Daughters,” the hit song by John Mayer, touches on the enduring scars that a broken home can leave on a little girl’s heart and psyche, and how those scars can impact the girl’s own relationships as an adult. It’s a moving piece, and worthy of a good listen. But as much as I love the song, I think it stops just short of revealing a more subtle lesson. 

If we are lucky in life, we’re treated to a healthy sampling of what I like to call “a-ha” moments – a sudden clarity or understanding of something on a new and deeper level. One day, many years ago, I got a whopper.

My wife and I were having one of our frequent conversations about raising kids. The topic this time was patience, discipline, and unconditional love. I don’t recall the particulars of what led to the discussion, but I suspect that I had some harsh words with my little girl, made an angry face, and allowed her to walk away in tears. No doubt it was another one of those situations when, as a young father, I felt at a loss to handle things differently. That’s when I was given an amazing gift.

She explained to me that, as her father, I am (by default) my little girl’s vision of what a man is supposed to be. Everything that I say and do shapes the way that she sees herself, and her place in the world. It establishes a baseline for what is normal in relationships. If I am loving, patient, gentle and caring, then those behaviors will become ingrained and “set the bar” for how she will expect to be treated by the boys and men in her life. On the other hand, the girl who grows up in a harsh and abusive setting will expect and tolerate the same treatment from others – boyfriends, her husband, etc. She will forfeit respect and dignity, and never know real love.

It was a sobering thought. The light bulb went on. This new awareness enabled me to look at things through a different lens, and since that day, I’ve never lost sight of my most important role as a father. I will be eternally grateful for learning this lesson early, before any harm could be done. My little girl is now a teenager, and for her, just about every day brings new challenges. It’s not always easy, but from what I can see, I think she’s going to make it.