Strengthening the Father Bond
About the Guest
Of all the relationships a girl may have, the one she has with her father is the most critical. Pediatrician Meg Meeker talks about the powerful influence of a father and recalls how her own father's belief in her at a low point in her life inspired her to believe in herself and become who she is today.
Pediatrician Meg Meeker talks about the powerful influence of a father and recalls how her own father’s belief in her at a low point in her life inspired her to believe in herself.
Strengthening the Father Bond
Bob: And your dad was a doctor.
Meg: My dad’s a doctor. We lived outside of Boston.
My dad, again, didn’t talk a whole lot—quiet man / introverted. He didn’t do a lot of things socially, but I knew that he was crazy about us kids—I just knew that.
I went out for a job one day. I was walking by his study, and I overheard him talking to somebody on the phone—another colleague. I heard him say, “Yes, my daughter Meg will be going to medical school in the next year.” I stopped outside of his door and I thought: “What in the world does he know that I don’t know? Has he been in cahoots with some admissions director that paid somebody off at a medical school?!”
Bob: Because as far as you knew, you weren’t going anywhere next year.
Meg: I wasn’t going anywhere!
Meg: I’d just gotten rejections! No; he didn’t know that. What I realized is, after talking with my dad—of course, I hadn’t gotten any acceptances—but I heard in my dad’s voice: “My daughter can do anything she sets out to do. I know that.” When a daughter hears her father articulate that, she can do anything in the whole world she wants to do because “If dad believes I can, I can.”
I heard my dad’s voice, at age 50, writing my last book on boys. I heard my dad’s voice as I was writing my book on teens. It was a voice that said: “Keep going. Move forward. You can do this.”
I had a great mom. My mom was my fan. My mom talked a lot—we spent a lot of wonderful time together. But, there was an authority my dad carried in my eyes that was unmatched. My dad was huge to me! He was a physician, he was a quiet man, and he made a lot of mistakes—wasn’t a perfect dad. The whole book isn’t about being a perfect dad; but he got the big stuff right. That was one lesson he taught me that I’ve carried with me all of my life.
Interestingly enough, he doesn’t remember, even way before he had Alzheimer’s, that phone conversation; and yet, it changed my life!
Dennis: Interesting that you mention that.I want to ask you to do something before we’re done on the broadcast today. So, you have a little while to think about this.
Dennis: And Bob hates me asking this question—it’s not a fair question / I realize this—but I’m going to ask you: “Out of all your memories that you have with your father, if you could just keep one memory of one thing with your father—that you did, experienced / maybe a moment—what one memory would you keep and why?” Now, you can think about it right now. Bob has another question he wants to ask. We’ll just come back before the broadcast is over.
Bob: I’m just curious—as you described this scene of walking by your dad’s study, and he’s talking to somebody, and he says, “You know, my daughter’s going to medical school,” and you’re thinking, “I don’t know that I’m going to medical school,” were you aware enough—at that moment or as you stopped and looked back on that—in that time, were you aware of how important your dad’s belief in you was? Did you know that was vital, or did you just feel it?
Meg: No.No; I felt it. I really didn’t know.
You know, I was a 21-year-old kid. All I’m focused on is me, and what I want, and what I’m going to get, and what I need to do to get there. I really didn’t realize what an enormous impact those words, and other words that he said to me throughout my life, were going to make.
I’ve really come to appreciate that as I have hit obstacles in my life, as an adult, where I draw on the strength that my dad gave me because of his belief in me. I think that that’s really what it’s all about—when you have somebody that you admire, and who has authority, and you think is smart.
Meg: if they believe in you—just that one person—it doesn’t matter what the world throws at you.
Bob: Let me ask you this: “Of the four parental relationships that can exist—father/daughter, father/son, mother/daughter, mother/son—
Bob: —they’re all important. It’s important that boys see moms and dads. It’s important that girls see moms and dads.
But is there something about the father/daughter relationship that elevates it above some of the other parent/child relationships?
Meg: I think there is. This is why I say that—because, of all of the women in a man’s life—the daughter is the one who will take him to her grave. A man can have a wife and she can leave him and they move forward. He can have a sister / he can have a mother. But when a father has a daughter, as far as the daughter is concerned, she will carry her dad with her until she dies.
I don’t know if that’s true in the father/son relationship. It may be, but I know that there’s a complexity to the father/daughter relationship that is really unmatched in the mother/daughter or mother/son relationship. There’s a power in that—there’s a mutual respect—there’s adoration that a father/daughter has toward one another that you may not have in the other relationships.
Bob: In your book, you really describe daughters as having almost an idolized heroic—really, idyllic picture of their dads.
It’s almost like he can do no wrong.
Meg: Right. A number of women, who are grown, have read the book and come to me and said: “What are you talking about? My dad was horrible! What are you talking about?” But they still kind of understand what I was communicating in that chapter; and that is this—every daughter is born with the hope that her dad will be that. You can’t get around that! Every daughter wants her dad to be her hero.
Every person probably wants a hero, but every daughter wants that hero to be her dad. Some dads are the hero, and some dads aren’t the hero. If your dad isn’t the hero, you may carry that pain with you for many, many years. It’s interesting because, as I was interviewing women for the book, there were no lukewarm responses that women had when I said to them, “Will you talk to me about your dad?”
They either gushed about their dad and couldn’t be quiet or they would burst into tears and say: “I just can’t do that. That’s just too painful.” But, there was no: “Oh, yeah. My dad was a really great guy. Let me tell you some stories.” It was: “Oh, oh! Let me tell you about my dad!”
What I wanted to do in the book was sort of show the template of a girl’s heart and say: “This is what daughters desire from their dad. You are larger than life when we’re little. You are our hero. You are smarter than anybody / you are stronger than anybody. [Laughter] You always know what’s right.” That’s what we feel. Now, “What are you going to do with that?”—that’s the challenge for dads.
Daughters, who have had a broken relationship or a lot of pain in their relationship, can at least read the book and go: “Now I know why I hurt because I didn’t get that. He ran out on Mom shortly after I was born. Now I know why I ache.”
No husband or anybody else can fill that hole—that’s the daddy hole. I just really put it on the table, and women understand it. Whether they’ve had those needs met or whether they haven’t had them met, they resonate with what I’m saying because that’s in a little girl’s heart.
Dennis: A young lady was designed by God to have a daddy to protect her.
Dennis: As you mentioned the word, “hero,” that’s the word that just resonates in my chest as a daddy. I felt like my assignment was—not merely to provide / not merely to love—but to protect, and to build guardrails and fences, and really be—I hate to put it this way—but really try to be a knight in shining armor.
Dennis: Now, I think a part of what’s missing in our culture today—I don’t think we’re calling men to be that in our daughters’ lives. We’ve homogenized the sexes so that our sons and daughters don’t need anything different from daddies—
—not that sons don’t need to be protected because they do—but a son needs something different, I think, from a dad than a daughter.
Meg: Yes; yes.
Dennis: The culture is preying on young ladies.
Meg: Yes, absolutely! Women are leading the way in doing that because we have said to men: “We don’t need you to do that. We don’t need you to earn any money. We don’t even need you to have babies.”
Bob: You’re saying women are saying, “We don’t need you for anything—
Meg: —“anything! Anything!”
Bob: —“and we’d be better off without you.”
Meg: And if you tell a woman that she has a desire in her heart for her dad to protect her—that is not only politically very incorrect, it’s anti-feminism / anti-woman. It’s just plain wrong to say. But the truth is—every woman wants protection, and you want it first from your dad. It’s a desire that we have from birth in us, as little girls.
Dennis: You know, there was a little girl one time whose father deserted her and her mom. She was left, as an elementary-aged child, to care for her mom who was mentally insane. That little girl protected her mom, grew up to become a young lady, and ultimately a leader in the feminist movement—her name was Gloria Steinem. She didn’t make the statement, but she embraced the statement made by another feminist leader that said, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
Dennis: In other words: “A woman doesn’t need a man.”
It is interesting Meg—how that philosophy / that ideology has poisoned a generation of young ladies growing up in the church / growing up in Christian colleges and universities. It points out the need, even all the more today, why dads do need to be strong, and do need to go ahead and stand firm in their daughters’ lives, and not be afraid to be bigger than life.
Meg: Exactly. I think that we, who know better, really need to move into men’s lives and encourage them to do that because men are poisoned—I love that word—
—boys are poisoned. That’s why I felt—in the boy book and the father/daughter book—it was a chance to champion manhood / a chance to champion the Y chromosome and say: “Look, people! If we don’t begin to encourage our men, this could be the downfall in the United States.” It really could. When you have 70 percent of African American boys growing up without a dad, we have a matriarchal society because we are such a confused lot of women. You know, we want; but we don’t want.
Meg: We need, but we don’t need / we’re lonely, but we’re not lonely—we are so confused. We have marginalized men over the past three decades to the point that men just sort of look at us and shrug their shoulders. No wonder they say: “Well, what am I supposed to do with my 13-year-old daughter? I don’t like it when she goes to school with her midriff showing, but I can’t say anything because that’s the style.”
Dennis: Oh, yes you can!
Meg: Oh, yes you can!
You know, trust your instincts. You have an intuition, as a dad, that is unmatched—run with it!
Dennis: Meg, the culture has completely robbed men of their courage when it comes to speaking into their daughters’ lives like this.
Meg: Yes. Oh, absolutely! It’s really tied their hands. The very sad thing is—I see, on a daily basis, an enormous number of good men who really take such a backseat in parenting because they feel very confused. They feel that the authority has gone out of them. They don’t know what to say or what not to say—so they say nothing—and they have a lot to say.
Not that they’re to pounce on women / or compete for women or the mother in the home; but there is a place when women are to back out and the father is to move in and to do what he knows how to do best. Many times, I tell mothers: “Back off. You need to let dad run with it here because he knows what to do.”
Bob: You described a young girl as wanting her dad to be her hero—that he’s the strongest, and he’s the smartest, and that he can do no wrong. I remember, when my daughters were seven or eight, they probably felt that way about me. But then, when they were fourteen or fifteen, it didn’t feel like they were thinking, “You’re the smartest, and you’re my hero!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, they did, Bob, because you constantly beat them in Trivial Pursuit. [Laughter]
Bob: No; I remember them thinking: “Dad, you just don’t get it! You don’t understand! You’re making me mad, and I’m frustrated,” and they were upset with me!
Meg: But their words really had very little to do with you. Again, that was part of their development—they were going through that sort of pulling away, and that independence, and trying to figure out life. It really was more about their development than it was about you.
When your kid was two, and they’re having a temper tantrum, flailing on the floor, did you say, “What did I do wrong to make him do that?” No! You said, “He’s having a temper tantrum.” Same is true with a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kid—having a temper tantrum. It’s something they’re going through, and it doesn’t have to do with you because there’s always that desire in a girl’s heart for more of her dad because it’s need-based. She needs you! In a way, that is separate from her need from her husband, her kids, or her mother. It’s always there—even though she snarls, and spits, and will not hug you, and she might call you names.
Bob: You’re saying, as a dad, you just hang in.
Meg: You hang in, and don’t take your kids personally. Don’t take your girls personally when they snarl.
Bob: And don’t compromise.
Meg: No! No, no, no, no, no.
Bob: Don’t get talked out of doing what you know you should do.
Meg: And don’t fight back! You know, don’t go back, and say certain things. They’re literally having a temper tantrum. We are taught, as pediatricians: “Tell our young parents, ‘When your two-year-old’s having a temper tantrum, let them have their temper tantrum—just keep them safe.’”
When your 16-year-old is having a temper tantrum, take the car keys away—say: “There’s your room. Turn on your music or whatever you want to do. I don’t want to hear it right now. So you go off in your own quiet place, and you do it. When you’re ready, come back down to the kitchen. Then we’ll have some supper.”
Bob: But you know, Meg, it feels like, if you do that, they’re going to go up to their room and they’re going to figure out how they can—they’re going to hate you for life! That’s what it feels like at the moment.
Meg: Yes, but they won’t. They won’t! But, you’ve got to have the confidence. You let them go, and you let it rip. You cannot parent out of fear, and you cannot be afraid to say to your kid: “Go off, and have your temper tantrum; but you’re not going to drive a car. Here are the rules when you’re having a temper tantrum: ‘You cannot call me mean names, you can’t wreck any of the stuff in our house, and you can’t get in the car. Other than that, you can do whatever you like to do. See you in a little while!” Stand in the confidence to know that their love for you is going to stay. They just need to explode for a little bit. [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s called hormones!
Dennis: It’s called a teenager maturing into life. It doesn’t make sense to a man because it’s not the way he’s hard-wired.
Dennis: Okay, I want to come back to the question I asked at the beginning. Out of all the things you’ve experienced with your father—you talked about his profound influence in your life as a woman; ultimately, more than likely, resulting in you becoming a doctor/pediatrician. What’s your favorite memory?
Meg: My favorite memory is fishing with my dad in a pond in Mt. Katahdin in Maine, fly fishing in a canoe with him. We would sit there, honestly, for hours. He would say very, very little. I loved that time with my dad. I felt so important that he would take me fly fishing—taught me how to tie a fly, taught me how to tie the fly onto the line, taught me how to cast, taught me how to clean a fish—made me unafraid to do things that I was a little bit squeamish about.
I just loved those moments with my dad in the quiet, at the base of Mt. Katahdin, in those ponds up there.
Dennis: I’m glad you picked something that most men can relate to because I think we have a tendency to make it into some giant event.
Dennis: But it can just be a father and a daughter floating along, maybe not even catching anything—
Dennis: —but just hanging out—spending time together without a lot of words / no lectures—just being—
Meg: Just being together! To know that this man would want to spend three hours doing relatively very little with me made me feel larger than life. I thought, “If we could have dads see themselves through their daughters’ eyes for just a few minutes, I really believe their lives would never be the same.”
That’s what I really try to do in the book—let dads know who they are in their daughters’ eyes, and how enormous they are—and how the little tasks, the little moments, the little words here and there—will really change their daughters’ lives.
Dennis: A dad is far more powerful than he realizes.
Bob: You know, Dennis said, “maybe not catching anything” because he’s been fly fishing quite a bit [Laughter] and it’s been his experience more often than not.
Dennis: I did—I did watch my daughter catch about a three-and-a-half pound brown trout in a Colorado mountain lake one night. We got it mounted.
Bob: It’s one of those good memories.
Dennis: It’s one of those great memories for me with one of my daughters.
Bob: Yes.You know, I think this is an area where, as dads, this doesn’t come naturally to us—to know how to be a dad to a daughter—or to be a dad to a son for that matter. Dr. Meeker has written on both of these subjects, and I’d just encourage our listeners—those of you who are dads or you are married to a dad—
—get a copy of Dr. Meeker’s book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters if you have a daughter at home. And get a copy of her book, Boys Will Be Boys, if you have sons at home. I think there’s helpful, practical wisdom in both of these books. You can order them from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order by phone. Or if you have any questions, call us and we’ll see if we can answer those for you.
Now, today is a big day for our friends, Mark and Yeni Gonzales, who live in Lathrop, California. They are celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary today; and we just wanted to say, “Congratulations!” to them. We’re all about anniversaries, here at FamilyLife Today. In fact, this is our 40th anniversary as a ministry this year.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to spend time talking about how critical it is for a dad to stay engaged in his daughter’s life all the way through adolescence and beyond. We’ll talk about that with Dr. Meg Meeker tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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