip to the shops and a hot chocolate on a Saturday morning.

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Of course, dad and son times are just as important. It's the one-on-one aspect that says: "I want to catch up and build memories, just with you."

Nine out of 10 girls will grow up to be interested in the opposite sex, so a dad who is respectful, asks her views, respects her privacy, but is still affectionate when that is sought, teaches his daughter to expect that in the men she chooses all through her life. He sets the benchmark, and less than great boys need not apply.

One of the tragic things that happens to us fathers, especially from the older school of fathering, is that we see our only role as financial. A child does not really understand that dad is working his guts out to support them. What they see is that he comes home grumpy, late and pre-occupied.

What matters to them is that dad walks the dog with them in the evening or reads them a story at bedtime. Or plays in the backyard. You can be rich and a terrible dad, or poor and a really great one.

The things girls hate are shouting, being preached at, being put down or made fun of and, of course, being mean or sarcastic. Some dads have real trouble just being easy and friendly.

They miss out on one of life's greatest joys: that a girl who is loved and respected loves and respects you back. Its one of the best feelings in the world.

Steve Biddulph is a psychologist and the author of Ten Things Girls Need Most. This is part of his weekly series for Fairfax Media.