A Moment with Dr. Moore

June 22, 2023

Getting A Full Dose of Dad

Former President Barack Obama often talked about what it means to be a good father. And he spoke from his experience raising two daughters, Malia and Sasha. “What I’ve realized is that life doesn’t count for much unless you’re willing to do your small part to leave our children—all our children—a better world. Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”  

It also takes effort, as Obama admitted. “It’s a wonderful thing if you are married and living in a home with your children, but don’t just sit in the house and watch SportsCenter all weekend long. That’s why so many children are growing up in front of the television. As fathers and parents, we’ve got to spend more time with our children, and help them with their homework and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in a while.” 

How dads interact with their kids makes a big difference, as we often stress when discussing boys. And we should also pay more attention to the impact fathers make in how they choose to raise their girls. Fathers don’t exactly play the same role as moms in daughters’ lives, as psychologists have pointed out. Their style of communication is usually more candid and direct than moms. Fathers also help girls to become independent by giving them more room to take risks, as Obama did by supporting his girls’ involvement in sports. “When girls jump and fall down,” he said, “it is wonderful to have a dad create a safe space for daughters to actually fail—not just learn about failure theoretically—and celebrate the learning that follows.” Letting them make mistakes, “helps them develop the grit that comes through trial, perseverance and reflection.” 

Fathers also shape the way daughters perform when it comes to money, men and mental health, says Linda Nielsen, a professor of education psychology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Women with good dads outperform their peers in terms of the “3Ms,” she explains, because they have a sense of feeling loved that helps them balance security with risk. And that leads them to achieve greater long-term success than girls without engaged dads. 

Daughters who have solid bonds with their fathers tend to get better grades. They are also more likely to graduate college and enter STEM professions because of the confidence they’ve gained from their dads. They’re more willing to take on career challenges like becoming entrepreneurs, but this sense of daring doesn’t lead them in the wrong direction. Women who have strong relationships with their dads may take fewer risks when it comes to damaging activities like drinking to excess, taking recreational drugs, and engaging in unsafe sexual behavior. 

Women are also less likely to have destructive relationships as adults if they have loving bonds with their dads from an early age. When they enter the real world, they aren’t desperate for attention, attachment or love to fill a hole in their hearts. Instead, they have enough confidence to hold high expectations for potential partners. And this sense of self-esteem also makes them less dependent on the approval or validation of others.  

 In addition, women often enjoy better mental health if they had strong bonds with fathers during the early years of life. Before the age of four, we develop lifelong responses to stress as chemicals in the brain determine how we control our moods, motivations and fears. During this formative time, it’s often rough housing with dads, jumping off couches or being tossed in the air that sets our lifelong ability to face roadblocks and regulate our feelings. Women tend to be more resilient if they’ve had physically and emotionally present dads who were actively involved in their lives. 

By actively involved, I’m not referring to a second-long conversation when a father asks a daughter how her day went, and she responds with one word. A father should show interest in his daughter’s activities and hobbies. For example, he might take her to coin shows if she’s interested in collecting coins. Or he might become his daughter’s biggest cheerleader and fan if she enjoys playing sports. A dad should show he’s interested in his daughter’s life by becoming part of it. 

I deliberately did that with my own two girls because I wanted to make sure they were always getting a full dose of Dad, a tonic to ensure their happiness and health. When they were infants, I would put them on my lap and read the newspaper out loud to them. As they grew older, my girls and I would read interesting books together. I would show up all the time at their school for parent-teacher meetings and extracurricular events. In addition, I did anything else I thought would help them be productive in life. And it all worked because years later, they’re both great girls with persistence and grit.  

I can see the direct impact I made on them because they followed my example by becoming avid readers and students. At the same time, they have a sense of independence because they’re pursuing their own dreams. My older daughter is a social worker and the younger one wants to work in the field of criminal justice. While they didn’t choose early childhood education as their careers, they are interested in fields that help the community, just like education.  

They want to give back, and I’m getting something back, too, as I watch them bloom and strive to build a better world. So, I can identify with how Obama talked about his girls as he, too, watched them grow up. “They are wonderful girls. They are smart and funny. But most importantly, they’re kind,” he said. And they’ve had an impact on him, as Obama explained in a speech he made on Father’s Day. “I’m inspired by the love people have for their children,” he said. “And I’m inspired by my own children, how full they make my heart. They make me want to work to make the world a little bit better. And they make me want to be a better man.”  



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