The following remarks are excerpted from a talk I gave recently at a father- daughter breakfast at my daughter's school:
Instead of offering you advice, as I had planned to do, I propose to make a series of confessions.
The first confession is that we are not as competent as we'd like you to believe. Oh, we're good at our jobs. We bring home enough money to keep our families afloat. We're decent neighbors, reasonably helpful around the house: that sort of thing. But we're not particularly competent as fathers.
We do the best we can, but it is seldom up to the standards we'd like to set for ourselves. This is especially true with regard to you, our daughters.
You see we remember enough about our own boyhoods to have a fairly clear idea of the pressures and temptations and devilment that our sons are subjected to. But we were never girls, and so we don't begin to understand much of what goes on in your heads. And as a result, we often fail to deal with you in ways that help you to become the sort of women we'd like you to become.
This is too bad, because it is from us that our daughters learn of life. It is from us that you learn about dealing with the world. And above all, it is from us that you learn about men.
And what do we teach you about men? We'd like you to learn from us that men can be sensitive, though firm; that they can be understanding and forgiving; that they can be secure in their maleness without treating femaleness as something inferior. That's what we'd like to teach you.
What we actually teach, too often, is that men are harsh; that men are suspicious; that men are hard to talk to; that men make no effort to understand -- may even be incapable of understanding --anything except their own pigheaded point of view.
Then, after teaching you these dreadful things about men, by giving you the example of ourselves, we expect you to grow up and enter into a permanent, trusting, loving marriage with a man who is sensitive, tender, strong and respectful of your intelligence. In short we want you to find the perfect man by using us as your pattern. Which is a little like expecting you to learn the finer points of a Rolls Royce by spending 20 years observing a clunking, clattering Chevy.
Why do we behave this way? Because we understand that men and women need each other. That is the glue that holds the family and the society together. And it is also the thing that lies at the heart of the battle of the sexes.
We are afraid to need. Not you: being female, you understand and embrace emotional need. But fathers are men, and men think that to need anyone else is a sign of weakness, and men would rather be almost anything than weak.
We are afraid, too, that the boys you find attractive will be too much like we ourselves were at that age: sneaky, exploitative, interested primarily in playing grown-up at the expense of naive girls. Our worst fears are (1) that you will be attracted to the kind of jerks we used to be and (2) that your jerks will be more successful than we were. We confess that, and ask you to understand.
Understand one last thing: we love you. It doesn't always seem that way. Many of us would break into a cold sweat if we had to look our teen-age daughters in the eye and say: I love you. We even get nervous showing that we love you, once it goes beyond seeing to it that you are properly fed, clothed and educated. We cannot talk to you about our love for you any more than we can talk to you about any number of things we'd like to discuss with you. If it weren't for your mothers, I don't know how you'd ever learn anything about dealing with your emotions, your feelings, your emerging womanhood.
But no matter how tongue-tied and awkward we are about the things that really matter to us, we keep hoping that somehow you will understand what we find so hard to say: that we love you and want only the best for you.
This we confess, and hope and pray that you will understand.