A father's love for his daughter: Girl (8-10) on father's shoulders by sea, rear view

A father’s love for his daughter

My daughter Blythe.

I adore her. Our passionate love affair has lasted just over fourteen years and shows no sign of waning. Still when I hear her voice, or her name comes up on my phone a smile starts at the centre of my soul and wells up through my being. It wasn’t love at first sight though. The night we first met neither of us was at our best. The details are a bit vague in my mind now but I do remember her crying bitterly and me being thoroughly exhausted. Before the night was over though, she was in my arms. Two days later she moved in and we’ve been together ever since.

Being Blythe’s father has made me more vulnerable than I thought possible and brought me more joy than I ever imagined.

Nothing had prepared me for the range of emotions and challenges I have experienced being Blythe’s dad. What a deeply privileged and sacred journey it has been and continues to be. What follows is a smattering of the experiences I have had and lessons I have learnt being Blythe’s dad.

When Blythe was three years old a vigilant doctor picked up that she had a small hole in one of the walls of her heart and would need corrective surgery. The surgeon kindly allowed me to hold her in my arms as we placed the mask over her face that put her to sleep for the operation. Thanks to modern technology it went very quickly and was a great success. Sometime later I heard Blythe explaining to a friend that her heart was broken but her daddy fixed it. I cried. Deep emotion welled up in me as I realised what I meant to her as her father.

I was the one who could fix anything, her hero.

I was the one whose love for her and treatment of her, whose life and actions and words would impact most deeply on her young heart and mind and soul. My life mattered deeply to her and that made it matter more to me too. I needed to be there for her, to give her my best so that she could grow up to be her best.

When Blythe was just over two years old I spotted her reaching out curiously towards a red hot heater. I quickly said to her “don’t touch that it’s hot”. She gave me an imperious look and said “I like hot”. A beautiful and funny moment and one which made me realise that she would be no pushover. Blythe has a strong will and I have tried to constantly show her that I love her unconditionally while at the same time setting appropriate boundaries. I adore her and love to show her this quite extravagantly, not with material things but with lavish displays of affection and constant words of love and affirmation. It has been so easy to do as she shows me so much love in return.

As she has grown up the nature and tempo of our interaction and displays of affection have gone through different phases.

I have learnt to discern the slowly changing needs of her heart and to match how I show my love to her with what her heart and maturing mind needs. When she was younger I used to stroke her head at bedtime and stop only when I heard the deep, even breathing of sleep. If I stopped a moment too soon she would murmur for me to continue. She would often ask me to come and stroke her head. As she has grown older these requests have become less and less. We used to walk arm in arm through malls and now sometimes I notice that she needs a bit of distance between us as we walk, particularly when there are boys her age about. Though my adoration of her has not changed at all, I let her set the pace in how I display it to her.

Blythe would often climb into the shower with me and I used to wonder when the appropriate time would be for her to stop showering with her dad. I decided to completely leave it to her, to not even mention it. Slowly as she approached puberty she began to get a little more private until one day I realised she was no longer showering with me. There was no discussion, no issue, just a slow and very natural change.

When Blythe turned thirteen I had a long discussion with her about passing from being a girl to becoming a woman.

We developed a lexicon of words and terms to help define this passage. One of the words we used to describe this time was “wogirl”. It meant halfway between being a woman and being a girl. It also played on the expression “whoa girl”. Wait. There is no hurry to get involved in certain activities reserved for later in life. It was a beautiful discussion about life, womanhood, boys, sex, drugs, dangers, joys, pleasures, boundaries, and the plethora of challenges and delights that awaited her. We used the analogy of an enchanted forest that she was walking through into womanhood and all the challenges and joys she would face and how to deal with them. I said to her that my role is like Merlin the wizard, there whenever she called on me to offer wisdom, whatever magic I could conjure, and to fight for her with every fibre of my being.

The day Blythe first developed her periods she called to tell me. I had tears in my eyes at the privilege of having her share this intimate womanly experience with me, a man with rather little experience in such matters. Being able to talk about anything and everything with your daughter is critical as a father.

I have worked hard at creating experiences and making special memories with Blythe.

One December holiday we decided to work through the alphabet of activities, to do something that started with each letter of the alphabet. A for acting, B for bat and ball, C for camping, D for dancing, and so on. For Z we couldn’t find a zebra to ride so we ended up running madly across a Zebra crossing. It turned out to be a lot more challenging than we thought but we managed to work our way through 26 activities. It created fun and joy, required imagination, action and effort but mostly it enabled us to spend great, quality time together and make beautiful memories.

I have learnt the importance of dedicating time to spend exclusively with Blythe.

One activity we both loved was dancing lessons. Though our size differential made for some interesting variations to some tried and tested moves, we had wonderful times together. Sometimes though it means doing things that really wouldn’t be my first choice way to spend a few hours. For instance Blythe loves shopping, I really don’t. Far more important than my dislike for shopping is the fact that Blythe loves it and it creates a way for us to spend time together. I have spent countless hours scouring malls and waiting outside change rooms while Blythe tries on enough garments to outfit an entire fashion show. Spending such time together has created great opportunities to impart wisdom and strength into Blythe’s life. On one such expedition the mission was to buy a jacket for Blythe. As the day progressed and the number of jackets remaining to be tried on in the mall diminished to none, I noticed Blythe getting quieter and quieter and more and more withdrawn. On the way home in the car, sans jacket, I asked her what was wrong. She said that the jackets all made her look fat. What an opportunity to share with her how beautiful she is, how that women throughout the world felt 5 Kgs bigger and dotted with cellulite every time they entered a brightly lit changing room. By the time we got home Blythe was her normal happy self, and had gained important insight into life, self esteem, the media, and one more of the challenges of being a woman.

It is so important to know your daughter.

What her favourite colour is (Blythe’s changes regularly), her fears, passions, likes, dislikes. Knowing her lets her know that she matters, that what she thinks and feels is important. It affirms her and validates her. It gives credence to who she is and creates in her the confidence to be herself. I have tried to always encourage Blythe to be everything she is. And she is many things; tomboy, budding model, athlete, compassionate nurturer, daughter, sister, friend, sensitive soul, brave adventurer. For her to fully develop into all that God created her to be she needs to explore the many facets that make up who she is and be completely at peace with herself. We all long to be seen, to be truly known and deeply valued, and for a girl to be seen and known and cherished by her dad goes a long way to creating an unshakable foundation of self esteem.

Girls become women.

No great revelation but somehow for a dad quite a challenge. That cute little girl you wanted to protect forever from the big world suddenly fills out and develops women parts and starts to dress differently and, horror of horrors, boys start to look at her. Once a friend of Blythe’s older brother Luke hugged Blythe for longer than the requisite nano-second and I felt deeply primal feelings beginning to well up within me. As this lecherous young man, positively reeking with impure thoughts, clung lasciviously onto my daughter the desire to remove his head from his shoulders with my bare hands all but overwhelmed me. I realised that perhaps I was being slightly irrational and that it was after all a simple hug. He went on his way blissfully unaware of the near death experience he had just had and I grew some more as a father. I have had to learn to celebrate Blythe’s emerging sexuality, to not be critical of makeup and short skirts, the occasional wearing of high heeled shoes and all the subtle and not so subtle changes attendant to the becoming of a woman.

For a dad the boyfriend issue always looms menacingly on the horizon.

And unlike cycling or running towards that horizon, it comes a lot quicker than we hope! The first real boyfriend Blythe had came rather sooner than I had planned. I was very grateful that she told me all about him and wanted me to meet him to see what I thought. Apart from shaking his hand perhaps a little harder than was necessary it went well. It’s very important that all prospective boyfriends are fully aware that if they do anything to hurt your precious girl it could well be the last thing they ever do. It’s also important however for them to like you and want to hang out with you. It’s an artful balancing act between being welcoming and at the same time threatening. If they consider you cool but dangerous you’ve got it just right.

Ultimately I realised that I had to trust Blythe.

I could not possibly be there all the time to ensure that she behaved in a manner becoming of a young lady; but what I taught her, the love I showed her and the values I managed to impart to her would always be with her. These would be her guide. My theory goes something like this: if my daughter is absolutely secure in the unconditional adoration of her dad she will not be vulnerable to any inappropriate or over zealous expressions of affection from young men. I’m sticking to it. Plan B is dismemberment without trial for the offending party, which would probably not be very constructive in the broader scheme of things.

I have realised the importance of simply being available.

As a divorced father this takes on a particular significance as Blythe does not always sleep under the same roof as me. I make sure that I call her every day, and I make sure that unless it is really impossible I always take her calls. There are times when I call her and I can just sense that she is not in the for talking, other times it’s impossible to get her to stop. I let her set the pace; it’s her heart that is important here. The times when she wants to speak at length are crucial; she needs to know I’m there for her, that nothing is more important than her heart and that if she needs to speak about anything, no matter how trivial, I am there.

In spite of how difficult or awkward it may be I have tried to keep Blythe informed about life.

After our divorce when Blythe moved in with her new step family of 3 brothers I had a conversation with her about sexual abuse. Simply discussing such an awful topic with such an innocent eleven year old beauty felt like a violation but it was necessary to let her know about the real world and the dangers it holds. In that specific instance it turned out to be unnecessary as the family she moved in with are a wholesome crew. The goal is to keep her appropriately informed of the realities and dangers of life.

I am unashamedly in love with Blythe.

I tell her all the time and I show her constantly. I have love songs I sing to her (very badly!) and although she acts embarrassed when I do, I know she likes it. One day one of the songs started playing on the radio and I was distracted and didn’t sing along to her as I usually do. With a mixture of coyness and indignance she said “hey dad there’s that song”. Without the help of my own heavenly father I would never have made the grade. He has guided and equipped me all the way and given me the great comfort of being able to tell Blythe that she has two fathers who adore her, me her earthly Dad and God her heavenly Father. Being a dad is one of the greatest privileges in life and I am immeasurably richer for the experience. I thank God for giving me Blythe and I thank Blythe for bringing me such joy.

Craig Wilkinson

Craig is a bestselling South African author, award winning social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and Dad Coach. He is passionate about the crucial role fathers play in the lives of their children and society. Drawing from his experience of raising two children to adulthood and over a decade of working with men, Craig has produced resources for fathers at all stages of their fatherhood journey. Craig is also the founder and CEO of Father a Nation (FAN), an NPO whose mission is to restore and equip men to be great fathers, mentors and role models.