There is little that brings me more joy than seeing the relationship my husband has with our daughter. She's the kind of kid who naturally draws people to her — she's friendly, engaging, and funny — but she has a special place in her heart for her daddy, and he for her. The things that strengthened my partner's father-daughter relationship are, it seems to me, part intuitive, part intentional, but always done with thoughtfulness and care.
There are innumerable wonderful ways to raise a child, and not all of them include having a father. But when someone has a father in the picture, the relationship they have with them is often powerful and important... for better or for worse. This is true, of course, for children regardless of gender, but the relationship a daughter has with her father is significant in different ways than it might be for a boy. A father often shows a young, male-identifying person what it means to be man. Less discussed, perhaps, are the ways that a father does the same for a daughter, but instead of emulating his behavior she is going to be expected to learn from it in a different way: how to talk to, interact with, and (perhaps most significantly) expect to be treated by men. Forming a bond built on respect and compassion, therefore, is clutch. I mean, just generally having a solid father-daughter relationship, taking any societal significance out of the equation, is usually a good thing, right?
So with that in mind, here are some of the things my husband did to ensure he had that special bond with our daughter:
He Fully Committed To Infant Care
Whether they have merely been socialized to it or there's a biological component, men often express feeling much more at ease with toddlers and children than infants. They feel more connected to their children once they can play with them. But even if the more low-key methods of bonding aren't your favorite, they're still important to help you build a rapport with your baby.
Besides, it makes playtime more fun when they can actually, you know, play (or even just keep their head upright on their own).
He Realized She Is Not Uniquely Fragile
Obviously, all babies are fragile. Stupidly fragile, if we're being honest. It's absurd. (So, seriously, don't, like, take your baby on a roller coaster or shoot them out of a catapault.) But studies (and pretty much anyone's anecdotal evidence) show that dads are much more physically cautious and less interactive with their daughters than their sons. Some scientists suggest that our behavior toward girls is different and more wary of their sturdiness (physically and emotionally) from the time they're infants.
My husband, aware of these often invisible biases, made a point to be aware that our daughter was no more breakable than our son had been at the same age. Again, he wasn't throwing her in the air like a circus performer (usually) but he made every attempt to see her for what she was capable of at any given point, which allowed him (and, in turn, her) the confidence to be less inhibited and do more.
In many ways, my husband is basically a puppy. It's really cute to see the two of them bonding over that. My daughter laughs hysterically as my husband gets her in a wrestling hold and shouts, "Who's my delicate flower?! Who's my graceful dainty cupcake?!"
It's not all headlocks and hollering over here. Our daughter is, for the most part, very (though not singularly) feminine. She loves dolls and dress up and princesses and cute little fluffy things. My husband isn't too cool or "manly" to put on a crown and a pink cape and join our little Queen's court. Letting her know he is interested in the things she's interested in (and not just interested but willing to engage in them) enables them to truly bond, and it lets her know that "girly" interests are valid and not something people should look down on for any reason.
This is actually something they bond over on a completely personal level: they're both very good artists. I mean, our daughter is 4 so let's take "very good" with a grain of salt and the spirit in which it's intended, but my husband lights up when he sees her starting a new painting picture and, when he can, will often join her at the kitchen table and make some sketches of his own.
He Includes Her In On The Things He & Our Son Do
Which isn't to say that my husband and son don't have dedicated "daddy/son bonding time," because we think one-on-one time is important for every family combination. But he will make sure to include our daughter on the things "the boys" are doing for a number of reasons.
For one, it's a nice way to spend time with both his children because he loves them (duh). For another thing, it makes her feel included and special while encouraging a sibling bond (or, at the very least, teaching our son to have patience with little kids). But a big aspect of this is encouraging her to feel that she belongs in "male spaces." Yeah, right now it's just her and her dad and brother in the backyard playing catch, but as she gets older it's going to (hopefully) give her the confidence to know that she can stride into an all-male meeting or lab or artist collective and know that she doesn't have to worry that she inherently doesn't belong.
He Lets Her "Help" Around The House
Her holding the nails my husband is putting into the wall to hang a picture isn't really "helping," but it makes her feel a sense of accomplishment and it's a great way to do something meaningful with her daddy.
My husband is a big old nerd and a massive gamer. While our daughter hasn't shown a particular love of video games just yet, her dad has been introducing her to some of the classics, because this is something he loves and wants to share it with her. She enjoys the time spent with her dad, and I think there's great value in sharing something you enjoy with your children.
He Doesn't Let Her Walk All Over Him Because She's Adorable
The whole "daddy's little girl" stereotype, of daughters being able to get away with murder because they can bat their eyelashes and melt their fathers' heart, is... yeah, no. It's sort of creepy to me, if I'm being honest. My husband agrees, and while he often has to pull himself together to "be the bad guy" (because he's human and she's ridiculously adorable), he knows that teaching my daughter that he takes her seriously is far more valuable to their ability to bond (and her development as a responsible, self-respecting, grown-ass adult) than caving to her whims and teaching her that she can manipulate him (and, by extension, men) by playing it cute.
He Makes A Point Of Bonding With Her
Because this isn't the sort of thing that happens without concerted, ongoing effort, but it's well worth the work.