With summer behind us, many families have for the very first time, sent a daughter or son off to college. This is normative and expected, but often a challenging and stressful time of transition within the family life cycle.
But herein lie opportunities for family members and relationships to be transformed. Specifically, this is a terrific time for fathers and daughters to revisit their relationships. I have worked with families to anticipate and facilitate such remarkable changes.
Dads and men are problem solvers. “How much money do you need? What can I send you? Let me do something for you.” Discussions about feelings may be passed on to moms. That is the way so many families have interacted at home, so they often just perpetuate those gender roles when kids go off to college.
But wait, dads! Now is a great time to rehearse being the kind of father your daughter may not be used to, but what you’ve wanted to be all along.
Here are eight suggestions to help you become the real you – a problem solver and a parent who also demonstrates caring deeply – and in the process, enhance your father-daughter relationship.
Imagine your daughter finally calls. You grab the phone (yes, you miss her already). She wants to talk over a problem that’s bothering her. No, you cannot solve her dilemma by doing something. She needs you to just be present with her and make the effort to listen and understand.
So now just take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and begin.
- Tell me – what’s happening and how are you feeling now?
- Have you ever felt this way before?
- How did you handle it then?
- What’s different now?
- I hear that you are upset (or hurt, sad, even angry.)
- I can understand because I’ve had those feelings, too.
- I imagine it’s painful to feel this way.
- Your mom and I are here for you. We’ll help you get through this.
You have here a splendid opportunity for change here – to become both a problem-solver and a dad who listens and cares – but it’s important for you to really want this and to talk with mom beforehand to ask for support, understanding and even her blessing.
You may not be successful the first time around. Your daughter and wife are used to the person that you’ve always been. The new you may be unusual or suspect or elicit raised eyebrows. Keep trying.
For now, dads, be calm, practice, reflect and work on being aware of your words. Cultivating your “soft” skills has the potential to enrich family relationships and improve your self-confidence. I am hopeful for you – and I will cover your back.
Alan S. Wolkenstein of Mequon holds a master’s degree in social work from University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and is a retired clinical professor of family medicine with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Prof,” as his students and friends call him, is a native West-sider. He and wife Kathy are members of Chabad of Mequon.