by Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield

Dads, my new book, Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters, was just released this week. And that’s exciting for me, but I want to make sure you dads know where I’m coming from. Because I know there are some dads who think:

Men aren’t verbal. They like action, not talking. So why try to get them to have deep conversations with their daughters? It would be better to give them things to do together.

While that perspective makes sense to a certain degree, my experience working with hundreds of teenage girls and young-adult women and their dads tells me something much different. So that’s part of what motivated me to write this week’s blog.

Whether or not you’re familiar with that phrase in the title—“turn your heart”—it’s a profound concept that I trust will be enlightening for you.

Many will recognize the phrase from a Bible verse at the end of the Old Testament, which looks forward to a day when the hearts of fathers are turned to their children, and as they turn their hearts toward their fathers in response, it will offset a curse.

I love this concept of a “heart turn” between a dad and his daughter because it carries relational weight when it happens. Let me explain.

I find that phrase “turning the heart” to be a bit unfamiliar in terms of the language. I’ve never had anyone ask me to turn my heart towards them, and I know for sure that I haven’t asked anyone to turn their heart toward me.

By way of contrast, a much more common expression is that of turning the head. We usually use this phrase to explain an exchange of information between two people as they intentionally engage with each other. It’s about content, knowledge, and concrete data.

Most girls and women I know have told me they need and appreciate intellectual input from their dads. After all, it’s usually dad who helps her figure out everything from completing a FAFSA to filling out complicated college or job applications to understanding specs on a car.

Turning our hearts, on the other hand, isn’t reflexive. It implies emotion and connection, and can bypass thought, perhaps even words. It is responsive, engaged, heartfelt, and receptive. There is depth of openness involved with a turned heart that communicates availability, as there is congruence between what the eyes say, the mouth speaks, and the heart expresses. It is about authentic, open, tender, honest interaction based on a foundation of unconditional love and acceptance.

For most dads it’s far more natural to tune in and engage at the head level, whereas turning the heart is typically harder for men to do because it’s less intuitive and takes more deliberate focus.

Yes, a girl needs head connections with her dad in order to navigate life, but heart connections with him are vital to her ability to thrive in life.

The truth is that a girl/woman can tell if her dad has his heart turned toward her or if only his head is turned. We have an intuitive radar that can read the difference between a head or a heart response. And even if your daughter never says anything to you about it, she is constantly picking up cues and messages about herself based on these interactions with you.

Here’s the truth: In a vast majority of people, men read lines and women read between the lines.

When it comes to daughters and dads, daughters are constantly reading between the lines in terms of their interactions (or lack of) with their dads. Whether there is a lot of interaction, little interaction, no interaction, reactive interaction, humorous interaction, or loving interaction, every single girl is interpreting every single interaction between herself and her dad … good or bad.

She is in a continual process of sorting out who she is and where she’s going in life. And her dad’s reflection back to her about herself helps her understand and know herself better.

Let me put it a bit more clearly … in ways that are stated more on the lines:

  • If you, dad, laugh at her jokes, she tells herself, “I’m funny.”
  • If you discuss politics and world events with her, she tells herself, “I’m interesting.”
  • If you draw her out, asking her opinion about a fact, theory, or line of thought, she tells herself, “I’m knowledgeable.”
  • If you ask for her help to fix something, she tells herself, “I’m capable.”
  • If you ask her to help you brainstorm about buying a present for mom, she tells herself, “I’m clever.”
  • If you applaud her for her achievements in sports, school, music or work, she tells herself, “I’m competent.”
  • If you enthusiastically affirm her artistic endeavors, she tells herself, “I’m creative.”
  • If you celebrate her academic prowess, she tells herself, “I’m smart.”
  • If you actively listen to her while she is talking, she tells herself, “I’m engaging.”
  • If you teach her to say “no” and then respect her boundaries, she tells herself, “I’m strong.”
  • If you light up and smile upon seeing her when she walks in the room, she tells herself, “I’m delightful.”
  • If you respect her opinions about topics ranging from literature to spiritual things, she tells herself, “I’m wise.”
  • If you treat her with kindness, understanding, tenderness, and love, she tells herself, “I’m worthy.”

And on it goes. There is no end to the impact on a daughter from the messages her dad gives her.

The clearer a dad’s positive messages are to his daughter, the less reading between the lines she will need to do. She will thrive as she knows and feels that her father delights in her.

Why is this? Because when a girl feels her dad’s heart turned toward her, she believes there is nothing she can’t do because her father knows best. And the best way to turn your heart to reach your daughter’s heart is to learn how to talk to her in a way that draws her out and shows her that you want to hear what she has to say. Again, that’s why I wrote my new book, Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters. Order your copy today to strengthen your heart-turning skill set. Go dad!

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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 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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