Madonna King: There’s no better time for telling fathers what we’ve always wanted to say

Our teens have plenty they'd like to tell their dad.

Our teens have plenty they'd like to tell their dad.

A few years ago, for a book I was researching, I asked hundreds of tween and teen girls to jot down what they would like to tell their father but found difficult to articulate. 

This week, ahead of Father’s Day, I waded through their answers. In a previous project I’d asked the same question about mothers, or mother-figures, and the answers followed a similar theme.

“Listen to me more’’ was etched onto scrap paper after scrap paper.

But with their fathers, the themes were different. All of the students were aged nine to 18.

“My Dad smokes and I’d ask him to stop smoking,’’ one tween girl said. So why not ask him? “Because maybe he won’t stop.’’

Another said her dad would be surprised if she turned up and announced that she loved him – which is what she would say if she could.

“He’d wonder why I randomly said it,’’ she said.

Younger girls, who had not yet entered the teen tunnel, were literal in their responses. One girl wanted to ask her Dad this: “Why aren’t I as tanned as you?’’  

‘…and, oh, don’t die

This from another: “Can I have a trampoline and, oh, don’t die.’’ The answers flowed amongst this cohort” “Let me get WiFi and Netflix pleeeease.’’ And “Can I have a dog?’’

But older girls, those travelling the teen years, opted to thank their fathers or the father-figures in their lives. 

  • “Thank you for everything you do for me and sorry if I don’t say that enough.”
  • “I’d like to say, “Dad, thank you for everything you’ve done. I might not show that I appreciate it but I do. I look up to you and I find it really hard sometimes when you go away, even though you’ve been doing it all my life.’’
  • “You provide us with more than anyone could possibly dream of. THANK YOU.’’
  • “You have no idea how much I appreciate everything you do and say to me and I’m scared I’ll never be able to thank you properly for all that.’’

Experts put that theme of ‘thank you’ down to many reasons: Girls might spend less time with their father and be more appreciative; their dads might do less of the disciplining; or he might be more fun; or even that they are grateful their father is prioritising them.

Certainly daughters can too quickly dismiss the hard work their mothers put in. But the girls’ answers highlight just how important a role fathers play in their children’s lives, and how their relationship can gift their daughters (and sons) attributes they will carry for life.

Certainly as family roles change and the delineation between breadwinner and home-keeper merge, gender will become increasingly irrelevant too – but parenting will only become increasingly important.

So today, on a day we celebrate those good men who see their number-one job as parenting their children, this is what many of their daughters would love to say.

  • “I love him. I never say it because it’s too hard. And that I wish he would be here forever until I die, and I’m going to be really upset when he’s gone, so let’s make the most of the time we have together and never be upset or angry with each other.’’
  • “That I really love him, even when I get angry’’
  • “Will you always love me?’’
  • “I love you and I wish I could say it more often It’s just a bit awks.’’

Not all daughters have good relationships with their fathers, but many in separated families want to hold onto – and build – what they had.

  • “I miss you and wish you could work in Melbourne.’’
  • “I miss him a lot and wish he was nearby, and that I love him.’
  • “Do you miss spending time with me or wish I would be with you more?’’

And across the board – irrespective of the relationship – they wanted to talk more and say all sorts of things.

  • “I don’t want to take over the family company.’’
  • “I would like to say that although I respect your opinions I think that you need to be more open in your opinions, as you are always telling me to be.’’
  • “What do think of me, not just as your daughter but as a person?’’
  • “I would like to say that I am getting older and he needs to let me go from being the five-year-old I used to be.’’
  • “That I’m proud of him – for how hard he works and how he raised my brother and me. I haven’t said that because you need the right place.’’

The right place? Here and now, perhaps. This is Father’s Day 2023. 

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