Dad: Your Most Effective Tool Is Showing Up

by Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield
Part of the How to Be a Better Dad series

.When it comes to being a great dad, there’s no quick-fix formula.

It’s human nature to want the fastest, easiest, and most efficient path possible to success, but that isn’t how it works with your kids. That’s what I’ve learned after many years of working with teenage girls and young-adult women and their dads.

What really makes a difference is creating positive patterns that keep repeating over time—a consistent, “slow and steady wins the race” approach.

In other words, the most effective fathering tool is simply showing up.

Taking it a step further, I assure you that you don’t have to do big, extravagant, out-of-the-ordinary things to be a hero to your child. It’s all about being there for her in the day-in-and-day-out routine that matters the most.

If you recall the things your dad did that had the most value to you as a kid, I’m guessing the biggest impacts were often the seemingly small, regular things he did that now bring back the fondest memories—from playing catch or teaching you to ride a bike to letting you barbeque alongside him or raking leaves together.

It’s those everyday things that communicated that you were worth his time and effort.

So what means the most to your child? Here are some everyday ideas you can apply—which I wrote with daughters in mind, but you can apply them to sons as well.

  • It’s being there to kiss her boo-boo’s (which get harder to make all better the older she gets) and letting her know that you want to understand where she hurts.
  • It’s about saying “no” to watching the game on television and “yes” to knocking on her door just to hear about her day.
  • It’s about having breakfast on Saturday mornings while watching cartoons or listening to her favorite music, reading the paper or talking about what interests her … even when it’s not your favorite subject.
  • It’s being at her track meets to see her win … or lose.
  • It’s about being willing to sit with her through torrents of tears and biting your tongue when everything inside you wants to give a mini-lesson (a.k.a., a lecture) that says, “I told you so” or, “How many times do you have to do it wrong before you’ll finally get it right?”
  • It’s about looking her in the eyes to see her responses to your intensity (namely anger) and being willing to ask forgiveness when you’ve over-reacted and hurt her, thus closing her spirit.
  • It’s about giving her hugs even when she tells you she’s too old for cuddling … despite the fact that she longs to be close to you and needs to know you cherish her.
  • It’s about making sure that your job doesn’t consistently take priority over your family while choosing to remember that the greatest legacy you will ever leave is your kids, not your work.

I acknowledge that this fathering thing is not for the faint of heart. Truth be told, it actually would be easier if it wasn’t so daily. And it sure would be easier if your child—especially your daughter—came with a playbook.

But here you are, willing to learn what she needs so that you can give her one of the best gifts ever: your love.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • How have you had to learn patience as a father when progress seems slow in your growth as a dad or your kids’ growth and maturity?
  • What are the biggest obstacles you face in your efforts to show up for your kids consistently?
  • What are your fondest memories of time with your dad (or another father figure)? Would you generally categorize them as “extravagant,” “everyday,” or something else?
  • Share a few of those memories with your kids or another dad.
  • Ask your kids what some of their fondest memories are with you and plan something similar in the coming weeks (if they aren’t things you do regularly anyway).
  • What communicates to each of your children that they are loved and worth your time and effort? Compare notes with their mom or someone else who knows them well.
  • Look over the list of 8 ideas above. Which are your strengths and areas for improvement?

Read more of Michelle’s articles here.

Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield is a licensed professional counselor in Portland, Oregon, founder of The Abba Project, a 9-month group forum for dads of daughters (ages 13 to 30), and author of Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters and Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart (both available on Amazon and Audible). She also hosts a weekly radio program in Portland called “The Dad Whisperer,” which you can access as a podcast on her website and on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Visit for more information and to sign up for her weekly Dad-Daughter Friday blogs. You can also follow or send feedback on Facebook and Twitter.

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