You know the drill: a teenage girl comes home with a crush on a boy, or worse still, a boyfriend. Dad puffs up his chest, says something to the effect of, “You’re too young to have a boyfriend,” and makes sure that he’s cleaning his guns in the living room the first time the young man comes over.
It’s a great joke, one that her brothers will quickly pick up and start to share in. “While you’re out, sister, we’ll just take John here out for a little talk.” Chuckles are shared, and the teenage daughter feels inexplicably uncomfortable. She can never share this discomfort though, because the “jokes” are all “just for fun.” They’re “said in love,” because the men of the house want to “protect” her.
It’s a trend right now, too, for fathers to post videos on social media of the conversations they have with their preschool-aged daughters: “Did you know that you’re never getting married?” “Daddy’s never going to let you have a boyfriend.” “Daddy’s going to shoot any boy who comes near you!” “You can start dating when you’re thirty.” And we laugh when the little girls cry, “No, daddy, no!” Like it’s funny for a grown person to provoke a small person to tears with violent threats.
Threats of Violence are Not Jokes
Fathers, it is not a joke to threaten violence on another human.
I don’t care how much you “know how boys think,” and “just want to protect your baby girl” (gag). Do you have any idea what you’re doing when you tell your daughter she can “never date,” or “never get married?” Or that you’ll shoot her beloved if she tries?
You’re sowing seeds of distrust. I can’t tell you how many girls I have talked to, whose fathers have made those same jokes. And when they get to an age to date? It’s the same story every time: “I’m not even going to tell Dad.” “Dad can’t find out.” “My dad wouldn’t understand.” “He can’t ever meet my dad, or he’ll dump me.”
Fathers, you’re sowing seeds of distrust that bloom into deceit and fear. Your daughters do not feel protected – they feel threatened.
You Aren’t Threatening a Boy – You’re Threatening Your Child
Admittedly, I’ve never understood the urge to prove to a child that you love them so much that you’re willing to kill someone they love. I don’t understand the logic of that.
Personally, I like to believe that fathers mean to say something more like this: “Daughter, I love you very much. I will always do my best to protect you from anyone who would try to cause you harm.”
Maybe that’s what you mean, fathers, but it isn’t what you’re saying.
Your young child does not have the ability to determine what you say from what you mean. And teenagers?! Teenagers will take everything literally if it is at all possible. She hears you saying that if she ever loves someone, you’ll kill that person. You’re saying that you’re willing to murder to make sure that your daughter never finds love.
You are not threatening some non-existent boyfriend.
Father, you are threatening your daughter.
She hears you loud and clear. Look, your daughter almost certainly believes that romantic love will be her main source of happiness in life. She’s seen it in Disney princess movies, on TV, and in every ad on every billboard she’s ever seen.
So, in her mind, you are threatening her opportunity for happiness. She hears you saying that you’re going to literally kill any chance she has to live a happy life.
Do we wonder why girls are afraid to introduce their boyfriends to their dads?
I’m not saying that every girl believes that her dad is actually going to shoot her first boyfriend. What I am saying is that children do not forget it when a feeling of fear is drilled into them at a young age. Even if she doesn’t know exactly why she’s so fearful of your reaction to her relationship, the fear is still real.
And that, fathers, is unacceptable.
Your Daughter is Not Your Baby Girl
Fathers, I know this is an unpopular thing to say. But, I’m going to say it anyway.
Your daughter is not your baby girl. Unless she is an actual infant, less than two years old, in which case, why talk to her about her potential, future romantic and sexual relationships at all? That’s a little weird, don’t you think?
Your daughter is not simply a potential wife and mother.
No, fathers, your daughter is a woman-in-training. She is an autonomous human being who has thoughts, emotions and ideas that are all her own. This girl – whether she is five years old or fifteen – has dreams and plans and desires. And this girl needs to grow up to be a fully self-sufficient person, with or without a romantic partner.
In order to grow into that fully self-sufficient person, she needs your help. She needs you to teach her how to know if someone is manipulating or abusing her. Your daughter needs your help to learn how to defend herself from those people. She needs you to teach her how to demand respect from others. And she needs you to show her that she does not need a man in order to be fully human.
I promise, she is not going to get that message anywhere else in the whole world. Even the “evil, leftist media” wants her to believe that she will never be whole without a romantic partner.
Your daughter, perhaps most importantly, needs you to not waste time equating her with an object that “some boy” will try to “steal” from you.
Because your daughter is not an object.
Maybe when you were young, you viewed all women as objects, and don’t want that for your daughter. Unfortunately, most men will view her as an object. You need to be one of the few who will not.
You need to refuse to buy into the lies about who your daughter is. The lie that she is only of value if a man can take ownership of her. That she is only valuable if she conforms to society’s standards for beauty. The lie that says that because she was born female, she will inevitably become a victim.
You have to be the one to refuse all of these things, because she is unlikely to meet anyone else who will.
Remember that Your Job is to Raise a Person, Not a Princess
Father, you are not the fire-breathing dragon guarding a princess in a high tower. Every child needs their parents to protect them, and far too many never experience that. By all means, protect your children!
Ensure that the way you treat women is respectful and above reproach, always. Make sure that pornography is entirely out of their reach. Be vigilant about who you allow into your children’s lives. Trust few people with their safety. Empower them. Teach them by example to be a compassionate, humble, and gentle person (1 Peter 3:8-9; Philippians 4:5). Keep them fed and clothed and educated.
But do not try to raise a princess. Do not tell your daughter that she is a delicate flower in need of constant, watchful care. She is not a flower. She is a person; a complex, unique individual. And while she needs legitimate protection from you when she is young, she does not need your grand shows of strength. The strength she needs from you is the kind you’re supposed to model after our Heavenly Father. Gentle, wise, kind, patient, loving (1 John 4:8; Romans 2:4).
It may feel like strength to be a fire-breathing dad, but you are not strong in that position. You do not only sow seeds of fear in your young daughter. As she grows, she’ll learn that you’re unreasonable, which can easily lead to her losing respect for you altogether.
You don’t want to be the dragon that her boyfriend has to slay.
I’ve seen this, too, one too many times. In my own life, this was a test I put my now-husband through. Would he stand up to my fire-breathing dad? This was the big question.
I won’t leave you hanging: he did! But he was also threatened with a gun. We both were. And at that moment, it wasn’t a joke.
That bears repeating: threatening another person’s life is never a joke.
Say What You Mean
If you mean to tell your daughter that you intend to shoot the first young man she brings home, then say it. Use those words. Clean your guns on the night of their prom, to make a point.
But if you mean to tell your daughter that you want what is best for her and that you love her, say that. Your fifteen-year-old may roll her eyes, but in her twenties, when she needs you to tell her what you really think of her boyfriend, she’ll remember. She’ll remember and she’ll know that you meant it.
If, God forbid, she ever does end up in a bad relationship, she will trust you to speak into her life. She’ll be able to trust that you are truly concerned for her well-being, not because you’re threatened by their relationship, but because you care about her safety.
I know that it scares you to have your fifteen-year-old dating. But you only have one chance to prove that you can be a credible, reasonable, loving confidant.
You must prove to your young daughter that you can handle her growing up. If your spiel for every boy she dates is the same thing – “he’s too immature, he’s a jerk, he’s disrespectful, I don’t like him” – what happens when she dates someone who actually does concern you? Is your daughter going to suddenly trust that you know what you’re talking about? Absolutely not.
So make sure that you’re the first person she trusts to talk to about her romantic life.
Raise the daughter who, when her conversations with friends turn to the topic of parents, can say that she had the best dad. That her dad was kind, patient, and wise.
Be that dad. Be the dad that people like me wish we’d had in our lives. Do right by your daughters. Not because it’s easy, but because it became your job the day she was born.
Good luck out there!