Communication Tips For Dads With Their Daughters
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Michelle Watson CanfieldMichelle Watson Canfield, PhD, is a licensed professional counselor, speaker, author, and founder of The Abba Project (an educational process group forum for dads of daughters ages 13 to 30) radio/podcast host of The Dad Whisperer, and co-chair of the Father-Daughter Initiative at the National Center for Fathering. She seeks to live out her God-given assignment by inspiring, equipping, and leading fathers to dial in to their daughters’ hearts with more intentionality...more
Men often like to cut to the bottom line of a conversation, but a girl’s heart often opens by sharing words. Michelle Watson Canfield bridges that gap by sharing practical communication tips.
Communication Tips For Dads With Their Daughters
Bob: One of the ways we communicate to others that they are important to us is by giving them our undivided attention. Michelle Watson Canfield says that’s especially true in the relationship between fathers and daughters.
Michelle: The more a dad can listen to his daughter, he gives her a gift of building her self-esteem; because he’s saying, “You’re worth listening to,” so that she doesn’t have to go out—and I say “the world” in quotes—everywhere else in order to be heard; because Daddy wants to hear her.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. One of the necessary skills to be a good listener is to know how to ask really good questions. We’re going to talk today about how dads can do that with their daughters. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I grew up in St. Louis; and in St. Louis, there’s a big park in mid-town St. Louis called Forest Park. In the middle of Forest Park is an outdoor amphitheater; and every summer, they had Broadway musicals that are shown at this outdoor amphitheater. They’ll have six or seven shows every summer. We got season tickets when I was a kid, so I grew up seeing Broadway musicals in my home town of St. Louis.
Ann: That’s fun!
Bob: Yes, I loved all of this.
There was one musical I remember seeing that featured a carnival worker named Billy Bigelow. He met young Julie Jordan, and they fell in love; and they got married. It was called Carousel, Rogers and Hammerstein musical.
Bob: There’s a point in this musical—you have no idea what I’m talking about, Dave—right?
Dave: You know, I was listening to the Beatles.
Ann: I do.
Bob: You got it; right?
Bob: I’m going to find out from our guest, Michelle Watson Canfield—welcome back to the program.
Michelle: Thank you; glad to be back!
Bob: Do you know what I’m talking about?
Bob: Okay; well, you will be interested in this.
Bob: There’s a point in this, where Julie tells Billy they’re going to have a baby. Billy has this scene, where he goes out and he starts singing this song about how great it’s going to be to have a son [singing]: “My boy, Bill, he’ll be tall and as tough as a tree…” He’s singing all about little Bill and what a tough guy he’s going to be.
Ann: That sounded good, Bob! You sounded just like him!
Michelle: It did!
Bob: In the middle of the song, it dawns on Billy Bigelow it might not be a boy. He goes, “What if ‘he’ is a ‘she’?” Then he stops, and he’s having to recalibrate. There’s a line in the song, where he says, “You can have fun with a son, but you gotta be a daddy to a girl.” He’s starting to wrap his arms around, “I won’t even know what to do with her; I won’t know how to interact with her.” Over the course of the song, he starts to go, “Well, it might not be as bad as you think. She could be sweet…” He’s starting to get used to this idea.
I’ve been thinking about that song since I came across the copy of your book, Michelle, which is called Let’s Talk. You are laying out for dads of daughters how vital/how important a relationship between a father and a daughter is. Don’t you think most men feel intuitively more equipped to be fathers to sons than they do to be fathers of daughters?
Michelle: I have seen that to be true over the last decade of coaching dads of daughters. Yet, at the end of the day, I have so many dads/their face lights up when they talk about having a daughter. I mean, do you remember that?—when you looked at your daughter for the first time? How was it different than looking at your sons?
Bob: Oh, there’s an emotional bonding/there’s an emotional connection between fathers and daughters that I think is very different. We have three boys and two girls. The girls came first, so I had to connect there right from the start; but it was not hard, because there is part of your heart that goes to a daughter in a different way than your heart goes to your son; yes.
Michelle: Yes; so I really believe that that directive in Scripture—Malachi 4:6 and
Luke 1:17, where God says He wants to turn the hearts, not just the heads, of fathers to their children—and I believe it’s a command, because it doesn’t come as intuitively for men.
That’s really been my goal with this book: for men to understand what heart engagement looks like with us, as daughters. It’s that you have to soften your tone; you have to drop the anger; you need to slow down and pace with her/read her eyes. Those kinds of things—as you practice them, men—you’re going to engage the heart of your daughter; and you’re going to grow in the process!
Ann: I’m just like, “That sounds great! Do that to your wives, too!” [Laughter]
Ann: It sounds so good!
Dave: Yes, and I may be the opposite. I’m sitting there, going, “Oh wow; that’s impossible. That’s—
Ann: Did you feel that?
Dave: There’s a sense of: “That’s so hard.”
Ann: —like even with granddaughters.
Dave: Yes; with all of our granddaughters, it forces me, as a man, to go heart.
Dave: I have to be honest; part of me is like, “I’m out!”
Dave: I think that’s what we do as men—we check out—and we shouldn’t.
Michelle: Right; well, I love giving practical action steps to men. Do you think your listeners would love a really practical way to learn how to ask questions, even if they don’t even get the book?
Michelle: Okay; here it is, men: you take the last word of the sentence you just heard or the key word of the sentence you just heard to ask a follow-up. Sometimes when you go, “I’m out,” you’re like, “I don’t even know what to say next. There were so many words, you lost me a couple exits back!” [Laughter] Okay, key word or last word.
You pick her up from school and you go, “Hi, honey! How was your day?” She says—
Bob: She says [speeds up talking], “Well, this happened first; and then this happened; and then this; then…” Or she says, “It was fine.”
Michelle: Men would say, “Oh, good! I’m glad you had a good day!”
Bob: “We’re done!”—yes.
Michelle: You get home; and Mom goes, “How was your day?” and you go, “Fine.” Well, that’s a non-answer answer on Venus. We think, “If you really cared, you’d ask us more questions.”
Ann: Well, I would think, if she said, “Fine,” something happened today.
Ann: That’s a clue, like, “Oh boy, I need to dig in here.”
Michelle: Whereas men think, “If she wants to tell me more, she’ll tell me more.” [Laughter]
Dave: You’re telling me I should just go, “What’s ‘fine’ mean? What was fine?”
Michelle: Yes, bingo! Take those—who, what, when, where, why, how—that we learned in school and link it up with whatever you hear. The more a dad can listen to his daughter, he gives her a gift of building her self-esteem; because he’s saying, “You’re worth listening to,” so that she doesn’t have to go out—I say “the world” in quotes—everywhere else in order to be heard, because Daddy wants to hear her.
When you listen to your daughter, you esteem her; you give her a gift. If you’re lost in that conversation, what are the two things?—last word or the key word in the sentence—hook it up with a who, what, when, where, why, how. See if it’s a different kind of conversation that you’ll have.
Bob: I just say, “This is fascinating; tell me more.” You don’t have even have to be paying attention to say that.
Ann: Oh! [Laughter] I kind of melt just hearing that; like, “Oh, do you really want to hear more?”
Dave: Look at her looking at me! [Laughter]
Ann: Dave, inside, could be thinking, “No; I don’t want to, but I’m smiling and saying—
Dave: No, I do; I mean, if you love someone, you do want to know more.
Dave: You do really want to know their heart. It’s work—I have to be honest; sometimes, it’s work with a wife, or a daughter, or a son—it’s just work. Sometimes, you get exhausted and tired; and you don’t want to put in the energy.
I think all of us, sitting around this table, are old enough to say, “They’re going to be gone before you know it. You’re going to blink…” We used to say, “Oh, it’s forever”; no, you’re going to blink; and you don’t want to miss this moment—you have her in the car; you have her on a date; you have whatever—don’t miss this moment. Do the work to draw out her heart.
Ann: Maybe you’re a grandfather, and you did miss the moment with your girls. It’s never too late to reestablish that relationship, and even with your grandkids, it could look different. Have you seen that, where men go back to their adult daughters?
Michelle: Absolutely! I love that you just said, Ann, “It’s never too late”; because again, I have seen more tears from men over that idea of either they’re estranged from their daughters, there’s been divorce and they’re out, and it does feel like they’ll never win her heart back like it was when she was little.
I tell dads: “Okay, here’s another practical idea. Get a journal and begin to document in it with date and time prayers for her, thoughts for her, memories you have of her, dreams for her future, things you wish you could tell her.” I believe that, when God works to put that relationship back together, you will have this time capsule of data to say, “See, you were never far from my heart. I don’t care what you heard or what you believed.” Again, you’re building that bridge to God, as a Father, who says, “I don’t care how much of a pill you are; I am never turning my back on you.”
Ann: I remember being 14, and I have two brothers and a sister that are older. At 14, I would have said, “I really don’t know my dad.” I would have told a counselor, “I feel very unseen; my dad doesn’t hear me.”
My uncle had cancer, and my mom was taking him to chemotherapy when I was 14. My dad and I—I’m the youngest—so it was just my dad and I alone. My dad isn’t a cook; so he said, “Let’s go out to eat.” I felt so nervous, as a 14-year-old; I thought, “I don’t know this guy; he’s never really talked to me.” We sat at Bill Knapp’s; and as he sat and he drank his coffee, for the first time he started asking me questions about me. That had never happened! That happened for probably six months; and it brings tears to my eyes, because it was the first time my dad saw me.
Ann: I tell him that—my dad’s 92—and I tell him, now, that is when everything shifted for me. That relationship has just continued to grow; even at 92, I’m still learning things about my dad.
Michelle: I’m so glad you shared that, Ann, because even with my dad—I’m the oldest of four girls—and I’ve always been a mouth; I mean, my report card said: “Michelle talks too much.” A few years ago/maybe five, I remember my dad and I were talking about words. He actually said to me, “Michelle, I’m going to be honest with you; your words wear me out.”
Michelle: I said, “I’m glad you’re telling me.” As we know, God made us as introverts or extroverts, and we don’t choose that. I think, really, dads that are listening need to hear that it’s up to them to draw into the power of the Triune God—God is a Father; the Holy Spirit is a nurturer/comforter; Jesus is an ally—the Trinity is around you 24/7. You will have what you need to engage the heart of your daughter, because the God who made [her] is your ally.
Listen to the women in your lives—her mom, an aunt, ask a coworker—“What were you like at 14? What did you need?” Let women be coaches. That’s another thing that is practical that may help men do what your dad did. But I love that you said, “He asked me questions.”
Ann: Yes, it was the greatest gift. He wasn’t rebuking; he wasn’t correcting me; he just listened. He’s great at that; isn’t he, Dave?
Dave: He is one of the best question-askers. You come to his house; he’s going to ask you everything.
The fact that he wasn’t doing that with Ann, and then started doing that, I think it’s a big theme of your book that I found very important for us men to understand is: “We have what it takes.” Talk about that a little bit; because I know, when we first got married, and then when I first became a dad, I thought, “I don’t have what it takes, because I didn’t have a dad. I never saw it; I don’t know what it looks like; I’m not sure what to do.”
There’s a part of men that becomes passive then—like, “Well, she does; she’ll do a great job, and I’ll just watch,”—yet, we’re called to step in. We sort of think, “I’m not good at this. I’m going to go do what I’m good at/I can work well”; you know. Talk about that—you believe fathers do have it—why do you believe that?
Michelle: Well, because God says they do. We don’t sign up to qualify to be a parent; right? God is saying, “I’m endowing you with what you need in the Spirit.” The truth is that the God who made you will equip you—right?—because you’re called to do this.
My dad, much like you—he grew up on the south side of Chicago—seven kids, three different last names. His dad was an alcoholic; died of gangrene. He left when my dad’s mom put an iron on his face.
Michelle: That was the last time he left. My dad was in gangs from the time he was 12; I mean, no template of how to be a father. That’s not an exaggeration.
Then, when I’m six years old, my parents come to Christ. It’s kind of a big steep learning curve there; he had no template.
Ann: This is like you, honey.
Michelle: I don’t know what your story is, Dave; but I imagine you’re a bit like my dad—get around men, who you admire as fathers, and say, “Can we meet for coffee?”
Michelle: Let them teach you—that’s what my dad did—went to seminary; became a pastor. Men would say, “You know, you need to get up 15 minutes earlier and do quiet times with your family before school.” My dad comes home, “We’re getting up
15 minutes earlier!” We’re like, “No!”
I look back at that; when I went to Bible college, I remember taking a class on creating family worship—what that looks like—and I’m like, “This is crazy! That’s what my dad did!”—not because anyone taught him inherently—but I think he watched good dads, and then emulated that, and brought it home.
Dave: It’s interesting; in your book you have that FATHER acrostic. Honestly, when I saw the “F” and I saw the word, “ First,” I’m like, “Well, I’m going to go to the next one; there’s nothing here; ‘What’s “First”’?” Then I read it; and I’m like, “Genius, we are the ones to initiate first.” It’s so easy, as a dad, to wait for our daughter, wait for our son, wait for our spouse. No, no, no, no; first, you initiate.
I know as dads—all parents probably experience this—when your kids become teenagers and start to pull away from you—which is totally normal and they should—
Dave: —we let them pull away; and we’re like, “Okay, I guess I’m sort of done,” rather than, “No, no; it’s on me first. I need to pursue them.”
Michelle: “I need a different skillset.”
Here’s another practical idea for dads: if your daughter’s starting to pull away—and she’s at “that age,” where peers matter more, her physical appearance matters more, makeup, hair—right?—pre-adolescence—Dad, go get a pad of sticky notes, or a dry erase marker. Go right on your daughter’s mirrors. When she looks in that mirror she sees every flaw; doesn’t she?
Ann: Oh, absolutely.
Michelle: —every flaw! The voice in our head says—I mean, the stuff I hear from daughters at my counseling office is like—beautiful women say they’ll hear, “You fat pig…”
Ann: It starts when they’re young/like early teens.
Michelle: Young! I’ve even heard some as young as ten already hearing this voice.
Isn’t it interesting?—when I ask my counseling clients, they think I’m really smart, but I’m really not. When I just listen, it’s always second person:—
Ann: Yes; “You.”
Michelle: It’s “you”!
Ann: Yes; “You are.”
Michelle: “You are fat,” “You aren’t this,” or “You are that.” Well, doesn’t that invite the question, “Who’s talking?”
Dave: It’s the father of lies.
Michelle: It is the father of lies!—exactly! So dads—again, because you represent God, as a father—get a pad of sticky notes, or a dry-erase marker, and write on her mirror—in her bathroom, in her bedroom, you can even do the rearview mirror of her car if she’s driving—saying: “I’m proud of you,” “I love you,” “I’m praying for you,” “You’re beautiful to me.”
Ann: Oh, there is so much power in that! I think of myself looking in the mirror. I would guess most girls, looking in the mirror, are hearing the negative. With social media today, it’s like a bullhorn in your head. I remember thinking: “You’re so fat,” “You’re so ugly,” “You’re so…” It was this onslaught of these lies.
If my dad would have put one thing on it, one time in my life, I would remember it; it would be a milestone marker.
Michelle: It would counter what she’s hearing in her head in real time. I’ve had dads do this for the last decade. They’ll send me pictures, where they’ll say, “The sticky note I put in the bathroom is now on her bedroom wall! She saved it!” Or they’re lined up—the sticky notes.
I had one dad say, “That’s from five months ago, and she hasn’t taken it down.” Dads, your voice/your view of your daughter is going to stick with her and be internalized long after you’re gone.
Dave: You just hit the “A” of the FATHER acrostic. Some listeners are like, “Uh-oh, you started an acrostic; you have to finish it.” But First, and the “A” is Affirm.
Dave: You’re talking about five deposits to one withdrawal. You’re just affirming, whether it’s writing a sticky note or, especially, speaking it; right?
Dave: The “T” we’ve talked about quite a bit is Talk.
Michelle: Yes! There’s a key thing.
Dave: Just talk and draw her out.
Michelle: —and listen; right?
Dave: You have the book and you have the questions [to help draw her out].
The “H” is Humor; what is that?
Michelle: That’s why I started with it, because/did you know that neuroscientists confirm that laughter releases chemicals in our brains that strengthen long-term relationships and reinforce social bonding? The other thing is it releases oxytocin that counters cortisol, which is a stress hormone. So dad, if you have kind of a bombed-out bridge with your daughter, find ways to engage her in things that make her laugh.
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: The “E” is Engage. How is that different than what we’ve already said?
Michelle: It means that you find out what she’s interested in and then you do it with her—
Dave: Simple as that.
Michelle: —even if you’re uncomfortable! If she loves baking, you go get in the kitchen, where you’re the one that doesn’t know what you’re doing; and you let her teach you. But you engage in things that she’s interested in, and that’s another powerful bonding thing; isn’t it?
Ann: I would agree, too. I’m just imagining my dad coming to the kitchen if I was a teenager. At first, I’d be like, “What are you doing? This is weird.” Don’t take anything personally that she could say; because inwardly, she is jumping up and down, celebrating that you’re engaging with her.
Michelle: Yes, exactly!
Dave: Finally, we have the “R”, which is Reach. What’s that mean?
Michelle: Well, again, it’s up to you, dad, to reach toward her. Isn’t that what God, as a Father does?—He sent Jesus down to reach into our heart space. As you reach out toward her—whether it’s physical contact, like we talked about last time, the importance of hugging and finding ways to engage her in safe touch—right?—that honors her but is still pursuing her. Really, that reaching out, she’ll never forget it.
One of my favorite things that my dad’s done for, at least, 30 years is at Christmas—he went to a men’s conference once; and they said, “Come up with a way to reach your kids,”—“What do girls like?”—they like perfume! So my dad has done this thing every Christmas, where, usually on about the 23rd or 24th, we go to Nordstrom and have lunch. We sit in the perfume section, and I try perfume on my arms. He helps decide which one I want; you know how expensive perfume is now.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Michelle: All the clerks are like, “Oh! I wish my dad would do that!”
Ann: Oh, yes.
Michelle: Here’s the cool thing. I’m telling you—the last one I chose—it was not cheap. I almost felt bad; I tend to be extravagant. When I receive, it’s harder to take it.
Ann: Me, too.
Michelle: But inside, I was so grateful that my dad would spend the money on me; because where his treasure is, there his heart is. That told me I had his heart, because he paid so much money for this perfume. Every time I do things all year long, and I put that perfume on, what does it remind me of?
Ann: Your dad.
Michelle: Yes, that my dad loves me and invested in me. There’s just another practical way that a dad could reach out to his daughter by taking her on a traditional date. If she’s not into perfume, do books; I’ve had dads go through the aisles of bookstores and buy three books. Or do a painting project or something that she loves.
Ann: I’m imagining every woman listening to this, that has a daughter, is thinking, “My husband needs to hear this!” I think there’s a part of every man, if his wife sends it to him, he’ll think, “See, I’m doing it all wrong again; and she’s critiquing me again.”
Coach us just for a minute—for us women—we’re so excited about this, and maybe our husbands wouldn’t necessarily listen. How can we help him and encourage him, even to listen or to get the book?
Michelle: Well, it’s called Oreo® cookie communication: the top cookie is the positive; the middle—we can only handle so much of that middle stuff; right?—and the bottom/the next cookie is the positive: positive, negative, positive. Start with the positive; you can tell him, “I’m so grateful that you’re our kids’ dad; and yet, at the end of the day, you speak Martian; I speak Venusian. I get that our daughter is really hard to reach at this age—she’s 15—she doesn’t really want to be with you. Hey, this woman wrote this book for dads; and she’s a woman. She says if it bombs, just blame her; so you can’t do it wrong!”
I’ve found men want to do it right.
Michelle: They’re going, “But I don’t even know what that looks like.”
Michelle: I’m really allying with that place in men that says, “I want to get it right, and I don’t even know what that looks like.”
Then I say to dads, “You don’t have to tell your kids where you get the idea. You get full credit.” [Laughter]
Ann: That’s good; that’s good.
Bob: You really have spelled it out for us in the book, Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters. We are making that book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners—those of you, who are regular listeners and want to pitch in to help the ongoing work of this ministry—help make FamilyLife Today possible, not only for yourself, but for your community and for people all around the world. There are hundreds of thousands of people, every day, who depend on the practical biblical help and hope they’re receiving from FamilyLife Today to help them navigate the challenges of marriage and family.
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Again, when you make that donation today, you can request your copy of Michelle Watson Canfield’s book, Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website for a donation: FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can donate by calling 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I want to ask you to be praying for what’s going to be happening this Saturday, our Blended & Blessed event for couples, who are in blended families and stepfamilies. Ron Deal gives leadership to that. We have hundreds of people who have signed up to join us. It’s not too late to sign up if you’d like to join either on your own, or with a small group, or a church group. You can find out more when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. But please pray for this event. Pray that God would use it in a powerful way in the lives of those who are trying to work out the challenges associated with a blended family and trying to do that in a way that honors the Lord. Again, find out more about Blended & Blessed 2021 when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Be sure to join us, again, tomorrow when we’ll continue talking about how dads can pursue their daughters, win the hearts of their daughters, build a stronger relationship with their girls. Michelle Watson Canfield’s going to join us again tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. He got some special help today from Bruce Goff; and of course, our entire broadcast production team is involved. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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