A Few Things that Fathers and Daughters
Ought to Know
So much is
taken for granted by both fathers and daughters
— some things, in fact, that ought not be taken for granted in the
sacred bond of love and trust that should bind father and daughter.
The responsibilities of fatherhood should be connatural to a man,
but somehow have become terribly vitiated, and have frightfully
dwindled over a generation more concerned with gender and power
than the far more vital notion of gender and love, especially as
it pertains to, is enacted within, the relationship between parents
and children — and most especially fathers and daughters.
So many women ask fundamental questions that, at first, perplex
a father. They perplex us because we take some things for granted
and fail to understand that what we have understood in our relationship
to our own children is not necessarily — perhaps even largely —
the shared experience of other fathers and daughters. A confusion
has set in. The notion of what is normative seems, sometimes, to
have vanished totally. And this is a stunning — more than a stunning,
it is a frightening realization.
What ought children, especially
daughters, expect of their fathers? And what should fathers expect
of their daughters? These are questions that should not have to
be asked — even as we now find it terribly urgent that they must
be asked. Many relationships between fathers and daughters
are deeply wounded, broken — even ... and this is the greatest tragedy
We cannot expect the children to be answerable for this horrific
state of affairs. But we can ask the fathers. And if the fathers
no longer clearly understand their role in the lives of their daughters,
then let us presume to articulate it for them. Please God that for
most men and women who read this, it is redundant and unnecessary.
But for those who still ask deeply painful and recurring questions
that linger from their childhood relating to Dad and his relationship
to them, let us at least explain what a father ought never do.
Sexuality and Children: A Beautiful Abhorrence
God has given fathers, by nature,
what can only be called a “beautiful abhorrence” toward any notion
of anything remotely sexual with their own children (and all children).
It does not — or must not — even enter the consciousness of a father.
It is not that the father detests anything of the child or her sexuality
(of which he is the holy guardian); nothing of a child is abhorrent,
or detestable, to a father — absolutely nothing — except the notion
of sexual intimacy with the child.
If your father has sexually abused you, understand this and understand
it very, very clearly: IT IS NOT, WAS NOT, IN
ANY CONCEIVABLE WAY, YOUR FAULT!
You did nothing to invite it. You are not IN THE LEAST, IN ANY WAY,
RESPONSIBLE FOR IT. It is your father’s fault. Not yours. You may
still love your father and find yourself unwilling to ascribe blame
to what he may have done. You may deny it. More than likely you
fear it. But this is the point: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT IN ANY CONCEIVABLE
OR POSSIBLE WAY.
Children are innocent. That is the immense beauty of children. It
is an innocence cherished by God Himself Who is Father to “Jesu,
Innocens Patri” ... “Jesus, Innocent of the Father” ... the
Innocent One whose Holy Innocence is most closely approximated ...
Any father who has changed a diaper knows the absolute beauty of
this innocence. If there is one single factor motivating chastity
in men, it is in having had a daughter. He sees in other women the
innocence that is in his own daughter. It does not distort another
woman’s sexuality — it ennobles it!
Physical remoteness from your child will come — much to the anguish
of your heart — even as you delight in her becoming a young woman
in her own right. Until that time — when budding womanhood no longer
makes possible the rough and tumble playing that fathers enjoy with
their daughters, to the glee and laughter of both — do not be stingy
in your affection for your daughter. Kiss her. Hold her. Caress
her head. Comfort her. Tickle her. Bite her (gently!). Chase her!
Let her beat you up! Play with her! The days will come when remembrance
of such beautifully innocent love between father and daughter will
pass, with anguish, into memory — although it will never leave you.
Never Strike your Child in the Face — or do Him
Lasting Physical Harm!
Especially in the face! Especially
with a fist, or even with an open hand! A spanking on the rump will
never hurt a child and will correct behavior not amenable to all
your reasoning and pleading. It is simply the case. Is it “punishing”
the child? Yes; for unacceptable behavior that must be curbed for
the good of the child (and there is such a thing as “for the good
of the child!”).
A blow to the face, the back, the chest, the stomach — is something
else. It is terribly frightening to a child. Not because of the
physical pain, but because of the horrific violence that they see
behind it, that they find in you! It is a fearful, frightful, terrible
violence that, to a child, is the harbinger of things worse yet
“If I can be beaten through this violence in my father ... what could he,
what could this terrible violence, do to me if he really got angry?
What if he could not control it, even as he cannot control it right
now? Will he Kill me? Mutilate me?”
Striking a child is not inexcusable — it is despicable. You
are so much bigger, larger, taller, stronger than they are. They
will perceive themselves as hated, and deserving of hate. Who, after
all, violently strikes someone he loves? Is it ever an expression
If you try to bring up a virtuous child, then they will come to
know enough of hatred from the world — they do not, must not, find
it in you. You are the giver of love! Nothing must overshadow that.
Nothing must obscure it, diminish it, or mar it. Your child's ability
to love and be loved later in life will largely depend on your ability
to communicate your love for them and their “loveableness” to you.
If your own father does not love you ... who, then, could ever possibly
love you ...?
Do not slap a child in the face! This shames and humiliates
the child. It is violence pretending to be less than violence. You
cannot be “graciously” violent!
Alcohol is one of the greatest precipitators of violence in a family.
This holds true for mother as well as father. Do not deceive yourself
that your drinking is something of a social grace, that it is “sophisticated”
and that — for you fathers — it is a “man’s right” to get drunk
once in a while. You never have that “right”! You shame yourself;
your mouth becomes coarse and foul, you become violent and something
terribly frightening to a child — and then excuse your violence
by blaming it on the liquor. Do you love your children? Toss the
bottle and drop the pretensions. Real men do not dishonor themselves
through violence and shameful excesses. They avoid them. Love of
their children compels them! And if love will not suffice, then
honor will — or at least ought to.
Never physically abuse your spouse!
This goes for women as well as men! Do not let your child witness
this — which should never be seen because it should never happen!
A child seeing a frightened mother, a humiliated father, grows fearful
and insecure. Those entrusted with their care do not even care for
“How will they possibly care for me? What is more, both are big,
and I am little! What if he or she did that to me? They can do it
to each other. They can do it to me!” Want an insecure, recessive,
child? Beat your spouse and humiliate them before your children.
Do not Manipulate Your Child!
Threats of any sort are just veiled
forms of manipulation. You are teaching your children to use other
people to their own selfish ends. The worst — and most common —
form of manipulation is emotional. You tamper with, leverage, your
own child's greatest vulnerability: their emotions. Fear, sorrow,
shame, guilt, to name a few — you use these cleverly to force the
child to conform to your own ultimately selfish ends. Invoking fear,
shame, guilt — if you find a word more condign, more suitable than
“despicable”, write me — is one of the most harmful things you can
do to your child. Children should not fear. Children should not
be brought to shame. Children should not bend, be broken, under
guilt no matter how justifiable you think it is.
There is appropriate sorrow for a child, but children are sinless
and therefore guiltless. Don't lay your burden on your child and
then hold them accountable for your own deficiencies or inadequacies.
Accountability and emotional extortion are very, very different.
God Himself has given them their innocence. Who are you to take
it away? He does not hold them “guilty”. Who are you to stand them
in the dock? God has shared His Fatherhood with you. Who are you
to misuse it? To abuse it? Love your children! God Himself does!
Are you greater than God?
Being a Father ... is being a man — not an excuse
Fatherhood is the most dignified
and honorable vocation possible to a man.
God may give kings thousands of subjects ... but He gives you —
and, yes, even kings — something far greater still: children. Worldly
success, power, esteem, wealth, “trophy houses” ... these are so
many cheap monuments to your own immature and distorted sense of
grandeur. Tomorrow they will pass to another. Despite your illusions,
they have nothing to do with “you”. If you think they do, and lose
them, you have lost everything.
Not so with a child, with children, who cleave to you when all else
is taken from you. Flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, they
are inseparable from you — from your very identity! You are a father
forever — their father — not only in time, but in eternity. Nothing
can sunder this — or deprive you of it. Children are from God, and
belong to God — Who has dignified you with a participation in His
The world is made for them — contrary to your own self-centered
In fact ... so is the Kingdom of God, into which no “man” will enter
— only children.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal