Today’s interview is with Rick Johnson, founder of Better Dads, a fathering-skills program that empowers men to lead and serve in their families and communities. He’s the bestselling author of ten books on marriage, family relations, and parenting, and he’s a highly sought-after keynote speaker at parenting and marriage conferences. His popular book, That’s My Girl: How a Father’s Love Protects and Empowers His Daughter, shows men how to develop close relationships with their daughters that teach them how they should be treated by men. Whether you’re a soon-to-be-dad, a counselor, or just a man wanting to be a better role model, this book is for you: get That’s My Girl for just $8.44 today.
1. What are some of the greatest challenges you see parents facing today? And how do you encourage them in the face of these challenges?
The biggest challenge parents face today is the continual onslaught of negative cultural influences that their children experience every day. Everything from early sexualization of our children to the promotion of unhealthy lifestyles seem to grow our children too fast and rip away their natural innocence and naiveté. Combine that with our ultrabusy lifestyles, which keep us from spending quality time together, and you have some significant challenges facing families.
Parents need to remember that despite what our culture promotes, you are the most important influence in your child’s life. Even teenagers when surveyed consistently rate their parents as bigger influences than peers, friends, movie stars, or singers. That means we need to actually use that influence or we lose it. We use that influence best by spending time with our children and intentionally teaching them what’s important in life.
2. What’s the most important step in developing a close father-daughter relationship?
Females greatly value verbal communication. They not only process information and their emotions by talking about them, they also develop closeness and intimacy with loved ones through verbal communication. Most females tell me what makes them feel most loved is to have the undivided attention of the important male in their life. Dads, if you want a close relationship with your daughter spend your most valuable commodity on her: your time. The most-asked question I get from teen girls at our father-daughter conference is, “Why won’t he talk to me?” You don’t necessarily have to talk, but you do have to listen—intently.
3. What advice do you have for dads who desire a healthy relationship with their daughter, but feel constantly rejected or even hated by their kids?
Dads who don’t live with their daughters often experience this, but even dads in the same household report this issue once their girls enter puberty. Dad suddenly goes from being the center of his daughter’s life to an invisible nonentity (or at best an inconvenient ATM). But these are often the times our children need us most. All relationships have peaks and valleys. Dads who persevere through these low seasons in their relationship reap the rewards later. Having the courage and steadfastness to continue to reach out—even in the face of rejection—tells our children that they’re so important to us that we’re willing to risk rejection to connect with them.
As a man of faith, I always told my kids that I would one day be accountable to God for how I raised my children. I didn’t want to have to explain to him why I allowed my kids to do harmful activities or why I didn’t do everything in my power to father his most valuable creation to the best of my ability. The fact that I was accountable to the creator of the universe seemed to mollify their scorn to a lesser degree.
4. How can dads be a part of their daughter’s world while still giving them the space they need to grow into an independent young woman?
It’s important for dads to provide a rudder in a young woman’s life. His calm and objective (nonemotional) perspective can give her balance, especially during the wild ups and downs of adolescence. His experience can also protect her from life’s dangers.
I think it’s important that dad be an enforcer of family rules and boundaries. As teens, many girls rebel against these boundaries—but they’re in place to protect her, so enforcing them tells her she’s loved. This can be difficult, but getting worn down and letting her do what she wants is often destructive. I’ve had too many broken and wounded girls tearfully tell me their daddies didn’t love them enough to fight for them. They equate dad letting them do destructive things to dad not loving them enough to protect them from harm. Stand by your values, guys, even when she objects to them. She might not like you sometimes (by the way, your job as a parent is not to be “liked”) but she will respect you. In the long run, that’s better for you and for her.
5. What’s something your daughter has taught you?
As a dad, I didn’t truly understand how much my words meant to my daughter until she was an adult. Guys, as a dad you are your daughter’s first and most important example of a man. She internalizes how much value she has as a female (and a human being) by the way you treat her and her mother. She develops her self-image and self-esteem by how much her father values her. She learns how to expect a man to treat her and love her by your model. She learns what healthy male sexuality and respect look like through your example. Remember, your actions speak louder than words.
6. How can parents correct undesired behavior and pass on personal values without restricting their child’s development as a unique individual?
I’m not sure the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Everyone who has raised a child realizes that no matter how much you correct them or try to teach them your personal values, the fact is that the child is a unique individual with free will to choose the path they want. Sometimes that’s great, andother times the choices they make don’t work out so well. Regardless, I think it is a parent’s job to raise a child with the best possible chance to live a healthy productive life, while achieving their full potential. That means putting healthy boundaries in place and correcting destructive behaviors. It also means giving them a healthy value system in order to have a foundation to leap off into life from. Perhaps having the goal of that “bigger-picture” view (that you are raising a healthy adult, not that you are raising a child) makes it easier to balance those objectives.
7. Children who have irresponsible or uninvolved fathers are much more likely to experience behavioral issues, like low self-esteem and sexually promiscuous behavior. With divorce rates at 50 percent in the US, how can fathers be active participants in their daughter’s life, even when they don’t live with them?
Despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to the negative outcomes for kids living in father-absent homes, I know many men who have been successful fathers even though they did not live with their children. The biggest factor in those success stories is the willingness of both former spouses to place the best interests of the child ahead of their own selfish needs and desires. That means working together as a team to parent, even though they’re no longer married. Couples who are able to do that effectively seem to be able to overcome the challenges of divorce. Unfortunately, very few couples can actually pull this off. I would encourage noncustodial fathers to jealously guard your time with your children. In the face of not living together, it is so easy to slip into the lethargic milieu of letting time together slip away. Face time is important. But your child knowing that you cared enough to make the effort (sometimes in the face of overwhelming obstacles) to stay connected is also important. Even if they reject your efforts, continue to call and write cards and notes to them on a consistent basis. That may be difficult, especially if you are continually rejected, but it matters—especially later in life.
9. How is Better Dads equipping men and women to become better parents and spouses?
My books, CDs, and other materials are ongoing resources for parents and spouses. In addition, we provide numerous seminars and workshops for men and fathers, moms on raising boys to become good men, marriages, and healthy relationships. Better Dads also hosts a free summer camp for single moms and their kids called Foundations in Life, a father-daughter conference for men and their teenage or adult daughters, and a father-son campout for noncustodial fathers and their sons. We also speak in prisons and at military installations.
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Discover what it takes to be a strong leader and compassionate father: get Rick Johnson’s That’s My Girl: How a Father’s Love Protects and Empower His Daughter for just $8.44!