Many fathers show affection toward their daughters with hugs, kisses, and saying, “I love you.” With sons, some dads show their love the same way, and others can be much more subtle and found in their actions and shared experiences.
There was no shortage of affection in my household growing up. Every phone conversation with my parents ended with “love you,” a tradition we continue today. And I’ve discovered there’s no one way to show love. It comes in different forms and fashions. Sometimes, it’s unexpected and shows itself when needed most.
Rare Display of Emotion
I’ve learned from living in different parts of the country that every state has distinctive features. My home in Miami has tons of palm trees and water in nearly every direction. My hometown of Pittsburgh is very hilly and curvy, and driving is akin to playing Pac-Man with plenty of sharp, unexpected turns.
For Ohio, it’s corn fields, lots of them. That image comes from August 2005, when my parents drove me to college for the first time. I was eager and excited, but most of all, I was scared to enter a new world on my own. I talked about it generally with my parents in the days and weeks leading up to the semester, but that car ride is where it hit home.
My parents helped me move into my dorm room, and after everything was situated, we said our goodbyes. Mom is emotional, so I knew what to expect from her. She gave me a long hug and some words of encouragement, fighting to keep her composure. I gave her a nervous smile and told her I loved her. I expected this to be my toughest goodbye.
But I was wrong.
When I went to hug my dad, I noticed tears streaming down his cheeks. It was startling. Up to that point, I could count on one hand how many times I saw my dad cry, which always involved death in the family.
But here was my 6-foot, 5-inch father breaking down as he struggled to find the words to say to his son as he began college. That outward display of emotion from my dad was more powerful than any words he could have spoken or any gesture he could have made.
More About Actions Than Words
Communication researcher James Wohr found this way dads show their love is evidence of a larger truth, particularly related to fathers and sons.1 Wohr said in an article for Fatherly.com that showing affection for men is often more about what they do than what they say. They express their love in subtle ways.
“And while to outside observers they may seem like weak substitutes for genuine affection, to many fathers and sons they’re every bit as meaningful as words, kisses and hugs,” Wohr said to Fatherly.com.
Wohr found many fathers show affection for their daughters in more traditional ways even as they continued to age. The father-son dynamic is where the change was most evident but no less impactful. A shared experience or a conversation can be a sign of affection.
What matters is ensuring your kids know how you feel about them, even if you don’t always verbalize it. While fathers are often not the primary caregivers, interactions with their children can have lifelong impacts, even more so than with mothers.
Fathers Have a Critical Role in a Child’s Self-Worth
Researchers at Southern Illinois University recently found fathers play a critical role in growing a child’s self-confidence and worth as they become adults.2
In an article for Greater Good Magazine, researcher Riley Marshall suggests that because fathers interact differently with their children, affection can impact their children’s attitudes about their self-worth.3
The study found that finding ways dads show and communicate love and affection can have lifelong impacts beyond a continued relationship with their child. This can manifest in different forms beyond hugs and kisses. For example, fathers can be:
- Supportive, motivating, and encouraging
- Be present, attend soccer games and plays, and be the personal driver
- Listen, be understanding, and forgiving
As the father of a 2-year-old daughter, I often think about this. How do I make sure she will always feel loved and safe? This is a much easier question to answer at the toddler stage compared to the teenage or adult years. But it’s a critical thought to consider at any age, given fathers’ influence.
There are Different Ways to Show Love
I am an affectionate guy. Whether it’s friends or family, I’m usually quick to offer up a hug and say, “I love you.” I don’t anticipate fatherly affection being an issue for my daughter moving forward. But there are different ways to express this to the ones you love.
To this day, I’m close to my father, and we speak regularly. We’ll talk about many subjects, from the latest activities my daughter is interested in to why the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t running the ball more effectively. Rarely do we delve into how we feel about each other. But just having those talks tells me everything I need to know. He loves and cares deeply about me and my well-being. I feel the same way about him.
While I’ll never forget his face when my parents dropped me off at college, the smaller, more subtle moments reinforce the affection.