Before the sun rose yesterday morning, our big neighbourhood park was alive with those wanting to venture outside, safely.
But what stood out was the number of fathers out early with their children.
Running. Jogging. Tai Chi. Later in the day it was making a kite. Riding a bike.
And that’s the window into a golden opportunity during this bitter period of our history, for fathers who want to build a connection with their daughters, or even reconnect with them.
A couple of years ago, I sought the advice of 1300 girls aged 10 to 17. One of the questions related to how often they spent a dedicated 10 minutes in one-on-one conversation with their dad.
“In the car because you know I have to.”
“Almost never, but we sit and do maths together.”
They were the standard answers. Dads said the same. While some did find the time, especially on the drive to school, many found that work prohibited lazy, ambling conversations, or that daughters confided more in their mothers.
Or, sometimes, there just were not enough hours in the day.
Guess what: now, even working from home, that can be turned on its head. And even if they don’t ask, this is what daughters want. I know that because they told me repeatedly. More. Time. With. Dad.
Their biggest gripe? That they’d grown apart from their father at that tricky age of 11 or 12 or 13 and couldn’t navigate a way back. “To be honest,” one told me, “I really miss my Dad and the relationship we used to have.”
Bunkering down at home gifts us that chance. And there are many evidenced-based ways to approach it.
For example, those girls who did a sport or activity with their father almost unanimously spoke about their bond as warm and alive.
So pick an activity – a park run, writing cards to an aged care home, planning a Christmas in July for the family – and do it.
It is about making memories between dad and daughter – and if that’s learning the guitar together inside, while COVID-19 creates havoc outside, it could provide an impetus for the way forward.
This is especially crucial now as anxiety grips so many of our teens, separated from their friends, and fearful of the future.
Another example is to ask and value her opinion. She doesn’t need to agree with you; how many of us always agreed with our parents?
Research shows that doing that will build her self-confidence. Belittle her over her views, or crush her argument too early, and you’ll crush her confidence just as much.
So what does she think of home-schooling? The job Scott Morrison’s doing? Whether the flu vaccine should be compulsory? The issues don’t matter as much as the engagement.
A final suggested connector is just being there.
Spend your home lunch hour with her, or work an hour before breakfast to knock off an hour earlier. Be the homework champion.
The challenges for our daughters in the response to COVID-19, and their inability to access the hugs and camaraderie of their friends at school, cannot be underestimated.
Fathers can not only lessen that impact. They can write a new chapter in their own father-daughter relationship.