An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving are the trinity, as it were, of Lent. Of course, it is also a time of self-reflection, repentance, and struggle to conform ourselves more to the image of our Heavenly Father. In confession after confession, my failings as a father often take precedence as any regular readers here well know. I have come to believe that more than my attaining enlightened and profound theological knowledge or my willing commitment to attendance at multitudinous services or my disciplined ability to pray the entire pre-communion prayers from memory or my glorious elder inspired decision to spend 1/4 of my time at monasteries, my performance as a loving father is the greatest and most obvious indicator of the state of my soul.
Now, If you are a father of a daughter, please go right now and purchase or reserve a copy of THIS BOOK, which I have mentioned before at your local library. Were I wealthy enough, I'd buy a copy for every dad of a daughter I know. For my own part, having finished it, I have decided to really focus on really giving myself over to fatherhood this Lent and I believe it will fit perfectly with all the other disciplines of this season. Not as a temporary improvement, but hopefully as an ongoing shift in who I am. For what is parenthood but another act of martyrdom?
Inspired by the book I will be taking to time to reflect on parental issues and they will naturally be inclined toward fatherhood, but I do not think they will thereby be devoid of any thoughts of interests to mothers or perhaps anyone for that matter. Nor need it necessarily be limited to daughters, for by transforming who I am with them (geared especially to their emotional needs and my emotional entrapments) I believe my engagements with my sons will also be improved quite naturally.
Now, by email I was asked about the "reams of psychological data" that I suggested demonstrated the important role a father plays in the life of his daughter. Thankfully, Dr. Meeker presents them in her book very concisely and references all of the conclusions to the actual studies, which are all found in peer reviewed scientific journals. Interesting because I suspect many of the conclusions would cause most - though not all - people to say, "Well, duh!"
Here's one for both teams, Mom and Dad: Parent connectedness is the number one factor in preventing girls from engaging in premarital sex and indulging in drugs and alcohol. More specifically though, check this out:
Daughters who perceive that their fathers care a lot about them, who feel connected to their fathers, have significantly fewer suicide attempts and fewer instances of body dissatisfaction, depression, low-self esteem, substance abuse, and unhealthy weight
Similarly another study concludes:
A daughter's self-esteem is best predicted by her father's physical affection.
One of the interesting things about these and similar father-daughter studies is that the real psychological key is found in the male (father) to female (daughter) relationship. In other words, much of a young girl's future psychological interactions and perceptions of the opposite sex will hinge on her relationship with her father. Now, let's be clear here, I believe this extends beyond biology and genetics. A step-father or an close uncle or a grandfather could do these things as well. Our children need righteous...HOLY even...examples of pure love and commitment. They need to see their worth demonstrated in the gentle and loving actions of an adult man, and when they grow up they will expect as much from any potential suitors. Dr. Meeker writes: "BE the sort of man you would want your daughter to marry!"
For some of you being a good and loving father just comes naturally and I hate you for it. Seriously though, for some of us it does not come naturally, whether we were never shown a good example, or we are just too wrapped up in self I do not dare to guess. But I do not I must make a more conscious effort to show my love and to show how wonderful and important my daughters (and sons) are to me. Besides good old fashioned hugs and smiles, creativity can go a million miles. A while back I left each of my daughter's a special little note that told them how much I loved them and listed a few special traits about them that I especially appreciated. I could tell it went a long long way with them.
And last night as I pulled back my covers to lay down I found a little note on my pillow that read:
Dad Jams, I hope you hav a grat day. From Mystery
The "Dad" was struck out just as it appears here. You have got to love childhood innocence.
So, Dads, along with me, lets us take extra time to express to our daughter(s) in both written, oral, and physical ways just how much our daughters mean to us. Data and common sense suggests that if they are confident in our love for them they will benefit immensely - like an inoculation against the ills to which a teenage girl with low self-esteem will naturally be susceptible.
James, I read the book last week. Very good stuff. Some of the stories in that book broke my heart (especially the one about the teenage girl who played the flute who just up and ran away to a life of hell only to be finally tracked down years later by her grieving father)