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What I Wish My Dad Told Me When I Was a Little Girl

Fifteen women share what they wish their fathers said to them more often.

Flickr / kris krüg

Raising daughters to become well-adjusted human beings is no easy task. As they grow from young girls into teenagers and then young women, the way the world treats them changes at scale. Their bodies, and not their brains, become the most common fodder for compliments and conversation. They struggle with a world not often designed for them. Girls need their parents — and especially their dads — to have a strong sense of self and to know that their value is inside of them. Fathers need to say the right things or at least try to say them and in the trying say something that at least shows that, you know? It’s complicated. But it’s also necessary. So what shouldn’t remain unsaid?  What do adult women wish their dads said to them more — or at all — when they were growing up?  We spoke to 15 women who shared just that with us. Take a look and use their words as an example of what not to miss out on with your little girl.

That I Had Real Worth and Value
I wish my Dad had told me that my real worth and value lie outside of my appearance. — Christine, 49, California

What A Good Man Is
Even though my father was shy and humble, I wish he had talked to me about men and specifically how to find someone like him. I yearned to talk to him and ask for his advice during my divorce, but of course I couldn’t. He treated my mom with such care and concern, never raised his voice, and even though he was a 1950s man, he cooked and cleaned, all on his own, never having to be asked. Intuitively he just seemed to know that being a husband meant being a true partner. He was the kindest most ethical man I’ve ever known. I wish he’d told me how to find a partner like him. — Beverly, 50, Georgia

The Stories and Memories of His Childhood
What I wish I heard more often from my dad were his stories, his memories from his early adulthood living in New York City after World War II and before he married my mom. I wish I knew more about who he was as a young man before he became a father, what his dreams were, what crazy (or not so crazy) things kept him busy while he attended draftsman school. I wish I had details about how he came of age in the post-depression era, how he felt about Jackie Robinson breaking the color line to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, how he knew he would marry my mom. I wish I had heard more of the stories he held close to his heart, the ones that died with him in 2013.  — Andrea, 47, New York

That He Was Leaving
I wish he told me why he was leaving so I would have more context for him not being in my life. — Alexia, 28, New York

The Truth
I wish my Dad had tracked me down once I was an adult to talk about how my mother cut him and his entire side of the family out of my life growing up. I would have asked him, then, why he never paid child support, which, because my mother said it, I took as gospel… and found out the truth: That he had. — Joryn, 62, Florida

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That I Could Be The President
I wish my dad would have said that it doesn’t matter what I look like and focus more on intrinsic values and character qualities like volunteering and giving back, faith and ethics, being kind, making the world a better place, integrity, etc., and then intelligence and abilities, and after that, if at all, physical attributes. He used to say I would be Miss America and my brother would find the cure for cancer. Both my brother and I grew up and went into nonprofit work to help others and are involved in our church and volunteer. We’re also both family focused, each married with two kids now and I know my dad is proud of me. But as a young person, I wish my dad would have downplayed my appearance. Little girls need to hear they are loved and valuable no matter what they look like, and not to put too much stock in “beauty” which comes and goes and is not nearly as important as being a good person. — Amanda, 42, Virginia

To Be Patient For Love
My dad died before he was 30, after he and my mother split up. What I wish a father figure would have told me was that love is real, wait for it, and don’t be fooled by sweet talk and promises. That women are not only as good as their looks, height, weight, job, or the number of children they can have. I would have loved to have heard that there are good men in the world. That women are as good as men. That there is a price for the bad things we do to other people, especially innocent children. That there are rewards for the good things we do in life. That time can be our friend. That our elders are wise and should be listened to and respected. That time does not heal all wounds.  That there are many things in life that don’t make sense. That education is important. That family is one of the most important things we can have, and to cherish the good times. There will be far less good times than bad times. — Sherry, 56, Ohio

That He Was Not Like Other Men
Honestly, what I wish my father could’ve gotten through to me is that not all men would be like he was (and is). I realize it’s not uncommon for women to idolize their fathers, but my dad was and is amazing: smart, hard-working, funny, dedicated, supportive…he could fix anything, and he usually had a story to tell you while he did. College was a real eye-opener. I was already starting my first business, while the guys in my classes mostly wanted to party. I remember thinking, Shouldn’t you be past that already? I realize now that the problem was less other people, and more about my expectations of them: my dad had set the bar too high. And I love him for that. But it might have saved me a lot of frustration if I had understood that he is the exception, not the rule. — Monica, 40, UK

That I Could Go To College
I was born in 1950, an era where women were still considered to be homemakers. I remember when I was getting ready to graduate high school. My father said that a college education wasn’t important. One day, I would be a stay at home wife, so there was no point in me going to college. Waste of money. Ten years later, I was a single mom trying to raise a son without a college education. I was able to pursue a career that eventually landed me a wonderful position. By the time I was 50 my father proudly told his friends and colleagues about my career success. So, what do I wish my father had said when I was 18? Follow your dreams. Be anything you want to be. Don’t let your gender or marital status define what you want to life. — Janet, 69, Missouri

What It Meant To Raise A Child Who Is Disabled
My older brother is developmentally disabled and always required a ton of extra care and attention from my parents. They didn’t ask me to help out with him — I think to avoid burdening me — but they also never talked about his disability or how I should understand it. I would have loved if my dad had explained what the disability was and how it affected our family, especially that it was hard for my parents and could be hard for me sometimes, that it would be okay for me to be angry or embarrassed, and that I would also need to be patient and forgiving. It would have been nice to have heard him say what a good job my mom was doing, too: while he worked hard to provide, she worked hard juggling all of our needs, and it wasn’t easy for either of them. They were great parents and my brother is awesome, but it took me a couple decades to really figure out what was going on there. — Anna, 36, New York

That Men Have Feelings
I wish my father had told me that men have feelings too, that men hurt, are insecure, fearful and confused just like women. Maybe then I would have stopped looking for my knight and shining armour, my hero to rescue me. I grew up hearing my mother’s rants about men, throughout all her relationships and divorces, the message became clear men are cheaters, liars and abandoners, with a lack of courage and fortitude to handle a “real woman.” In my adult relationships I was insecure, fearful, and I guess, resentful. I did not allow men to be vulnerable or emotional to a fault, and often would break off relationships if he became to apologetic or “sorry,” soft, or needy. — Amarri, 42, California

That He Loved Me For Me
As a child, I wish my dad had told me that I was loved just for being me, not for being smart or well-behaved. As an adult, I wish my dad had told me he was there for me, trusted my judgment, and was there when I was ready to talk to him about my struggles. — Caitlin, 31, Ohio

That My Body Was Fine
I wish he had told me that accepting and loving the body I have will serve me better than trying to make my body something it could never be. I also wish he had told me not everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. An open mind is crucial, sure, but some healthy cynicism is useful, too. — Anne, 36, New York

That He Showed Me What He Loved
I wish he had shown me more about the things he loved. I would love to know more about the outdoors, how to use a rifle, identifying plants and animals, and construction. He gave me basic knowledge of these things but got upset when I didn’t immediately take to them. With hunting and construction he was very much of the belief that they were for boys only. Now that he has passed I wish I knew more of these things to teach to my children.  — Shelly, 39, Michigan

That I Don’t Need To Be Well-Liked
I wish my dad would have told me that whether or not people liked me was not a sign of my value or worth.  That is was not my job to bend and adjust to other people’s wants and needs rather to continue to hone my own needs  and find people that are compatible with that. It is okay to not be everyone’s cup of tea. I wish my dad would have taught me that it was not my job to manage other people’s expectations. That my job as a woman was not to cook, clean and take care of men. Especially, if this was an expectation of my value or worth. — Kimberly, 40, Florida