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Dad playing dress-up with his daughter.

#GirlDad: Fostering Strength in Our Daughters

The girl dad hashtag became popular on social media in early 2020. Many fathers participated in this movement as a tribute after the passing of former NBA player, Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Dads took to social media to post pictures of themselves with their daughters and express their pride in being a girl dad. Having two daughters myself, this movement was an opportunity for me to reflect on what it means to be a girl dad.

Being a girl dad means taking pride in your role as a provider and protector of your daughter, and most fathers find it gratifying to be the foremost male figure in their daughter’s life. However, this has the potential of leading to dads viewing and treating their daughters as being fragile and in greater need of protection than their sons. The danger is that this view may correspond with other false messages our daughters may receive – that they are weaker, more emotional, and need to be dependent on a boy or a man. Most girl dads are well-meaning when they call their daughters “princess” or jokingly threaten their prom dates, but these are old-fashioned norms that could end up being harmful to our daughters in the long term. As dads, we need to remember that the role we play in our daughter’s life can impact how she grows up to view and treat herself and others.

As we continue to challenge and confront gender norms, it is important for the description of a girl dad to shift. We no longer need to play the role of the overprotective father, but rather we can start parenting our daughters in ways that enhance their social-emotional development. For fathers raising daughters, here are some things you can do to be a more effective girl dad.

Be aware of the messages.

A good first step is having an awareness of the societal messages that are sent to our daughters about what it means to be a girl. These messages may portray girls as being weaker, dependent, or even less intelligent than boys. We want our daughters to believe in their abilities and know that they are just as capable as our sons. You can foster this understanding by teaching them to be self-sufficient and to not always rely on you or any other man. Rather than being overprotective, we can raise our daughters to practice good judgment and confident decision making. We can be deliberate about using words such as brave, funny, smart, or strong when highlighting our daughter’s strengths.

Recognize your privilege.

Privilege means using empathy to better understand the experiences of others who are different from you. It’s important to be aware that your daughter will encounter situations that you may have never had to consider or experience as a male. Understanding and validating her experiences will allow you to be a source of support when these situations do occur. Recognizing your privilege and diving deeper into the experiences of girls and women will help you better connect and communicate with your daughter.

Be involved.

Sometimes fathers develop greater connections with their sons because of similar interests and hobbies. Some dads find they are not as interested in, or comfortable with, some of their daughter’s activities. This should not be an excuse to disengage, but rather an opportunity to get involved in something that your daughter enjoys. You want to show her that her interests are important to you and that you are invested in whatever makes her feel happy.

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew Jatau is a Licensed Professional Counselor and content creator currently working at Hopscotch, a leading pediatric behavioral health company.  He is the founder and CEO of Mylemarks, a website dedicated to providing engaging social-emotional resources for children and adolescents.  Andrew has worked in a number of settings providing mental health services to youth and families, including a day treatment center, a university counseling center, and most recently, a private practice in Virginia Beach.  He previously served as a Fatherhood Consultant with CHKD, helping to organize and facilitate fatherhood programs in the Hampton Roads area.  Andrew resides in Aurora, CO with his wife and two daughters.