During the week I’ve seen numerous responses of outrage connected to Beyoncé’s halftime show. The nature of that performance is just another example of the many challenges we face as fathers. Trying to help our children develop an appropriate sense of self and cultivate the virtue of modesty is hard. So what’s a dad to do?
Several years back one of our area parishes conducted a program called True Style which was designed to help teenage girls with the issues of body image, dating, and virtue in a fun and interesting way. In our current culture the mention the word virtue gets eye rolls, sighs and disparaging remarks. It is perceived as freedom limiting, external restriction. It is not seen as an internal strength derived from its harmony with God’s love and will for our lives.
As the father of three daughters, I was invited to speak at one of the True Style nights. The topic was dating and the speakers were: a priest, a teenage boy, and me. We each spoke briefly about our views on dating and then took questions from the girls. After teasing about cleaning guns when boys visit or having an alligator filled moat around the house, I came to the heart of the issue; I trusted my daughters. I trusted that they had been well formed by, and embraced the values my wife and I had taught them. I trusted they wanted the best for themselves and they knew it was to be found in following God’s guidance in life. I trusted they could see truth, reject manipulation or exploitation and that they valued themselves as already complete; not missing something that some guy would finish. Ultimately, I trusted they knew they were already loved.
In turn when the girls asked what I would do when one of my daughters wanted to go on a date with someone, I found myself answering, “I would trust her judgment.” I would of course need to meet the guy and know the “when and where” of the date. That is parenting 101 and has always been the standard for get-togethers with friends in our house. We have always been vigilant about their safely and acquainted with their friends.
Reflecting more I realized that my trust in my daughters was the fruit of attending to their self-image and need for love and guidance from the time they were very young. I did not wait until they were captivated by what others said was an “in style” before I voiced appreciation for their true beauty, inside and out. I started when they were very young. Whatever the age of your daughters or granddaughters I encourage you to become a voice in their head. A voice of loving affirmation and guidance. Sometimes the curse for dads is that we become only the voice of “no” or “shame” or failure.” It takes time, catching them doing well. We need to show and tell them we love who they are, not just what they do.
In our store we are preparing for a First Communion Style show where we will be introducing First Communion dresses and veils. We will talk with the girls about hair and their beauty inside and out. Hopefully we can encourage excitement about the true beauty of each girl, along with the beautiful saving grace of the sacrament for which they prepare. Working on this I am reminded how important dads and grandfathers are to their daughter’s and granddaughter’s image of themselves.
As fathers, we need to attend to our daughters while they are young; while we are still the guys they most want to give them attention. It will be too late if we wait until they are wearing a miniskirt and heading out of the house. Remember that saying no, condemnation and restrictions can only go so far to protect. They can create walls to hold aspects of the world out and our children in, but they are limited. It is much more our call as men to be a source of love and grace that can help root our children in virtue; where virtue is a freedom that comes from within and allows them to live fully as God intends.
With God’s grace, we will be guided in how to affirm in our daughters and granddaughters strong values. Instilling a sense of beauty that leaves what our world offers easily rejected as an empty, ugly, lie. I don’t know what the future holds for my daughters but I am quite sure they won’t be performing in a super bowl halftime; or if in fact they should one day, it won’t look anything like last weekend’s spectacle.