By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
My wife, Gem, and I were trying to catch up after long days at work. After school she had taken our kids, eight-year old boy-girl twins, to get some clothes for the Spring (even though it snowed this morning) Concert.
“Dorit had so much fun trying on clothes,” she told me. Our little girl really does enjoy being “on stage” (just like her Daddy) whatever the stage happens to be.
“Imagine what it will be like in a few years,” I responded, thinking of my wife and teenage daughter going clothes shopping together, trying them on for each other, and cleaning out the store.
“No, this is the best it is going to be.”
“What do you mean?” I asked in shock. How could this be the best it could ever be for my Sweetie Girl?
“She’s not looking at her body. She’s not staring at the things she doesn’t like about herself, any imperfections she may see. She’s just enjoying playing dress up.”
“Oh God…” And I felt such sadness. My little girl is…I don’t know how to explain it.
She’s not perfect and, in fact, sometimes she makes me insane, seriously out of my mind crazy with the way she can so easily ignore me or blatantly lie (or as my wife likes to say “reframe the truth”) right to my face.
But God I love that girl with every fiber of my being. I love the way her smile lights up her face and reminds me she gets her beauty from her mother. I love how witty and smart she is and how she is the most emotionally intelligent girl I’ve ever met. I love how much fun she can be and the look she gets when she is focused and committed to doing something she has never done before.
And while it terrifies me, I love the way she looks at me as if all the love in the world begins in my face. I am her first love and I take that honor quite seriously.
I tell her every day how beautiful she is and how much I love her. I don’t just tell her when she is dressed up. I tell her when she is in her PJs and especially when she is naked getting ready for or just coming out of her shower. I hug and kiss her and tell her I love her every day before I leave for work, when I return home and when she goes to bed (please don’t worry, I do the same for my boy…promise).
In fact, I have read the research that shows that girls with involved fathers, girls who feel their fathers are invested in their relationship can actually begin menstruating older, start having sex later and are at a lower risk for teen pregnancies. Girls with involved fathers are also less likely to have eating disorders, to have low self-esteem and to actually be happier as adults.
I ask my little girl frequently if she knows how much I love her because the research is clear; she has to feel my love, my commitment to her for these benefits to come into play. If she doesn’t know how I feel, what I feel doesn’t matter very much.
But maybe I’ve been deluding myself, thinking I could somehow stop single-handedly what happens to so many young girls in America. Maybe I can not love her enough to prevent her from seeing herself as not good enough. Maybe society’s message of the unattainable model perfection is too powerful, maybe my little girl can’t escape that unscathed.
But I know I have a power of my own. The way she looks at me as if the sun and moon rise because of me is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. How easy it would be to abuse that power, to hurt my little girl, and I am sure I have hurt her unintentionally. But as long as I am her Daddy, I vow to use my powers for good, to give her unconditional love that, if it can’t stop the inevitable, can maybe mitigate enough to lessen its impact.
And even if that doesn’t work, she will always have a hug and kiss waiting for her because she’s my Sweetie Girl. Society can’t take that away from us.