We often have great expectations of how men should be with their daughters, and these can be a real weight to carry. We spoke to Steve who is father of five, with three children from previous marriages and two children with his wife of 33 years. All of Steve’s children are girls. Steve told me that the strongest sense he had when the girls were young was how much they needed to be protected.
In his own words...
You had to safety proof everything and even everything you didn’t see needed safety proofing; I learned this when one of my girls managed to escape the house and went exploring up the street at the age of two years. This woke me up, my awareness of their safety needs took on a whole different perspective. I realised how precious children are and I needed to protect that preciousness with all of me. That set the scene of wanting to protect them as much as I possibly could.
As they grew up, I wanted them to be aware of the pitfalls that were around. When they were teens they wanted to learn to drive so I used to take them to the junk yard and show them how cars worked so they wouldn’t get ripped off, or breakdown. I didn’t treat the girls as girls with frills and lace, they were my children and I just wanted them to have awareness of how this world worked, to be awake to what was out there.
I didn’t want them to be in a bubble of ‘everything’s fine’ instead, but to have their eyes wide open.
I didn’t have any experience of girls going through puberty, it wasn’t something a man was supposed to talk about with daughters. I was raised with two sisters and I never ever had any conversations or heard any talk about periods at home. I must have heard about it in High School, but that was just ‘something girls had.’ We would have had sex ed’ when I was about 12, but even then we didn’t talk about it, it was one of those ‘girl things.’ When my girls started developing, I saw it as just a part of growing up, I didn’t have much idea of how to respond. When I see my youngest daughter today, as a young woman, she has such a respect for herself and her body but she didn’t learn that from me.
What I never showed them was the tenderness of who I am, I’d never shown anyone that. It was buried so deep within me I didn’t know it existed.
What I recognise now is that the whole of society doesn’t allow for men to express tenderness, we see it’s normal to put on a front, a face of hardness and protection, even with our children. There may be fleeting moments of tenderness expressed every now and again, but mostly it is deeply hidden.
When you are raising teens, you think you are doing the right thing’s to keep them safe, then I learned I’d done it all wrong. My youngest two daughters developed an addiction to gaming; it might as well have been heroin, they were totally obsessed with the gaming world and we thought it was keeping them off the streets but what was happening in our own home was worse than if they were mixed up with serious drugs and sex.
They became really good liars to cover up what they were doing. They were gaming constantly, and then got into LARPING (live action role playing). They made costumes and recreated their game playing, they would drink, have sex and take drugs as they role played what they did on-line.
They had no sense of reality. They had group fantasy games with real people on and off-line. I watched how both girls got lost completely and became these fantasy characters who were unrecognisable as my children; their screen time was off the charts as they played games all day and all night.
I’d gone into my own game playing but I was no good at it so it didn’t last for me. However, I was shut down and closed up and was doing my own version of escaping; my withdrawal was a terrible reflection for them, I was ‘a role model of desolation,’ so why would they want to grow up to be anything but lost? As older teens, they had no responsibilities and no one told them they couldn’t act the way they did, so they did. I was too wrapped up in my own problems to stop it.
The most important thing I have learned since then is to be involved in what my girls are doing, to put myself as a part of their world, to keep them grounded in what was true and real, not to allow the fantasy life to run riot.
It comes down to our choices in the end. I came to find a sense of purpose and meaning in my life, something that was more than about the narrowness of ‘all about me.’ In doing so, this supported my girls to come out of what they were in.
I became the role model they had really needed all along, the dad they could have done with from the start and I realised the impact my change of behaviour was having was immense,
I could see it wasn’t too late.
One thing I have learned in all of this is it’s never too late to change – absolutely never.