Monday, January 11, 2010

"Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters"

I just read a really interesting book that was recommended to me by Ryan, husband of L's cousin Kristen (thus making him basically my brother): "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters" by Meg Meeker. I have thought a lot lately about the kind of family life I want to build for the three of us: a specific architecture of values, traditions and habits that requires some purpose and forethought.

I was excited to read this on Ryan's recommendation, even though he warned me about some of the God stuff in the book. I felt like the author was writing from a very solid conservative Christian background, which is not exactly the environment in which we will be welcoming this kid. The approach to sexuality was drenched in horrifying statistics about HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as earnest hypothetical anecdotes about one day discovering that your own daughter is the centerfold model in your hunting buddy's new issue of Playboy. Statistically, this is very improbable. They only have 12 centerfolds a year!

On the other hand, though, nothing riles up my inner social conservative like the prospect of guiding my daughter through the next 20 years of our increasingly degenerate pop culture. I think about the TV shows L and I thoughtlessly watch, the winkingly obscene music I enjoy (see below), and I wonder how you can protect a child from that stuff when she sees the world innocently and genuinely, without that shield of irony and cynicism that we adults grasp instinctively. The book had some excellent instructions and reminders about a father's role in his daughter's life: his centrality, his moral authority, his modeling of the way men and women interact and how a young woman should expect to be treated. I found myself agreeing with much of it, and feeling a renewed confidence in my own instinct and the way that L and I can complement each other in raising our girl.

There was excellent stuff about the need for fathers to say "I love you," to show affection, to establish boundaries, to make yourself known, to truly listen, to take your daughter on special outings. I particularly loved the chapter on humility, which really resonated with me and seemed to go hand-in-hand with the value of empathy. The book made me excited to raise our girl and thankful to be able to look back and see so many ways that my parents did all of these things, all of these traditions and simple ways of living that I can't wait to pass along.

As expected, the book hits hard with the God stuff, which I did not really enjoy. One big question L and I are grappling with is the role of religion in our kid's life, and in the life of our family. We're not actively going to church these days, and I'm struggling a lot to find a resolution that seems to carry some integrity with it. I want my kid to have a firm moral grounding, but I have so much doubt and anger towards the church's own moral authority. I don't want my daughter thinking she has to submit to a church that doesn't treat her as an equal. I don't want her assuming some of the chuch's toxic attitudes towards women and sexuality. On the other hand, I think the church has done a lot of good in the world, I think it maintains a strong intellectual tradition that I want to pass on, and I think its message about love, charity, sacrifice, forgiveness, and devotion is fundamental and something that a kid should begin to wrestle with. I don't know. Doubt is a part of faith, I know that. I'm just trying to reconcile all of this so that we can figure out what to do with our girl with some measure of integrity. Integrity, and not superstition.

Anyways -- "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters." I really enjoyed it and I gave it to L to read, too. I mentioned architecture before and I think that's really what I'm trying to do: I want to think about this purposefully, to enter fatherhood with an idea of our compass and our goals for our life together. Now I'm just working on the blueprint.


The Taylor Three said...

I think this review was right on the mark. I think there was a lot to take from this book and a lot to just gloss over. Overall, it got a A from Ryan!

Ellen said...

If you're interested in exploring Christianity, you might want to check out Sarah's old church, Redeemer. She loved it, I know, and I was jealous because of how great she said the sermons were there. Lots of sinful people have made the church look bad over centuries, and its a sad thing. I try to remember to look at Jesus and not the many people, including me, who don't live up to what He taught us. =)

Sarah Shingler's friend and friendly lurker =)

MKD said...

Ellen, thanks for the comment. I have definitely looked at Redeemer and Tim Keller, but I think I'm a Catholic through and through. It's a long process to find the church with the right fit -- it's a long and interesting journey, that's for sure. Thanks for the comment, and all the best to you and your beautiful family.