Illustrations by Maria Alconada-Brooks.
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Lately, my 18-month-old daughter has taken to saying “sorry” a lot. She’ll be happily flipping pages in a book and then she will look up and say, “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.”
And now I’m kicking myself for ever having introduced her to that word. It’s not that I think it’s wrong to be apologetic — I don’t. It’s that I’m well aware of the research showing that women apologize more than men do and, dang it, I don’t want her to pick up on that habit at such a young age.
In my short time as a father, I’ve run into roughly 300 of these kinds of situations. Per day. Worries, fears, anxieties, regrets — they’re as much a part of being a parent as grubby-hand-stained clothing and dark circles under the eyes.
And I know it’s only going to get worse. My daughter isn’t even leaving the house by herself yet, let alone driving, dating, choosing friends and all the other touchstones of parenting worries.
I’d like to say that I’ve learned a lot over these past 18 months, and I suppose I have: don’t gamify her running away by giving chase, never interrupt her when she’s quietly occupied, always bring one more diaper than you think you need. But I know that only time, experience and making mistakes can teach me the truly valuable parenting lessons.
That’s why I was honored to have a hand in creating this story. The Lily asked reporters to interview dads of daughters across generations and around the country. Challenges, hopes, advice and, yes, those fears, anxieties and regrets all came up. Here is a small slice of what the American father-daughter experience looks like in 2019.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“The most challenging for me is constantly living in a state of fear as it relates to being able to protect them from the craziness that goes on in the world. I don’t have sons, but I would imagine people with sons feel the same. But with a daughter, you’re trying to raise them and train them to love themselves. And when I’m talking about protection, I’m not just talking about physical harm, but emotionally — because I have a 19-year-old who’s dating and driving and working — so the emotional things that come with getting your heart broken. That is a part of my biggest challenge. Two, the images that go along with being a black girl in America, and all of the self-esteem issues that go along with being that and finding yourself — I have to be there to navigate those challenges.”
—Zedric Clayton, 33, Tennessee; father of daughters ages 19 and 8
“What’s your word count? [laughs] Two of my daughters live with me and two of my daughters are with their mom. At any rate, the most challenging thing as a father is navigating this new stuff with social media and everything they’re faced with, challenges I didn’t understand, and then, as a man, trying to — I don’t want to say understand — but be sympathetic or sensitive to things they’re experiencing as young women.”
—Donnell Maxie, 40, Mississippi; father of daughters ages 19, 16, 12 and 5
“Most of the time she’s very happy. I should say almost all the time she’s very happy. But when she doesn’t speak about the things that she might be worried about or things that might be challenging her, that’s my biggest fear. And it’s not so much a fear; I don’t want to make it so dramatic.”
—Raymond Haddad, 49, Indiana; father of a 16-year-old daughter
“I guess it has made me more cautious and more sensitive, but it also has made me tougher. I’m not really easy on my girls. I recognize that there have been fathers, or parents period, who have coddled their daughters and their little princesses. I want my daughters to be strong women. I recognize that the world is a mean place, so I have to better prepare them. Sometimes we create these fabricated worlds and when kids get into the real world, the bubble bursts and it’s like, ‘Mama and dad lied to me the whole time.’ The world is not full of roses and cotton candy.”
—Zedric Clayton, 33
“Well there are no boys allowed in my house when there’s nobody here. It was never like that when I was a kid. When I was younger, when I’d go over to one of my girlfriends’ houses, mom and dad weren’t home; they were at work. Well that doesn’t slide in my house, you know what I mean?”
—Raymond Haddad, 49
“On some level, having a daughter has sharpened my values and beliefs in feminism. I feel guilty that, when I see an attractive person, I generally see attractiveness before I see the person. It’s been like that since I was a kid, high school, college, I think it’s a natural urge, but I feel really guilty about objectifying people. I’ve always had the thought, the feeling, ‘Hey! That’s someone’s daughter.’ But what has changed is, on top of that, I think, ‘That’s my daughter someday.’ It’s something I really think a lot about, and I realize that’s not her problem, and it’s not any of these women’s problem. So what I do hope is that I can raise my son right, that I can change his perspective, and the perspective of other men in the world, so they will respect my daughter, and respect all the daughters out there.”
—Matt Chaban, 35, New Jersey; father of daughter age 2 ½
“My 16-year-old lives with me, and we were just talking about dressing and things like that the other day. My initial take on it was wrong, so I went back and apologized to her. She said something like, ‘Dad, I’m a good person. I think about what I do. You know I make good decisions.’ And while I know they’re going to make mistakes, I’ve always wanted them to be true to themselves, confident in themselves, and not to feel like they have to conform to what everyone else is doing. If I’m not here anymore, I just want them to know that it’s okay to be who you are. Be comfortable in your own skin. Your freckles, your pimples, your kinky hair, whatever you got, be cool with you. That’s my main thing.”
—Donnell Maxie, 40
“How to respect herself. How to have enough pride to do the right thing, to make the right decisions, to know that she’s an important person and she doesn’t have to put up with anything that she doesn’t want to put up with because of a certain situation.”
—Nick Jourdain, 36, Illinois; father of a 6-year-old daughter
“I hope I’ve taught them their own power, their own strength, because many times women are taught to look to a man or to someone exterior for their strength. I think, I pray that if there is anything for them to recognize, it’s that God created them with their own dose of power and strength.”
—Zedric Clayton, 33
“No, honestly. I don’t, I guess I don’t really think I do. I likely would if I didn’t have my wife, because I’m sure I’d make a whole bunch of wrong decisions, but I think we make a pretty good team.”
—Nick Jourdain, 36
“I may have been just a little too strict on them, as a lot of concerned fathers are. We want to protect our kids, especially daughters, so there were things I forbade them to do that if I had to do it over again, I may have given in just a little bit. Like let them stay out just a little bit longer. Let them go places that I said no to at first. I realize there were places that may not have been as risky or dangerous to them as I thought they would have been.”
—Charles Thomas, 61, Mississippi; father of daughters ages 41, 36 and 32
“Are you asking me if my values are different raising a daughter as opposed to raising a son? In my culture, in the old-school culture, it was very different. And I have tried to make a conscious effort not to do that. You’re going to say, well what kind of culture was that, Ray? Well, the culture was boys are better than girls, okay? Now, mind you … I know what I said. The culture says that. I don’t say that. Or not better than girls, but more important than girls. That’s the old-school mentality — oh, I have a son, and the daughter’s just the daughter. Well I made sure that my daughter was raised exactly the same in regards to affection and love and caring and all that other stuff.”
—Raymond Haddad, 49
“I never told my son, ‘Hey, you can’t wear that.’”
—Ed Amaya, 60, Illinois; father of a 23-year-old daughter
“Oh, most definitely. Raising a son, I would be raising him to be a man, a husband, a father. I would have been raising him to be respectful. While I’m raising my daughters to understand who they are as women, I have to raise him to be a black man in America. I think the conversations I would’ve had particularly when he started to drive would be different than the conversations I had with Moriah. With my son, it would be, if police stop you, this is what you say, this is what you do, this is what you can’t do, this is where you can’t go, this is what you can’t wear.”
—Zedric Clayton, 33
“They didn’t have much impact at all because I know that every daughter is different, and you can’t have a hard and fast rule on how you raise a daughter. It’s all based on that child by herself, what her needs are, what makes her tick, what makes her upset, what makes her strong, what makes her weak, and so societal expectations, they’re not going to fit every child. So I didn’t allow those things to affect how I raised my own. I went with gut feeling, experience and what I had learned from mom and my sisters, my aunts and other female role models.”
—Charles Thomas, 61
“We are Muslim, and the culture of our religion is different. Though it might be very different than when I was a kid, I still try and keep some of the cultural differences front and center in the raising of my daughters. In our house, we don’t eat pork and we don’t drink alcohol. We also don’t have sleepovers. I want to bring them up with a strong moral foundation and bring them up with religion.
It is hard sometimes. My older daughter sees the other girls around her dressing a certain way … and she wants to know why she can’t do the things the other girls do. I want them to lead dignified lives because it will positively impact their futures. I want them to have a dignified presence in the world. Maybe we are doing things differently but we are consciously trying to be different.”
—Sammy El-Gamal, 45, Connecticut; father of daughters ages 9, 7 and 2
“You have to give them space, you know? Less is more, I think, a lot of the time. You’ve gotta be there; you’ve gotta pick your spots, but, man, talking to a teenager — wow. That’s rough.”
—Ed Amaya, 60
“I would tell them to be patient, prayerful and be there. I’ve never had a lot of money or anything like that, and I have a couple of different baby mamas, let’s say it like that, but I go above and beyond to try to be there. Even if you can’t buy them the thing, show up. They’re shooting marbles, be there. They’re dancing, be there. If they’re playing basketball, be there. If they’re performing at church, be there. I’ll tell any dad, just be present. Be available. No matter how hard it is, how far they live. If you’re married, still, be there.”
—Donnell Maxie, 40
“Show them attention. Show them love. Show them that you care. And listen to their concerns. Listen to what’s deep inside of them.”
—Charles Thomas, 61
“Remember that you are always her first love, and how you handle that makes a difference because your presence or your absence will have a lasting effect. The first time that she hears ‘You’re beautiful’ or ‘I love you’ from a man, it needs to be from her father. Fathers have to build their daughters up. My youngest daughter and I have a ritual every morning before she leaves for school. She comes into my bedroom and wakes me up. Every morning I tell her, ‘Baby, I hope you have a good day. I love you. You look pretty,’ because she needs to know that.”
—Zedric Clayton, 33
“Treat your daughter and sons equally. Let her take the same risks her brothers take. Never tell her she can’t do something that any man can do. Your daughter should not view herself differently because of her gender. She is special because she is a person, not because she is a girl.”
—Denny Gibson, 76, Connecticut; father of a 49-year-old daughter
Aallyah Wright in Mississippi and Brian Rutter in Connecticut contributed to this story.
Photos by iStock.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to add context to Matt Chaban’s response.