Daughters, Legacy and Thinking Backward

by Michelle Watson Canfield, PhD, LPC

Most of you dads have played sports at some point in your life—and if not, maybe you competed in debate, music, science, or some other pursuit. And I’m sure you know that every single time you step onto the field or court, you always know where the goal is. Always.

That goal determines everything to do: the direction you run, the points you make (or miss), and whether you win or lose. The energy you expend is always oriented toward the goal because that’s where the points are. That’s what counts.

Without a clear goal, you can’t play the game, much less win the game.

Connecting with your daughter is the same way. Think about the “game you’re playing” with her as a dad. (And please remember, I’m using game as a metaphor for the dynamic between the two of you, not as something fake in your relationship). The big question is:

Are you clear about the goal you have in your relationship with her?

Out of all the dads I’ve met or worked with, I can’t think of only a few who are clear about the goal or outcome they are shooting for with their daughter. Maybe they have a general idea, but not a specific goal.

Dad: Have you taken the time to honestly and directly state for yourself your goals as a father with your daughter?

Try thinking of it like this: If your end goal is to launch your daughter at the age of 18 as a healthy, confident, authentic, clear-minded, and vibrant young woman who is ready to take on the world, what are you currently doing to help her get there? Or let’s break it down further. If your daughter is 8-10 years old, what’s your “half time” assessment plan?

I’m going to add one more layer to this concept of goal setting with your daughter. I call it thinking backward.

This time I recommend that you think about not just the here and now, but also about the future. It’s looking at the present by imagining the end of your life and thinking backward from then to now. I’m not trying to be morbid; just stating a reality that we all have to face.

We all leave a legacy. One way or another, we leave an imprint.

So I invite you to ask yourself a tough question that will help you be brutally honest with yourself while sitting in the reality that you are leaving a legacy for good or bad, whether you want to or not.

What do you want your legacy to look like? For real.

You will literally change the course of history through your active engagement with your daughter at the heart level. She will carry you with her after you leave this earth. Your legacy will live on through her in proportion to your heart investment in her.

Though you won’t be around forever physically, you will be around forever in the deposits you leave in your daughter’s life. A theory in the field of psychology claims that some adults have an internalized parent who lives on inside them. Long after that parent is gone, the adult child may still seek to please the parent who is no longer around to see the performance. So again I ask you: What are you doing now to make sure your daughter hears your encouraging, supportive, loving, grace-filled, validating, inspiring, and motivating voice in her head forever?

Carefully consider the following statement, and then finish the sentence in your own words:

At the end of my life, if my daughter had only one thing to say about me, I want it to be …

Looking at your response, is it a head response or a heart response? I know it was a heart response. How do I know that? Because every dad I’ve ever invited to finish this sentence has written a heart response.

Here are some of the things I’ve heard dads say they hope their daughters would say about them at the end of their lives:

“There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do or give for me, even at a cost to himself.”

“I never doubted his love for me.”

“I knew he adored me.”

“He loved the Lord with all his heart and soul, and he loved me in the same way.”

Now, if I can take a few more minutes of your time, I encourage you to take your answer for the question above and break it down into three action steps. (Remember that action heroes have to take action in order to be a hero).

For example, if you wrote that you want your daughter to know you love her, write HOW your love will look. Be specific. You might write something like this:

  1. I will drive her to school every Friday, stopping at Starbucks on the way so we have a tradition that is ours and ours alone.
  2. I will take her on a dad-daughter date once a month as a way to let her know by my actions that she is worth my time, money, and energy.
  3. I will write her a letter every year on her birthday to tell her the exact ways I’ve seen her grow in that year while making sure she hears why she is special to me.

Do you see how your love can “grow legs” through an accompanying action plan?

I trust that this exercise of thinking backwards will be one that now guides your action steps in the present. I’m cheering you on from here. Go Dad!

The ways I will put my goal into action with my daughter are:




Read more from Michelle at fathers.com here.

Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield is a licensed professional counselor, 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 called “The Dad Whisperer,” which you can access as a podcast on her website and on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play Music. Visit drmichellewatson.com 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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