For "National Daughter's Day" this year, Dr. Grauer shares his special and sometimes comical relationship with his own daughter through her years at The Grauer School and beyond. He invites your reflections on the nature of parenting a daughter.
Father and Daughter In An Occupied Territory
I just learned that September 25 is “National Daughter’s Day.” I have written hundreds of columns about student, child and school development and have never addressed one of the most important and personal factors: the father-daughter relationship.
My own daughter, Audrey, is 29 now, graduated in the Grauer class of 2011, and she played a substantial role in the development of The Grauer School, including at home, on expedition, and sitting on my lap in the Head of School office. As many fathers reading this will attest, the father-daughter relationship is a treasure of immeasurable complexity and preciousness, and I am still regularly overwhelmed at this connection.
Interestingly, I routinely advocated for her less than for others at school, to avoid politics. When her English teacher shorted her points, I said nothing. When a boy in the class was seriously out of line, I worked directly with my daughter and her own empowerment rather than jumping in myself. When people told her how beautiful or pretty she was, as they constantly did, I replied that in fact she was extremely resourceful, every time. I kept the father-teacher roles separate on campus, and taught her self-advocacy this way, in a big way, as I hope all great fathers will.
That was not just so at home or on campus though. I took her everywhere and was unsparing in my attention and respect. When she started to drive, I assured her I would drive her anywhere for the rest of my life.
Sure, I taught her to throw a solid spiral with a football. But I want to say up front that I realize that everything I can say about the qualities of a great father I can say about a mother—dads do not have a monopoly on any aspect of child rearing, and the word “father” in this column can probably be changed to “mother” (try it!) but then it wouldn’t be about me! All the same, I do not live in a gender-free world. My own life has been lived distinctively and joyfully as that of a male, I make no apologies for who I am, nor will I make excuses if I fail to keep learning and evolving.
Historically, the father has often been seen as the source of strength, protection, and stability to the daughter, and this has certainly been basic to my role.
From my perspective, fathers and male role models can fundamentally shape the self-esteem of growing girls. Perhaps most important, as a father, I have always attempted to help my daughter see how women ought to be treated. When I see the way my daughter’s husband treats her, the enormous care and deference, I know I have exceeded my greatest aspirations in this regard.
I realize the risks of fathering and have seen them in action on our campus. When fathers become too focused on a male-dominant “protector” role, they tend to prevent their daughters from advocating on their own. This is of course over-parenting, is always a father’s risk, and is extremely hard on the school and teachers and, I believe, the child, as is fearful parenting in general.
The truth is, maybe people think I under-parented! I always tried not to exceed my limitations or to rely upon a lot of theories. I remember once my daughter expressing frustration with me on some action or decision or another and me replying, “Look, Audrey, I’m just bungling through this along with you. I don’t know any real right answer here.”
In short, I do not believe I succumbed to the risk of over-parenting. As I already mentioned, my daughter needed to fight her own battles at school simply so I could keep a professional distance, given my role. My favorite example is over the top … so I will share it. Once we travelled to Jerusalem with a group of 12 students. Some of us chose to cross the border into Palestine. Our incredible Pastor Bill Harmon had set up a visit to a school in what some called “occupied territory.”
The security getting across was severe. You could feel the tension just as you encountered the wiry, stern-faced soldiers with their the Galil assault weapons. When we arrived at the school, we literally saw bullet pits in the buildings all around the school. We sang, played, and celebrated with the students of the Palestinian school for much of the day, then left to go out for shawarma for lunch. As always on expedition, I took the greatest care to load up all the students, hyper alert that we were in a high security situation. I felt my responsibility acutely and, when we got to the shawarma place, I realized something I barely dare to mention: I had paid such great attention to everyone else’s children, I left my own child back at the school, back in “occupied territory.” She had gone to the restroom. I drove back like a maniac and there she was on the sidewalk, smiling.
I apologize for that irresistible digression, but it has become a metaphor in our family for my fatherly faith in the independence and courage of my daughter, not to mention making me the butt of priceless jokes that will enrich various moments shared with her for life.
The truth is, the joke is the very opposite of how I often feel. In fact, there seems to be no end to the sacrifice a good father will make for his daughter, and I know, without spoiling or over-protecting her, I have given everything and will gladly give much more than that.
The day I dropped my daughter off at kindergarten, the fence slammed shut after her, and it is still slamming and always will be deep inside me. Why is that? Turning around to walk to our car as she turned for her dorm the first day of college was by far the hardest moment of my life and I can hardly even type it. That it meant little to her reflects the bitter success of successful fatherhood. That was all part of making her independent.
The father-daughter connection is deep and it even seems to be a predictor of educational/intellectual achievement. There are research studies showing the correlation of positive father-daughter connection with educational success. That too comes with sacrifice. Beyond reading her hundreds of books (I still read her bedtime stories when she comes “home”), I have provided more for her education than to any other aspect of our family estate, including our house. Education has been basic to our relationship, as to many father-daughter relationships, which often focus on the practical aspects of development.
I encouraged her to be a head of school, but she declined, saying, “I watched what you had to do and to give [as a school founder], dad, and I want more of my own personal life.” And yet, while I came into teaching kicking and screaming, having to reinvent every aspect of it for myself, my daughter grew up on a school and became the most natural, lovely teacher I have ever seen, not to mention a true artist, my own life’s aspiration as well. Her students could not take their eyes off of her and the day she called me in to read stories to them was one of unforgettable pride and joy.
A father’s connection to his daughter, and mine to mine, are beyond definition. My daughter is my eyes, and as such, she is my tears. Sometimes I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the thought of her. I can’t even get through this song (Taylor Swift's "The Best Day"): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZeI9I875Ig
Let’s all raise a glass to the fearless male role models in the lives of the world’s daughters.
PS: Please share your favorite daughter pictures with us!
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