FamilyLife Today® Podcast

If I Could Turn Back Time- Dads With Daughters

with Michelle Watson Canfield | April 21, 2021
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Dads, what do you wish your daughters would say about you when you are gone? It's never too late to win your daughter's heart. Michelle Watson Canfield encourages fathers to stay invested in their daughters' lives.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dads, it’s never too late to win your daughter’s heart. Michelle Watson Canfield encourages fathers to stay invested in their daughters’ lives.

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If I Could Turn Back Time- Dads With Daughters

With Michelle Watson Canfield
April 21, 2021
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Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at The time you spend today, as a dad, investing in your relationship with your daughter will pay dividends in the future that you can’t even begin to calculate. We’re going to talk more about that today. Stay with us.

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. At some point—and I didn’t do this for very long—but when our kids were little, there would be these stories, these moments, episodes, conversations that would happen that I would go, “I just need to/I need to keep a file of this.” I would get out my computer, and I would just start typing in these stories.

One that I remember—my daughter Katie was about five years old at the time—and Mary Ann’s mom was going to go into the doctor to have/there was some kind of a growth inside her nose that needed to be removed. We didn’t know at the time: “Is this benign?” “Is this/could this be something more serious?” At dinner that night, I just said, “Hey, guys, we need to pray for Grandma. She’s going to go in, and she’s going to have a growth removed from inside her nose. We just need to pray that it all goes well.”

Well, a five-year-old doesn’t understand a growth inside your nose; so Katie said, “Because it might be a pimple; right, Daddy?” I’m imagining, “What’s my five-year-old thinking Grandma’s nose is going to look like? What’s going to happen?” Finally, I just said, “You know, we just need to pray that she’s going to be okay.” Katie was pretty regular with/she’d say something and: “…right, Daddy?” “…right, Daddy?” “…right, Daddy?”—there was always that looking for affirmation.

I was thinking about, this week as we’ve been talking about the connection between fathers and daughters, the need for that bond to be strong/the power of that bond. We’ve got Michelle Watson Canfield joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Michelle, welcome back.

Michelle: Glad to be back joining you.

Bob: This is your lane, as you’ve said. This is what God has put on your heart to coach men in this area. For more than an decade now, you’ve been involved with a project. You call it The Abba Project to get together with men and say, “Here’s how you can strengthen the bond with your daughters.” I’m just wondering, “Are these dads, who are coming and saying, ‘It’s broken. I need you to fix it’; or are these dads who are coming and saying, ‘It’s okay; I just want to make sure it stays okay’?”

Michelle: All of the above.

Bob: Okay.

Michelle: Many of them have estrangements with their daughters—estranged relationships—and then all the way up to ones that just say, “I want to kick it up a notch and enhance it, strengthen it, reinforce what we already have.”

Ann: Do many come, saying, “My wife wanted me…” [Laughter]

Michelle: Oh, yes; oh, yes.

Ann: They do! Okay.

Michelle: Yes.

Bob: You have been in private practice as a counselor for years. You’ve written, actually, two books on this subject. The first book is called Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You. Then the second book is How to Have Conversations with Your Daughter That Will Unlock the Relationship in Some Fresh Ways. That’s the goal behind all of this; right?

Michelle: Exactly—is to help you, as a dad, decode your daughter; because on the best of days, she doesn’t make sense to you. But the more you can get her talking, she will, not only understand herself better, but you’ll understand her better.

Bob: Is there a common issue—like if you had ten dads in a room from the good to the hurting—is there one thing that you would say, “If we can get these dads to under this one thing or to develop this one skill, we’ve unlocked the whole deal”?

Michelle: It’s more complex than that; right? I think, sometimes, men are like, “Give me the one thing.”

Bob: Right.

Dave: That’s what I was thinking.

Michelle: Ann and I have just been saying—we have so many different conversations in our head, happening simultaneously, that we’re like, “Okay, it’s not really one thing,”—but if I had to summarize it, I really go back to what God, Himself, said in the Word: “It’s the hearts of fathers that have to turn.”

Often, I’ve asked myself, like, “What does a heart-turn look like?” Have you ever had someone say, “Hey, can you turn your heart over here?” No, we say, “head”—like a parent—“Hey, you look at me when I’m talking to you,”—“Turn your head this way.” But God used language on purpose because, to me, it’s so unique. What does a heart-turn even look like?

Dave: You better answer that question.

Michelle: Well, and again, this is just obviously my opinion—someone else might have a different view—but that a heart turn is softer; it’s gentler; it’s more emotional; it’s more intuitive; it’s more connected. It’s not just data and information. As daughters, we love it when our dad turns his head towards us and helps fill out a FAFSA, or a college application, or I love when my dad’s helping—

Ann: It’s like Katie saying: “…right, Daddy?” “…right, Daddy?”

Bob: “…right, Daddy?”—yes.

Michelle: Exactly. I loved when my dad has helped me figure: “Which car should I buy?”—goes with me. That, I call that more of a head-turn; it’s information databased.

But yet, a heart-turn is a whole different skill set as we talked about already. That’s where—not only do we need the power of God to do it—but if dads can just have that in their mindset/in their grid of: “I want to engage, every day, my daughter’s heart; I want to engage her heart,” you’re going to grow as a result.

Dave: Yes; I don’t know if this is true or not; but when I hear you say that, I think, “You can turn your head by just observing someone as a man.” Again, a woman can probably do this too; but I can watch somebody and see, “Oh, they are lacking this,”—it’s a data point—I can see it, but I can’t turn my heart without hearing their heart. I can’t turn my heart without conversation. I don’t think you can just observe.

Michelle: You’re right. But I love how you just said, Dave, that you turn toward her.

Dave: Yes.

Michelle: So you’re right. It means active listening/reflective listening, which means you nod your head up and down; you say, “Mm-hmm”; your eyes are looking at her.

The truth is when we, as daughters, can see our dad sit mesmerized for over two hours during a football game—like without missing a beat—but we come in, and after two minutes, he’s already looking off—

Ann: Oh!

Michelle: —and he seems bored, that’s giving her a message that: “You’re just not interesting enough to capture my attention.” I guarantee that is the recipe for disaster outside of your home.

Dave: Yes; and I think, as men, we think, “I understand football. I get what is happening. I know what the goal is; I know the strategy. When she starts talking—

Ann: —“with these players that I don’t even know.”

Dave: —“I don’t understand. I understand first and ten; I understand second and thirteen and a spread formation.”

Michelle: What did you say?—something and thirteen? [Laughter] I literally don’t even know what you just said.

Dave: Exactly.

Michelle: So it’s the same thing.

Dave: Right.

Michelle: If I want to learn the language of football, I’m going to go sit there; I’m going to study it; I’m going to learn the phrases.

Ann: Oh, that’s good.

Michelle: Literally, that’s what I sought to do with this book is: “Hey, dad, if you ask the question this way—like if you say to her—‘What words have I spoken to you that have stuck with you?—that have made you feel better about yourself?’ But then you say, ‘What words have stuck with you/have I spoken to you that have stuck with you that have made you feel worse about yourself?’ If you can make amends now, you’re not going to have an adult daughter, who still living with the messages in her head that you may not even remember you said—and maybe, you didn’t even mean to say it that way—but she is still replaying it.”

In fact, in The Abba Project, I’ve often asked men, “How many of you are married to a woman or were married to a woman that you would say is still carrying what you would call father-wounds?” Every hand goes up.

Ann: I was going to say—maybe, a husband—maybe, you are married to that wife, who is carrying those father-wounds. Is there something he can do to help his wife?

Michelle: Oh, that’s a great question. As we know, within the body of Christ, we can be a hurter or we can be a healer. As a dad/as a man, the more you have that mindset—I mean, how important—back to sports—is the mindset? Your mindset has everything to do—right?—with the action you take on the field or on the court. It’s the same with fathering. Whether or not it is your wife, who is carrying father-wounds, you get to be a conduit of the Father’s blessing—God as a Father to her—to affirm her.

The truth is, if there has been a wound, you’re going to need to say more and do more to affirm. Again, it’s not up to you—that if she doesn’t believe it, it’s your fault—because, really, that healing can only come from God, as a Father, ultimately; right? We get to partner in the miracle. He’s the ultimate One who is giving her love. So dad, or husband, I would say, “If you were to even on the mirrors”—we talked about that—“of your daughter’s life”—I’ve had women/wives say, “I wish he would do that for me!

Ann: Yes.

Michelle: “I want that on the mirrors in my [wife’s] bedroom.” I’ve had many dads/many men start doing that there. Affirm her with Scripture—when you say, “You are beloved. You are my delight,”—you can take actual verses and put them with her name in it.

Ann: You could go through Proverbs 31—

Michelle: There you go!

Ann: —and just go through—there are so many verses.

Dave: Hey, Bob, are you listening to this?

Bob: I’m taking notes, right over here.

Dave: They are talking to us.

Bob: I know exactly what they are saying.

Dave: When I was reading through your book, and looking at the questions, I thought, “Everyone of these I could do with Ann.”

Michelle: Yes!

Dave: She would love it. I’m looking at—

Ann: I would love it.

Dave: —I’m looking at this chapter: “Dad/Daughter Date Number 19: Questions on Longing for Romance and Royalty.” Number one: “Do you remember dressing up like a princess as a little girl? Did you enjoy it? If you didn’t, why not?” She would love for me to ask her that.

Michelle: Yes.

Ann: I would.

Dave: You know, this isn’t my daughter—it’s my wife—but this is connecting—

Ann: —to my heart.

Dave: —to a heart. So it’s not just a manual for fathers and daughters; it’s a manual for marriage as well!

Ann: And you’ve done a lot of research.

Michelle: Yes.

Ann: Talk about some of the research that you’ve found.

Michelle: You know, there is really powerful data in the research that shows that daughters—this is true for sons as well, but I’m going to say this specifically to daughters—when a daughter feels connected to her father, every area of her life is enhanced, and strengthened, and better: she’s going to get better grades in school; she’s more likely to finish high school and attend college; lower rates of substance use; greater self-esteem; less depression; she will delay sexual activities; there is also less teen pregnancy. Again, this all ties to the research with dads and daughters bonding.

She will also have more pro-social empathy; okay; come on, when have we needed that any more than now?

Bob: Right.

Michelle: She will be more likely to find steady employment. On and on it goes—less body dissatisfaction—so, as men, when you speak words of life, you are truly representing God, as a Father, to the women in your lives.

Ann: Men, you have so much power.

Michelle: Yes.

Ann: I hope that ignites your soul of seeing, like, “Oh, yes! I want to step in and step up to that.”

Bob: Okay; but we just need to acknowledge here that, in those times when we will say to our wives or our daughters,—

Ann: [Laughter] I know what you’re going to say.

Bob: —we will say, “You know what? You really look beautiful.”

Dave: Yes.

Bob: What does the wife/the daughter say?

Ann: “No I don’t!”

Bob: Right.

Dave: Yes.

Bob: What we hear is: “That was the stupidest thing you could have ever said!” [Laughter]

Dave: “It didn’t make any difference, so I won’t say it again.”

Bob: So we’re not going to try that again; right! [Laughter] I know we should be smarter than this and go, “No, this is your inner-thing talking;—

Dave: —“inner-thing.”

Bob: —“and you’re just saying, ‘Please say this, again, to me,’—

Ann: Yes.

Bob: —“‘Please make me convinced.’”

Ann: “No, I’m not”; but please tell me again, and again, and again.

Bob: I know that; but after a while, as guys, it’s like, “Okay, I’m not going to say the stupid thing today; because the last time I said it, it got shot down.”

Let me just say, “Ladies, the next time your husband says, ‘You know, you look really nice today,’ just look at him and say, ‘Well, thank you.’”

Ann: “Thank you.”

Bob: Yes; that would be a nice thing for us to hear.

Ann: I’m trying to get better at that.

Bob: Good for you; alright.

Michelle: Good for you! [Laughter]

Ann: Okay, Michelle, in this past month, I’ve talked to three families that have a 16-year-old daughter. They each have 16-year-old daughters that are in depression and anxiety. I think that this is very commonplace right now.

I had one dad call me and said, “Will you meet with my daughter?” I said, “First of all, I think that it is amazing that you are calling me; that says so much right there”; and he is doing all kinds of things to help her. Is that common—and more common right now—than it ever has been?

Michelle: You mean the depression piece?

Ann: The depression and anxiety.

Michelle: Because I wasn’t sure if you were asking if it’s common for dad to step in; and I was going to say, “No.”

But yes, absolutely—and you brought this up earlier, Ann, with the rise of social media—because, again, I’ve counseled teenagers for a lot of years. I am amazed at how depression has gone up/I believe synonymous with social media use.

Ann: So you think there is a link.

Michelle: Absolutely! In fact, I can think of one right now, where I had heard some statistics on the amount of time average a day—is something like five to six hours on social media—we’re not talking on the computer for school. I would just encourage dads to—if you have a daughter, who is really struggling with anxiety and depression—a place to start is limiting screen time.

Ann: You know that’s going to have a lot of kickback from the daughter.

Michelle: But then here is the key: “If you are going to take something away, what are you going to replace it with?” I heard this great quote from an organization that said: “Teenagers say, ‘Adults are always telling us what to say, “No,” to; but they are never telling us what to say, “Yes,” to.’”

If you’re going to take that away—I mean, I can think of one dad named Dan, where he’s like, “My eighth grader is all self-absorbed and narcissistic, and it’s all about her,”—I said, “I’ve got the antidote.” “What, Doc? What do you have?” I said, “She needs to volunteer. You don’t say, ‘Get your eyes off yourself’; you’ve got to engage her in something that gets her eyes off herself.” He goes, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” I said, “But there is a caveat; you need to do it with her.” He said, “Not going to happen.”

Ann: Really?

Michelle: I thought, “Well, that’s why: ‘Houston, we have a problem!’”—you know?

Dad, if you have a daughter, who is struggling with depression, a lot of it is comparison; right? Ann and I speak from experience on this. We always come up short in our minds when we compare ourselves to the popular girls or the ones who are smarter.

I mean, I’ve even thought of that recently, where I still remember Stephanie Wiersman [spelling uncertain] was the smart one in school. [Laughter] She always turned in her test before I was even halfway through; but yet, now as an adult, I’ve connected and engaged with some of my high school friends. One of them goes, “Well, you were always the smart one.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?!”

But see, if Dad is that voice outside her head, affirming her creativity—go do a painting class with her, where yours looks like a first grader; be okay not being perfect—let her outshine you; that will build her confidence. You’re right; the depression and the anxiety are on the rise. Medications for those things are on the rise, where it’s really a tough era, as we all know, for kids.

Bob: The other thing that is on the rise is gender confusion,—

Michelle: Yes.

Bob: —and same-sex attraction, and “Am I really a boy in a girl’s body?” How much is the father/daughter relationship connected to that confusion; do you think?

Michelle: Well, I like that you said, “…do you think?” because you could talk to anyone in this line of work/in psychology, and they would have different takes on this. I don’t know that I can comment exactly on how much is the dad relationship tied to this; but I would say, regardless of what your daughter is dealing with—because what I’m hearing is that pretty young now; I’m talking even elementary school—what they are being shown in school is that you need to explore and experiment and: “How can you know that you are this gender if you haven’t tried on the other outfit in the dressing room?” or whatever.

Dads, again, if you can teach your daughter how to think—not just what to think—

Ann: How do you do that?

Michelle: By asking questions. That’s why, in this book, I have questions on same-sex attraction. In fact, I know a dad right now—who is a former missionary/been a pastor—his daughter is gay. They are now, weekly, going through this book. But Dad said/and she said—both of them together—“We don’t want to start with the deep end. We don’t want to talk about what’s happening right now in [our] relationship, but let’s start with the laughing ones.” She told me, a couple weeks in; she said, “Dad, hand me the book. I want to do the questions now about your life.” That helps dads sometimes remember back when they struggled, but they forgot about it; because it was four decades ago or whatever.

The truth is, at the end of the day, your daughter is going to do what she wants to do, with or without your consent. She’ll just hide it better if she knows that you’re disappointed. I’ve had daughters say her dad’s disappointment is a much bigger thing even than his anger, knowing she has disappointed her dad.

A lot of daughters—I mean, sadly, Christian women as well—pretty much nobody is waiting to have sex anymore. Dads are like [deep voice], “I’d rather not know.” Dad, if you don’t weigh in on this, every other voice—right?—will speak louder than yours. She may make a different decision; but if you speak to her about these topics, at least, she gets to hear your opinion while you say, “But I know you are going to make your own decision. I just want you to know I love you no matter, but would you be open to hearing my thoughts on this?” Then end with another positive on the end: “Thank you for taking the time to hear me. I want to hear you.”

Dave: You know, when you shared that story just a second ago about the dad whose daughter is struggling with anxiety and depression—and you say, “Go serve,”—and he says, “That’s not going to happen. She can do it; I’m not going to do it.”

I just want to say to that guy, “Dude! Are you kidding me?! This is your chance. Nobody is going to remember/you’re not going to remember, in ten years, your job, or the cars you drove, or the house you live in—I’m not saying that stuff doesn’t matter; we all think it matters—it does not matter as much as your daughter feeling loved by you and cared for by you. Do you want to be that dad, whose daughter never gets out of depression because you didn’t have the time to say, ‘I’m going to serve with her’?”

Michelle: Yes.

Dave: “Step up!”—I mean, your whole book is “Engage.” I’m like, “Engage!” She’s got her arms out, figuratively, and you can be the man God has called you to be. You’ve got what it takes—do it—today is your day. I’m hoping today is a day a dad goes, “I’m getting off this couch; I’m going to engage. I’m going to make a difference in my daughter’s life.”

Michelle: I love how you brought up: “Think ahead ten years.” I even encourage dads to go to the end of their life—this might sound morbid—but literally: “What do you want your daughters to say about you when you are gone?”

I have a friend who, actually—I challenged him—and he wrote his own eulogy, sobbing as he reads this. His daughters were four and two; but that becomes, then, a guide:—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Right.

Michelle: —“What do you want your daughters to say about you at the end of your life?” I call it: “Thinking backwards”—then you work from there.

Dave: Yes.

Michelle: If you want to say, “I want her to know I loved her”; we know, in goal setting, that is too vague—“ doing what?”—“…by the way I affirmed her,” “…by the way I built her up and supported what she was interested in.” You’re going to be specific in those things.

It makes a difference in a dad, saying, “This is how I know where I am headed; because I’ve got a goal, and I’ve stated it.” Put it up in your office; put that statement up there to guide you every day to remember why this matters.

Ann: I’m thinking of James 1—just real quick—I mean, think about James 1: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask”—who?—“of God who gives generously without reproach.”

Bob: And the dad, who would say, “You’ve given me a few plays, but I feel like I’m going to run out of plays pretty quick,”—that’s what the book is for.

Dave: Yes.

Michelle: Exactly.

Bob: This book is a playbook for a dad to walk through: “Here is how I can have this kind of engagement.”

Michelle, this has been so good/so helpful. Thanks for coming here; and thanks for challenging all of us, as men, with our daughters and with our wives to step in and to be the affirming presence they need for us to be.

Michelle: And Ann and I are saying: “As men, you matter,”—

Ann: Yes.

Michelle: —“Your voice matters.”

Ann: “We need you.”

Michelle: “We need you.”

Bob: Well, we’re grateful for you; and we are, this week, making your book available to FamilyLife Today listeners, who can help with a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Michelle’s book is called Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters. You can request your copy when you go online at to make a donation or when you call 1-800-358-6329 to donate; that’s 1-800-FL-TODAY.

Keep in mind what you’re supporting with your donations is the ongoing discipling/the mentoring that is happening, day in and day out, as husbands and wives and moms and dads are connecting with us, here, at FamilyLife®, saying, “Help me win in the relationships that matter most to me: my marriage, my relationship with my kids.” You make this kind of practical biblical help and hope available every day when you make a donation to support the ongoing work of this ministry.

Again, when you make your donation today, we’d love to send you a copy of Michelle Watson Canfield’s book, Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters, as our thank-you gift for your support. Donate online at, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. The website:; or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

We have got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, who has been sitting in with us here. David, I noticed you’ve been taking notes during this conversation; because you’re a dad with a daughter at home; right?

David: That’s right; I’m a dad with a preteen in the thick of it. You know, what I loved about this conversation is: I want to go to my FamilyLife app, send it to three other dads that are dads of my daughter’s classmates, and “Let’s have a conversation about them.” I think a lot of times, dads—we love taking in amazing content like this, and getting the help, and having practical biblical help to raising our daughters; this is my first daughter, who has hit preteen years—but so often, we do that in isolation. There is something that happens when a few dads start getting intentional together, so I’m going to do that.

I want to encourage you: if you are a dad out there, listening, go to the FamilyLife app; look up this most recent series; share it with a few dads; and get a little intentional, having some conversations on how you can pursue your daughters and deepen your relationships together.

Bob: Yes, and I’ve mentioned this before: if you’ve not yet downloaded the app, it’s simple to do. Go to the app store for your device and look for FamilyLife—as one word; no space between Family and Life—the app should pop up. It’s free to download, and it does make it easy for you to share individual broadcasts or a series like this with friends. Download the FamilyLife app from your app store, and use that to connect with us on an ongoing basis.

Speaking of connecting, we hope you can connect with us tomorrow. Matt and Sarah Hammitt are going to join us. Matt is the guy who wrote the song, Lead Me, and was the lead singer of the group Sanctus Real for years. Matt and Sarah speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, and we’re going to talk about their journey, and their marriage, and the challenges they’ve faced, and the lessons they’ve learned. I hope you can join us and tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some help from Bruce Goff today and our entire broadcast production team. 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.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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