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Dad's Everything Book for DaughtersPractical Ideas for a Quality Relationship
By John Trent
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Every Girl Needs from Her Dad
It didn't start off as one of my top-ten days of being a father, but it certainly ended up right near the top. In fact, the day started with my having a dreaded conversation with Kari, our oldest daughter.
Kari was going to turn sixteen-a major milestone in most kids' lives these days. Like many soon-to-be-drivers, there was the excitement and hope that a lovingly used or perhaps even a new car with her name on it would magically appear in the driveway. Only now I was bursting that bubble, sharing with Kari the "final word" that a car wouldn't be an option on her sixteenth birthday-and not for that school year as well.
As we sat at the kitchen table, I talked with Kari about the benefits of her saving money towards a car as well as short- and long-term goals (i.e., spending money on a car today versus saving for college tomorrow). I also shared with her the challenge our small speaking ministry was facing at that time. While many people suffered far greater loses due to the terrorist attacks, in the three months following September 11, 2001, we had eight different speaking events cancel as a direct consequence of that tragedy. In practical terms, that meant half of our ministry's yearly income disappeared almost overnight. And with all of those cancellations came missed paychecks, lots of prayers, and belt tightening-and no funds that might have been allocated for another car.
Before you write me letters, I know kids don't need a car at sixteen. I also know that having a daughter (or son) work to earn money for her own car is a far better life lesson than just giving her one. And I know there is nothing wrong with sharing a car, and we are blessed to have not one but two cars that run well. But I also knew that Kari is the youngest in her class, and living in affluent Scottsdale, Arizona, she had watched classmate after classmate turn sixteen and receive a car on their birthday (and in several cases it was a new car, not a gently used one).
Feel free to call me shallow, prideful, vain, or unspiritual, but it still hurt inside when I sat down with Kari that morning and told her, "Kari, even if it were an option to get you a car, we can't afford to do that right now." It is tough to look around at other dads who seem to be able to provide so much in the way of tangible things for their children and not get drawn into feeling that because you can't do the same at that time, you are somehow failing as a father.
I have to say I was proud of Kari's attitude that day at the kitchen table. She was honestly disappointed, but she took the news with grace and understanding. Yet what I'll never forget about that conversation wasn't what happened at the table that morning-but later that evening.
Kari and I were the last ones up as usual. She was finishing homework, and I was working on an article due the next day. She came into the study to let me know she was going to bed. On cue, I got up and got her a glass of water and followed her into her room. Though she is a high schooler, we still follow the nightly ritual we started when she was five years old of my getting her water before bed. If my wife, Cindy, had been up, she would have joined me. But it was very late and a kindergarten teacher's day starts early. So it was I who tucked Kari in that night, held her hand, and prayed a blessing over her. As I started to leave, she kept hold of my hand and pulled me back down on the edge of her bed.
Then she said softly, "Daddy, I know that was a hard talk for you today, but can I tell you something?"
"Sure," I said.
"It's okay about the car. You've already given me what's really important."
We both sat there as time froze for a moment. Then her words melted into tears, and hugs, and finally smiles, and then she fell asleep.
A Dad Who Was Never There
The memory of Kari's words and their deeper meaning will stay with me for the rest of my life. On one hand, hearing her words was a tremendous affirmation for all the effort Cindy and I had put into pouring our love and God's love into her life. Yet it was also a poignant reminder that I didn't grow up with warm, nighttime memories like that.
When I was growing up, my father didn't live under the same roof I did. He left the family when I was an infant, divorced my mother, and didn't reappear again in my life until my brothers and I were in high school. I spent years as an adult trying-though mostly failing-to build a close relationship with my father. I even sat and held his hand for eight and a half hours the day he died of congestive heart and lung failure. Yet my father died so emotionally distant from his sons, he didn't even know the name of my youngest daughter when he died.
Certainly, I am not alone in not having a father at home growing up. I'm standing in the same line as hundreds of men I've met over the years who grew up without an "in-house" role model. As a result, many of us in this situation have struggled to connect with our children, our spouse, or even with God. But while growing up without a father certainly wasn't positive, it did place in me a growing conviction that if God ever gave me a family, things would be different in my home.
Being different from a neglectful father in your own past is a laudable goal-but I also know that it takes work, not just wishing for things to change. In fact, it takes nothing less than "reversing the curse."
Reverse the Curse
When a father chooses not to connect with his daughter (or son) then-like it or not, realize it or not-he is passing down what the Bible calls a "curse." In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, many words carry pictures. The picture behind the word curse is literally that of a "muddy trickle or stream." Whether because of lack of rain or because the water upstream had been dammed up, the picture of a curse is of a dry stream with only enough moisture to dampen the ground-not enough to provide a cool, longed-for, life-giving drink.
Imagine you are a desert dweller, living in the ancient, arid lands of the Bible. As you cross the desert, you finally make it through the heat, rocks, and dust to what you know will be a life-sustaining stream. Only once you arrive at the stream, all your hopes and expectations turn to dust. That's because instead of finding an oasis of life, all you find is mud-caked misery.
The word curse carries with it the picture of withholding life, dirty water, unfulfilled longings, and deep frustration. This graphic picture of the curse is certainly what arose when Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden into the wilderness-the curse that Jesus died to reverse on the cross. ("But the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you." Deuteronomy 23:5 NASB; see also Galatians 3:13 and Revelation 22:3.)
In a spiritual sense, Jesus offered living water to thirsty people who came to him, like the woman at the well (John 4:10). He provided overflowing streams in the desert to those who would follow him. But let's take that word curse and apply it to what a father does or doesn't do with his child-and particularly with his daughter.
Whether or not a father realizes it, a daughter looks to her dad like a traveler looks for a stream in the desert. But for many fathers and many reasons, life-giving words, hugs, prayers, or affirmation are never poured into their daughters' lives. Instead they are left with only a muddy stream and a deep, nagging thirst in their emotional and spiritual life that follows them into their future. Only a few hundred clinical studies substantiate this fact, a recent one being from the Washington Post: "20 to 25% of children of divorce suffer ... 'long-term damage,' which includes lasting social, emotional or psychological problems."
In most cases, fathers who subtract from their daughters' (or sons') lives aren't terrible people. My father wasn't a bad person. Rather, most men who don't connect with their children never had a loving father themselves, and they simply don't know what to do.
This is why I jumped at the chance to write this book. I wanted to provide a can't-miss, practical, put-into-action-today bucketful of ideas that any father could pour into his daughter's life-even if he, like me, grew up without a father. What you will find in the pages that follow are ways of providing clear, sweet, thirst-quenching water of acceptance to your daughter.
This is a book short enough for a father to read on both legs of a cross-country plane flight. But it is long enough on ideas and insights to increase the level of daily connection and caring between a dad and his daughter.
Little Things Count
So where does a dad begin to connect with his daughter-particularly during those crucial years when she is between eight and twelve years old? First, begin with the knowledge that your decision to take positive steps to bless your daughter will positively affect her for the rest of her life. It is that important. During these crucial years, your daughter will solidify her view of men as well as internally decide whether she has a bright future or feels shoved into the shadows of failure. It is also the time when girls (and boys) make the inner decision to be an optimist or a pessimist, and linked closely with that, the decision whether their heavenly Father is real and good or just some abstract, uncaring concept. It is your actions, not just your words, that will help shape her life.
Second, you will discover it is small, positive, doable actions-like those you'll find in this book-that over time will fill up your daughter's heart with what really matters-namely, a heart full of your love and a heart full of your heavenly Father's love.
For more than toys, more than boys, more than used cars when she's sixteen, your daughter and mine need and long for our acceptance, love, and blessing.
And in living out God's love for your daughter, you will discover one of the most powerful ways to reverse the curse from your own past, and heal the hurt you may have experienced as well.
You Can't Hide Your Actions
I was only in second grade when the traumatic "parakeet fiasco" happened in my home. One day our parakeet escaped from its cage while I was at school. My grandmother ordered my grandfather to catch the bird, and after a long chase, he finally managed to throw a dishtowel over Tweetie. However, as he held Tweetie and attempted to lift the little gate to put the bird back in its cage, the bird bit a large chunk out of the top of Grandfather's right index finger.
Almost spasmodically, Grandfather squeezed his hand and cried out, "Dumb bird!" (or some words to that effect). My grandfather was an old Texan who had spent his entire working life as a farmer and carpenter. Even in his seventies, he had a steelworker's grip. While he later swore on the Bible that he didn't mean to do it, when he reflexively yelled out and squeezed poor Tweetie in response to the pain, the result proved instantly fatal to the bird.
What did my grandfather do with the now-deceased Tweetie? In true Watergate fashion, he attempted what came to be known around our home as "The Great Parakeet Cover-Up." With Grandmother out of the room-and knowing he was in huge trouble if she found out what happened-Grandfather quickly put Tweetie back inside its cage. He did so by wrapping its little feet around the dowel perch that ran across the cage, and pushing Tweetie over so he leaned up against the side of the cage.
It was Grandfather's hope that somehow we would think Tweetie was just asleep or had passed away peacefully inside its cage. But the cold light of day brought forth the truth. Or in this case, it was a room-temperature, oddly shaped parakeet that led to pandemonium.
Why share this tragic story? Because it illustrates an important point for every father. Don't think you can hide reality from your children or grandchildren. Don't think you can fake a positive father image if it is not really there. Luke 8:17 puts it this way: "But nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light" (NASB).
Our actions as a father do count, and like security cameras mounted on ATMs, what we do is being recorded in little minds and hearts day and night. Kids are like God's little spies, always watching and remembering everything-positive or negative. And our adding to their lives, or subtracting, can't be covered up any more than Tweetie's demise could be hidden.
Back in Kari's Room ...
When I walked out of Kari's room, my eyes were moist and my heart was overflowing with gratefulness. In fact, I literally got down on my knees and thanked the Lord for the father he gave me, despite all his failings. And I thanked the Lord for filling in the missing pieces and giving me the conviction to bless my own children even when I didn't know how or where to start. Finally, I thanked him for the hundreds of little things that have helped Kari and her sister, Laura, know at the deepest levels they are indeed loved and blessed and accepted and special to me and to Jesus-with or without a car.
Dad, nothing you can win or earn or conquer will erase the ache of failing to connect with your own children. I can think of some of the hundreds of men I have counseled over the years-a two-star general, an Academy-Award winner, a Hall-of-Fame athlete, a famous race car driver, and a national platform pastor. Each man has won great praise, fame, and fortune in his particular arena-and each one lives with the daily heartache of knowing his own children hate him. (Many of those same children also hate or ignore God.)
One of the most powerful ways to fill your heart with daily deposits of inner peace and rest is to help your daughter experience your love and God's love as well (3 John 4).
May the Lord bless you as you seek to do all you can to connect with your daughter in the days to come. And know you're not alone in this task. Hundreds of fathers visit the website, sign up to receive the free weekly e-zine, and commit to being a "home of light."
Men like you who are committed to loving the Lord and their families.
Men committed to having strong families in these stressful times.
Men who want to be everything they can for their daughters.
Excerpted from Dad's Everything Book for Daughters by John Trent Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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