My daughter Adley is about to turn two and is knee-deep in what I like to call the “testing phase.” Recently, we were playing with toys in our living room when my wife, Katie, took a break from work to say hi. She works from home, so this is a regular treat for us. It also allowed Adley to loop Katie in on her conversation with her stuffed animals, Bunny and Elephant.
Most of these conversations are conducted in part English, largely gibberish, and a few words of Spanish (to this day, Adley will only refer to water as agua). I held our daughter while Katie and I discussed a difficult client she was dealing with. Adley wanted my attention, and, like every toddler I’ve been around, she was having trouble with the ancient art of patience.
Mid-sentence, I feel a miniature hand grab my cheek and turn my head toward hers. She was about one foot from my face, staring into my eyes. That moment of intense concentration distracted me from the remote in her other hand that was moving toward my face rapidly. I was struck unexpectedly. Without missing a beat, this tiny monster said in a perfectly calm voice, “T-V, T-V.” Caught off guard by the entire incident, I sternly told Adley no and not to hit.
For the next minute or so, she went around to several items in the room and hit them. This included me, Katie, and our dog, Herbie. Adley lost eye contact with me at no point, closely watching to see how I would react.
Our Interactions Matter More Than We Think
I regularly tell people my daughter is my world, but this helped me realize that our little family is her entire world, too. It’s emphasized even more in my case as the one who stays home with Adley full-time. My goal is to make sure she’s the happiest and healthiest child possible. But these interactions also have long-term effects on the person she will become.
Recent studies have shown that a strong relationship between father and daughter has life-long impacts beginning at a younger age than you might expect. Dr. Linda Nielsen, a professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, told Forbes that fathers play a more significant role than mothers in certain aspects of development involving risk-taking and self-regulation.1 That bond can also lead to healthier relationships with their eventual partners down the road.
A medically reviewed article on PsychCentral.com took it a step further, finding that critical years for father and daughter bonding are between two and four years old. The author said these are the ages when kids begin asking: “Is it OK to be me? Am I free to explore, experiment with my new environment, and enjoy the things I gravitate toward?” Naturally, this raises a question I ask myself daily: Am I screwing up my kid?2
I don’t think so, but that insecurity keeps me striving to be an even better father. I want her to be happy and free to explore the world around her. Of course, I balance that with always making sure she’s safe and secure.
We are Growing Our Father and Daughter Bond Together
Adley will soon turn two, and her vocabulary is expanding rapidly. The other day I was putting her down for her afternoon nap. We always have lunch before her nap, and on this day, it didn’t exactly go well. After throwing her milk at me for unknown reasons, she transitioned into a new tantrum, focusing on how I didn’t spread the peanut butter on her toast correctly (I’m a guilty man, officer!). As I carried her up the stairs, mentally preparing for the next fight over nap time, Adley wrapped her arms around my neck and softly said, “da-da hugs.”
My frustration immediately melted away, and those 10 seconds quickly became the best part of my day. Even now, I can’t help but smile thinking of that moment. It’s one of the dozens I get to experience every day with my little girl. I’m an affectionate guy, and I go out of my way to make sure Adley feels loved.
As a stay-at-home dad, I’m lucky enough to see the bond grow with my daughter daily. It means the world to me and is genuinely something I treasure. But it’s a bond that isn’t just reserved for full-time caregivers. It’s created with every greeting at the door, every living room dance party, every book read before bed, and every hug given.
Being Present Is Key
Evolution dictates mothers’ and fathers’ bond with their children differently, but being present to create that bond is what matters most. It isn’t always easy, and there are certainly days when I wonder if I’m cut out for this. That’s why I’m focused on the journey and every step or misstep along the way. I’m not a perfect parent, and I’m sure a teenage version of Adley will someday read this and nod her head vigorously. But she will never question if I did everything in my power to be the best dad possible. That’s why our father and daughter bond will always be special.