Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Gwinnett Daily Post. It has been republished here with permission.
As the father of a young daughter, you have an awesome responsibility: Your little girl will form her initial judgments about men from watching you.
Based largely on your behavior, she will decide what men are like, what to expect from them and what she does and doesn’t like about them. If you want her to value the right qualities, you must model those qualities every single day from the time she’s old enough to recognize your face.
There’s no better way to do that than by spending significant quality time with her, including one-on-one time, or “daddy-daughter dates.” Here are three reasons to make that a priority.
So many of the problems we see in teenage girls today - promiscuity, drug addiction, eating disorders, “cutting” - stem from low self-esteem. That’s why it’s so important to make your daughter feel valued and special, from an early age, by taking time away from your busy schedule just to spend with her.
If you have boys, you probably already do this with them, because you like the same things: ball games, monster truck rallies, whatever. You may have to work at finding activities you and your daughter enjoy together - although who knows, she might love monster trucks, too - but the effort will be well worth it.
Modeling appropriate dating behavior
It’s true that your 5- or 8- or 10-year-old little girl is still years away from dating (you hope). But that doesn’t mean it’s too early for her to learn how boys ought to behave and in the daddy-daughter-date scenario, you’re the “boy.”
So treat her with deference and respect. Let her talk, and listen with interest. Hold her car door open for her. In a few years, when some jerk fails to do those things, she’ll be more likely to see him for what he is.
Opening the lines of communication
In the last paragraph, I mentioned listening to your daughter. The great thing about a date is that it’s just the two of you, away from the hustle and bustle of home, away from siblings competing for attention, even away from Mom. What better opportunity for you and your daughter to talk - and for you to listen?
Initially, that talk will likely be about things that don’t seem important, like Disney movies and what’s going on at school. But eventually, as the years go by and you continue to show real interest in her life, you will find that the conversation turns to more serious matters, like boys and the things her friends are doing that make her uncomfortable.
Remember, as her “daddy,” you were the first man your daughter ever loved. Work every day to be the kind of man you want her to love in the future, and then spend time with her regularly so she can see what it is that she ought to be looking for.
Rob Jenkins is a newspaper columnist, a happily-married father of four, and the author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility."