An open letter to fathers of daughters

A few months ago I was thinking about what it was like to be in middle school. How that seems to be the place where young girls are first inundated with the idea that they are nothing more than how their bodies are perceived by boys. It was made very clear to me in middle school that I did not fall into the desirable category. I was scrawny with glasses and braces. I remember thinking that if a boy ever asked me out I’d have to ask him if he was serious, because chances were it would be a mean prank. This was when I first realized that boys did not care about me as a person—my personality, interests, quirks, and whatnot—they only cared about how hot I was.

When I was in 8th grade I got contacts and my braces off. I wasn’t anywhere near fully developed, but I didn’t look like I was 10 either. I got asked to my first dance. I told him no because he was kind of creepy and I wasn’t allowed to go anyway, but it was one of the weirdest experiences of my life up to that point. It reinforced the idea that boys only cared about they way you look, because I, as a person, had definitely not changed. I felt a small glimmer of hope, and looking back, that grieves me more than I can say.

That summer I started wearing makeup, and when I got to high school the next year, many people didn’t even recognize me. I had suddenly hopped categories. But again, I knew I hadn’t actually changed, it was just my appearance. By my junior year I had garnered even more attention. In spite of not feeling any different, I was treated as if I were a completely different person. I was no longer the walking dictionary; I was the hot redhead. I became a notorious flirt, and most of my friends were jealous of me. And I was miserable. I had no deep connection with anyone, and as most teenagers will tell you, my parents just didn’t get me.

As I was contemplating all of this, I thought about how great it would be if at that age I had had a guy friend who had actually liked me for who I was. With whom I had shared interests, and who built me up without having an ulterior motive. Maybe someone older, who I wouldn’t try to pursue a romantic relationship with, but someone who loved me for who I was.

And then I realized I was describing the role that fathers are supposed to play in their daughters’ lives. I was shocked that I hadn’t realized this early.

Fathers—you are the most important man in your daughter’s life. You will be the example of how she thinks she deserves to be treated. It is especially important that you become more involved as she gets older. I don’t mean that you have to know what she’s up to at every second and approve of everything she does, because you can’t and you won’t. But it is so incredibly important that she knows that you love her no matter what choices she makes. It may feel weird because she has changed from your little girl who used to play dress-up, but you need to get over it and keep up with her, or else she will leave you behind, and you will have left a hole in her heart that she will try to fill by dating guys who did exactly what you did in hopes of changing the outcome. She will try to get them to love her, and she will fail. And she will become a shell of a person who has no self-respect.

If you are lucky, she will meet someone who will do what you failed to do—love unconditionally. She’ll only accept him when she’s finally convinced herself that no one will ever love her. And the attention he’ll give her will be so foreign that she has a hard time believing that he’s actually sincere. But she’ll manage to realize that he loves her for her—the good and the bad. He’ll think that everything everyone teased her about in middle school is what makes her so beautiful.  He won’t care that she’s not stacked like a super model, and couldn’t get a tan if she tried. He won’t care about her past, because all he’s interested in is her future. He’ll see her full potential and make her want to be the best possible version of herself that she can. They’ll get married, and she’ll realize that he’s everything she ever wanted, and the pain she feels when she thinks of her relationship with you will gradually wane.

You should want all of that for her, but she can have all of that without any of the heartbreak if you will just show her that you love her.