A Girl's Best Friend
How fathers can make or break a daughter's future

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, June 15, 2008

A FRIEND WHO LIKES to think about such things had an observation about love, about women loving men, and about how, she thought, the whole gig goes back to a girl and her dad. We were in the family room at my house, sipping a fine shiraz, pretending to suffer through a kid's movie, which was actually (embarrassingly) hilarious. "Underdog." (Hey, a flying beagle in a red sweater is funny.)

We were on the fluffy couch on the far side of the room, while my husband was crumpled up in a chair with our two daughters crawling all over him, and he was complaining. "Ouch! Girls! Jeez! Can I have my elbow back? What is with this, I can't watch a movie in peace? I have to have a slimy octopus crawling on me? Eww, eww, get these slimy arms off me!"

He was fake-slapping Sasha's fake-octopus arms, to which Anna responded: "What about me?"

"You?" he said. "You're not an octopus. You're a stinky hyena -- who ate too many Mexican jumping beans."

Naturally, Anna responded with a fake burp, and soon the three of them were just a wall of laughter and tickling and joy.

"Ssshh!" my friend and I cried out, because we were missing some important "Underdog" plot points. But the racket continued, and that's when she turned to me and started in about love.

"Your girls are never going to need a man to feel complete," she said. "They won't be picking boyfriends out of a need for validation."

"Well, wow," I said. It was kind of an abrupt shift from "Underdog." I asked her to explain.

"He's doing his job," she said about my husband. "By the time your girls are adults, they'll be done, finished, not all needy around men."

"They're not going to need men?" I asked. This wasn't sounding exactly good, or right, or . . . something. Plus, I wasn't sure how she was getting this out of a slimy octopus/stinky hyena show.

"They won't need men in a parental role," she said. "They won't be looking for Daddy to take care of them, to tell them they're pretty, to buy them stuff. That whole thing. You see a lot of women with that. You know? Like, how does Hugh Hefner have all those babes?" Interesting point. She went on to give her theory that women in healthy relationships -- the kind built on trust, and love, and mutual commitment, as opposed to the kind built on drama and need and jealousy and greed -- are often those who had very attentive, loving dads. Dads who did the job, and completed it. Dads who paid attention. Dads who went to the soccer games and the chess tournaments and the piano recitals. Dads who were always watching, constantly validating. Dads who said: "You're smart. You're pretty. You're amazing. Your heart is big."

"There is a reverse argument," I pointed out. "Maybe a great dad sets unnecessarily high expectations. You know, the girl grows up and compares all her boyfriends with him. No guy is ever going to measure up."

"She won't be comparing them!" my friend insisted. "That's the point. She'll be complete. She'll have all those reassurances already in place. A foundation. She'll look at a guy just as . . . a person. She'll be able to see him, instead of her own neediness."

I pondered the theory. I thought about the big sign my husband bought and hung over the closet door in our girls' room. "No Matter What." It's shorthand for what he says to them often: "I'll always love you, no matter what." He tells them they might behave like monsters sometimes, and he might respond with a roar of his own; they might disappoint him sometimes, and he might cry. "But I'll always love you, no matter what."

At dinner, he'll quiz them. Q: "How long have I loved you?" A: "Forever." Q: "How long will I love you?" A: "Forever." Our girls are old enough now to start rolling their eyes at this, but he insists.

He coaches their softball team. He helps them study. He surprises them with crumb cake. He applauds their attempts at fashion shows, no matter how gaudy. He turns himself into "The Inspector" when it's time to clean their rooms, refusing to sign off until every last dirty sock is in the hamper. They fight to sit next to him at dinner. One hangs on him; the other eats from his plate. He fake-whines about all of this, and so they do it more.

I always knew he was a good dad. Somehow, I never really considered the motivation. Somehow, I had it in my mind that being a good dad was a matter of pride. Something a man does for himself. Like waxing a car; he does it to stand back and feel proud of the shine.

My friend put a new light on it. Fatherhood: a vital job a man does or doesn't do -- impacting so much future, blazing a path toward lasting love.

Eventually, we got back to the movie. The cat came in, curled up on my husband's belly, the girls still flanking him. "I can't take this," he said. "Girls, I need some room here! Do I look like a piece of furniture?"

They ignored him.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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