I was talking with my pastor’s wife about an upcoming seminar that our church is doing on body image for women. Body image is defined as the way women see themselves and how they believe others perceive them. It is often dictated by family, friends, and social media. And, although she told me that she had learned that moms actually have more effect on girls’ body image than dads, it caused me to reflect on the role of dads in mentoring the hearts of their daughters. My pastor’s wife shared with me that, when she was young, what her dad said about her is what she thought all men thought about her. I’ve heard that said by many grown women.
Isn’t that powerful, dads? I’m firmly convinced that so much of how our daughters view themselves, and how they relate to men in the future, from the guys who attract them to the one they will marry, is defined by what we say and do right now. Now that I have one who is almost out of the house, I look back and can think of at least three things that, hopefully, have made a difference:
- Guard her modesty: Modesty is a godly character trait, particularly in women. Scripture calls them to it, with good reason: it is often an outward manifestation of inward holiness. Dads understand better than do moms the power of the female form and its effect on men. Dads also understand the fact that God wired men to be more visually stimulated than women. Given our God-ordained role as our daughters’ protectors, it is our job to guard their modesty. Like all other heart training, modesty teaching happens best when our daughters are young. One of the best things we can do is to get our daughters used to expecting Dad to tell them when they need to clothe themselves more fully. No one really cares if a four-year-old leaves the house with shorts that are too short. But, if we as dads will take that opportunity to ask them to change shorts, it creates a standard in our daughters’ minds: Daddy is protecting me, and he has the right and responsibility to ask me to change. If we’ll do it when they’re four, it doesn’t become a major battle when they’re 16. They will text us photos of prom dresses before they buy them, asking our permission to do so, because that becomes their norm—it’s what they do. They may not fully understand what they’re doing or why, but later they really will appreciate that their dads loved them enough to protect their modesty.
- Treat them well: Hugging our daughters, telling them they are beautiful and valuable, treating them with respect and regard for their opinions (from little things. like holding doors open for them to big things. like staying up way past your bedtime to listen to them when they finally WANT to talk) sets a standard for how they view other men. It is amazing how God uses those little acts of love and respect to create a “jerk filter” in girls. If they have been highly-valued and regarded as girls, when they are women they can spot a guy who’s bad for them a mile away, and won’t want to have anything to do with him. It will be almost automatic for them. Equipping them with a “jerk filter” by how we treat them is another way to protect them.
- Treat their mom well: One final thing that makes a big difference in shepherding the hearts of our daughters is how we treat their mommas. It is one thing for them to read, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church,” and another thing to see it lived out every day right before their eyes. If we love our wives well, sacrificially, speaking to them with gentleness and kindness, sending them flowers on their birthdays, our anniversaries and Valentine’s Day, opening doors for them, and helping out around the house, our girls will see that a husband who loves them that way is not only possible; it’s expected. More importantly, they can more easily visualize the way Christ loves them and loves the Church, because we have made it visceral for them.
Years ago, when I was a young man, one of my heroes of the faith drew a picture of a dad standing next to his daughter, holding an umbrella over her. He used the drawing to show me that my job, entrusted to me by my Lord, was to use my words, my wisdom, and my life as an umbrella to protect my girls, not shielding them from life’s hurts and pains, but equipping their little hearts to handle those things when they came. He carried the metaphor further, telling me that someday I would be transferring that umbrella to a young man, who would take her from me and then be responsible for protecting her.
I don’t know who that snot-nosed punk is, but I love him and I pray for him every day. And, I pray that when the time comes to transfer that umbrella, my faltering, very imperfect attempts to mentor my daughter’s heart will be used by God to lay a foundation of grace and love that will guide them in their new life together.