When stepfathers step in and step up for daughters: Part 2 of 2

Sometimes a stepfather enters a daughter’s life and sends it spiraling downward. And for every one of those, there’s a stepfather who steps in and steps up for a daughter. Sheree is one of those daughters.

When we met, Sheree was in her mid-forties, and had worked in mortgage banking, high tech, and most recently as a professional photographer. Her father grew up in a family of alcoholism, infidelity, and financial instability. When he was ten years old, he was molested by another boy at a movie theater. Sixteen years later, that scarred boy lived inside a man of 26, with a 19-year-old wife and two-month-old daughter.

Sheree recalled her father’s narcissism, how as a little girl she once asked him to pick her up, only to be told, “I don’t have time for you, I’m trying to do my hair.”

She talked about how conflicted she was growing up—getting pieces of a normal family life from her father, and having him shatter it at the same time; wanting to be with a father, yet feeling hatred and resentment toward him for his selfishness and sexual abuse that started when she was five.

“I disliked him so much that it was always a fight going on in my mind about, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. But you’re my father and I want to love you. So I would want to do stuff with him, but then I wouldn’t.”
Her father’s sexual abuse continued until Sheree was sixteen. Her younger sister, who had also been abused, helped Sheree tell their mother about it.

“That was the beginning of the end of their marriage. At that point, I was perfectly fine with my mother not being married to my father any more. I had no guilt about it. I didn’t feel like it was my fault, I didn’t feel like it was gonna be a burden that I would carry. It practically put my mother in the grave, that she didn’t know, that it went on, and it was her child. How could he do that to his own flesh and blood? She never, ever, ever made me feel bad about not coming to tell her. My father never denied it.”

Although the damage her father inflicted was profound, Sheree had other men in her life who offered some counterweight to her father, such as teachers and then her stepfather.

“My mom remarried when I was about eighteen, and I wasn’t really happy about it. I wanted Mom to stay single. But then I got to know her husband, and I thoroughly enjoyed him. I moved in with them for about a year after my divorce, while I was going through therapy. That’s when I really got to know Grant, and the compassionate, fatherly side of who he was. And that’s when I fell in love with him as a dad. He kind of plugged the holes of all those emotional needs of a father that I had.

“I kind of felt whole, like ‘Wow, this is like having a dad! This is like having a mom and a dad and I can sleep at night.’ That was really a big one for me: a safe place to be. I can come home and I can sleep at night and not wonder who’s going to come in my room.

“Grant was really gifted in the therapy side of life. He was a real estate appraiser and I worked for him during that time when I lived with them. During the time that I worked for him, he shared so many things with me about being married and trust and relationships, and everything a dad would say to someone that age. It was just unbelievable to me to have somebody like that, that you can trust, you can love, that loves you and it’s unconditional. It made me feel whole.

“He passed away last May, of early onset Alzheimer’s. The last few years of his life, I helped Mom care for him. He had to go into a home the last year of his life, so I would visit him every day, and try to be there for lunch time and feed him and make sure he was okay.

“That was a really hard time, and a very sorrowful loss. Sometimes I just can’t believe that he’s gone.” Sheree began crying. “I just can’t believe it. On every card I sent him, I would always write that God brought him to our family, that he was our gift from God. He really, really was.”

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Wish I’d had this 18 years ago…

Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a licensed clinical psychologist and happy father of three, keeps a fantastic blog, full of wonderful opinions and personal advice. He has made a habit out of writing letters to his young daughter, to help teach her about the world. But not only his daughter could benefit from reading his wise words.
Check out what he had to say about the make-up and fashion industry. They are great words to live by.

Dear Little One,

As I write this, I’m sitting in the makeup aisle of our local Target store. A friend recently texted me from a different makeup aisle and told me it felt like one of the most oppressive places in the world. I wanted to find out what he meant.

And now that I’m sitting here, I’m beginning to agree with him. Words have power, and the words on display in this aisle have a deep power. Words and phrases like:

Affordably gorgeous,
Flawless finish,
Brilliant strength,
Liquid power,
Go nude,
Age defying,
Instant age rewind,
Choose your dream,
Nearly naked, and
Natural beauty.

When you have a daughter you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house—a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.

But words do have power and maybe, just maybe, the words of a father can begin to compete with the words of the world. Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakeable sense of her own worthiness and beauty.

A father’s words aren’t different words, but they are words with a radically different meaning:

Brilliant strength. May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.

Choose your dream. But not from a department store shelf. Find the still-quiet place within you. A real dream has been planted there. Discover what you want to do in the world. And when you have chosen, may you faithfully pursue it, with integrity and with hope.

Naked. The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your gloves off. Pull no punches. Say what is in your heart. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.

Infallible. May you be constantly, infallibly aware that infallibility doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion created by people interested in your wallet. If you choose to seek perfection, may it be in an infallible grace—for yourself, and for everyone around you.

Age defying. Your skin will wrinkle and your youth will fade, but your soul is ageless. It will always know how to play and how to enjoy and how to revel in this one-chance life. May you always defiantly resist the aging of your spirit.

Flawless finish. Your finish has nothing to do with how your face looks today and everything to do with how your life looks on your last day. May your years be a preparation for that day. May you be aged by grace, may you grow in wisdom, and may your love become big enough to embrace all people. May your flawless finish be a peaceful embrace of the end and the unknown that follows, and may it thus be a gift to everyone who cherishes you.

Little One, you love everything pink and frilly and I will surely understand if someday makeup is important to you. But I pray three words will remain more important to you—the last three words you say every night, when I ask the question: “Where are you the most beautiful?” Three words so bright no concealer can cover them.

Where are you the most beautiful?

On the inside.

From my heart to yours, Daddy

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From a daughter to a dad: How to raise your pre-teens

I am loving this post by blogger Robin DesCamp…rock on, girl.


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When a stepfather steps in and steps up for a daughter

Leilani was the first woman to open my eyes to the profound difference a stepfather can make. She was a single mother raising two children when we met, tall and striking, of Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Scots Irish ancestry.

Her biological parents met in 1962. Her father was an artist, her mother an aspiring lawyer with little interest in children. “She was told she could never have them,” Leilani told me. “So she was studying to go to law school, and was focused on politics and living an intellectual life with an artistic husband. My mom, to this day, says, ‘I don’t do babies. I don’t like little kids.’ And it’s true.”

Soon, the woman who couldn’t have kids was pregnant with twins.

“That absolutely changed the course of the life she had planned,” Leilani said. “To try to save the marriage, they decided to move to Hawaii. They thought it would help if they were with my mom’s family, with the additional family support that comes with large extended families.”

That attempt didn’t work, and Leilani’s parents divorced within a few years. Leilani grew further from her father, uncomfortable with his idiosyncratic ways, and angry with him for leaving.

Shortly after the divorce, Leilani’s mother married a man she had known since childhood. He had children from his first marriage, and the families melded easily. “I was in fourth grade when they married,” Leilani told me. “He never treated us any differently than he treated his own kids. I was the only girl and so I got a lot of extra attention. I think he was happy to have a daughter around.”

One of her earliest memories is of her dad laying down the law.

“I remember my mom saying I couldn’t have this pair of shorts and so I asked him for them and he got them for me. And then, it was a big blowup about it and he came to me and said, ‘You can’t do that again. It was not fair, because she had said no. I am here for you, but you cannot set us up like that again. I’m not going to allow it.’ That was the end of it. He set the ground rules really clearly. And I never crossed them again. It made me feel like I could talk to him about anything, anything at all.

“There wasn’t one thing I couldn’t tell him or didn’t tell him. I told him, not my mom, when I got pregnant on accident when I was just out of college and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I had a place.

“He always wanted my mom to have the best of everything, and just doted on me and adored me as the girl; he’d gleam with pride and he was always so encouraging and just a dad. He taught the hard lessons that needed to be taught, but was also the soft place to land when I needed the soft place to land, the protector.

“He participated in our sports, was there for every swim meet. And when my mom couldn’t be bothered with my track meets, my dad came to every single one of them.”
“He was a really fun guy. He had this sort of grumpy old man personality to him, and was sort of gruff. His dad was verbally awful and was ridiculously hard on my dad. They grew up pretty poor, and my dad was the provider and caretaker for his siblings. But he had this real soft side to him when it came to me. And he was really hard-working but didn’t always succeed.

“He owned his own insurance agency. He ended up with a gambling problem and he lost his business to it. But I think it was the constant pressure to live up to my mom’s expectations of what providing looked like. I think it got to feel impossible.”

Leilani cried as she spoke of her dad walking her down the aisle when she got married. He was ill, his remaining years numbered. Leilani watched his health, finances, and marriage deteriorate. “My mom actually kicked him out. She divorced him, because she didn’t want to be financially responsible for him, though they only lived apart for about eight months. Then they lived back together again and he always wanted to get remarried, but she never would.

“He went door-to-door selling mouthwash and pantyhose that don’t run and tried selling cell phone card plans before those were really a thing and doing multi-level marketing and tried any number of things to make something go. And he never could make it go. I think that stress was the catalyst for him getting sick. That loss was humiliating and I don’t think he ever recovered from it.

“I put a credit card in both of our names to try to help, and tried to be there for him in all those ways he was there for me. He never used the credit card. But I just couldn’t imagine him not having a safety net, because my mom wouldn’t help him and she was like, ‘Tough luck, it’s your fault.’”

Leilani broke down as she thought back to the last time she saw the man who refused to shrink as her father, even if he was selling mouthwash and pantyhose door-to-door.
“I took my son home when he was three months old to see my dad. And he was 80 pounds, but getting up and walking, accomplishing something every day. When it was time for my mom to take us to the airport, he was standing at the front door waving and smiling. And I got back in and out of the car five or six times, because I knew when I left I would never see him again.

“And the last time, he said, ‘Baby, you have to go. You’re going to miss your plane.’ And I said, ‘But if I go, then this is the last time I’m going to hug you, the last time I’m going to hold you.’ And I knew it and he knew it. And I’m just crying and he started to cry. And he said, ‘It’s not the last time. We’ll see each other again.’ He was a very spiritual person, and that’s what he was referring to. And he had tears running down his face.

“Right before my daddy died he asked me to give my father another chance. He said, ‘Just get to know him as a man and a person and let him be a grandfather.’

“My dad knew my kids would need a grandpa and he saw my father’s positives. I think he also saw where my father and I have a lot of similarities and knew that the emotional connection that I didn’t have with my mom could be found in my father. And because my dad asked, I’ve given my father another chance. And I have a pretty remarkable relationship with him that is growing in understanding and depth.”

Today Leilani celebrated what would have been her dad’s seventy first birthday.

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Lindsay’s fame and fortune still can’t fill the void

Lindsay Lohan and I went through a stretch where we didn’t think much of each other.

OK, she’s never thought anything of me; she doesn’t know me. And I thought I knew her. Well, sort of. I thought she was a spectacular child actress whose fame, riches and success turned her into another spoiled, narcissistic drama queen birthed by Hollywood.

The public records of her arrest and rehab history since 2007 detail her infamous jewelry theft, DUII and coke busts, five trips to rehab, car wrecks, jail stints, and a third-degree assault arrest for popping Tiffany Mitchell in the face at a Manhattan nightclub.

I was shocked recently to learn she’s only 27 years old; in recent pictures she looks sick, depleted and broken, at the end of the line. Yet in her childhood images (and films The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, and Mean Girls), she is spirited and full of life.

Something big happened along the way to adulthood. And she tells the story poignantly in her song “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father).”

The first time I heard the song was during a recent meeting of the dads group I’m in, part of The Abba Project. There weren’t a lot of dry eyes in the room of a dozen dads when the music video ended.

It’s a muscular song musically and moving lyrically. It tells the story of Lohan’s father, a former Wall Street trader and her mother, a one-time singer and dancer. They split when she was three, reunited, then split for good in 2005. Two years later Lohan’s drug, alcohol and legal troubles began saturating the tabloids. Shortly thereafter, she wrote the song, and the video (which is on the home page of this site) is worth the four minutes if you have any interest at all in fathers and daughters. It is truly the confession of a broken heart.

“And I wear all your old clothes, your polo sweater
I dream of another you, one who would never
Never leave me alone to pick up the pieces
Daddy to hold me, that’s what I needed

So, why’d you have to go?
Why’d you have to go?
Why’d you have to go?

Daughter to Father, Daughter to Father
I don’t know you, but I still want to
Daughter to Father, Daughter to Father
Tell me the truth, did you ever love me?”

It’s a hard video to watch, not because it’s the story of a world-class talent circling the drain, but because it’s the public version of a story that plays out anonymously all over the world.

The world is full of women like Lindsay Lohan, with broken hearts on the inside and broken lives on the outside, women without the fortune and lawyers to prop them up. Jails are full of these women. So are rehab centers and strip clubs. So are companies, law firms, and workplaces of every sort.

Word has it that LiLo has turned up at a few events in recent weeks looking clean and sober. Let’s hope she’s on the rebound for good. She has much to offer the world. And so does your daughter.

For any man thinking of becoming a father, or who is already raising a young daughter, watch the video. If you’re married, or have been, you get that her parents struggled as a couple. Raising a daughter and hanging in there through thick and thin may be the hardest work you ever do. It can break your heart. It can break your bank account. There’s a blur, an instant, between playing with American Girls dolls and anorexia, cutting, booze, drugs and promiscuous sex.

Watch the video, Dad, for yourself and your daughter. She and Lindsay and every other daughter are wired the same deep down inside. They need someone they can trust and feel safe with, someone to hold them and hug them and love them. They need you. As she cries in her song, a “Daddy to hold me, that’s what I needed.”

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Confessions of a Broken Heart, from Lindsay Lohan

A wonderful, moving video on fathers and daughters from a woman I’d given up on years ago. Now I get her story. I’ll have a blog post and Oregonian column on it later next week. But for now, watch and listen to the lyrics on my home page. It may break your heart. It broke hers.

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What a great dad!

Well worth the couple minutes! I remember those days well…exhausting and joyful beyond measure. Please share!


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Turn Around

Time goes too fast when you are raising a daughter. This song from the 1960s (actually a Kodak ad) was a precursor to more modern day music videos. Except this one, even though commercial, is moving in ways that 99.99% of music videos aren’t. Well worth the 2 minutes for any dad or daughter…

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The news beneath Miley

It’s been quite a month for news that shapes the world. You know, the real important stuff.

“Selena Gomez Drops F-Bomb” (What the bleep?)

“Miley Cyrus Twerks with Santa” (Millennial generation twist on warm milk and cookies?)

“Miley Cyrus wears sheer white top, black bra to Z100’s Jingle Ball” (She’s back! She’s busy! Black breasts on white girl!)

Paris Hilton’s brother assaulted at party in Miami. Jessica Simpson goes makeup free for date night. Kim gets her body back.

There’s enough noise in this culture, particularly directed at young women, to make your head spin. One of life’s biggest stories, meanwhile, resides like an iceberg under the waterline. The story of a father within his daughter—Miley, Kim, everywoman—is a psychological drama that plays out in plain sight every day but without much recognition.

Whether she’s famous, rich and spoiled or anonymous, broke and struggling every daughter carries the emotional imprint of her father’s presence or absence. I get to hear a lot of those stories from women who share them with me in person or by email. This month, I’m sharing a few, and some thoughts for those who sent them and daughters or fathers like them.

From Lina: “I would be interested to hear more about what you find with girls who suffer the death of a father. My husband died when my daughter was ten, and now she is 15. Her memories and love for her father are strong, but that isn’t a substitute for an ongoing father-relationship. As she matures, I am looking for ways to help her create healthy relationships, and I suppose to help her make the most of what she had with her father, as she is unlikely to ever have the same kind of bond again.”

Dear Lina:

You are right. Your daughter will never have that bond again. There’s nothing to compare to a young child losing a father or mother. We are changed by it forever.

We don’t “get over” the early-life loss of a parent any more than we might get over losing a lung. We learn to cope—maybe. We adjust—maybe. At best, perhaps, we make peace with the loss. With that said, here are a few suggestions, based upon my experience and the stories shared with me.

Don’t stifle your daughter’s grief or desire to talk about her father. (If it sounds odd that I would even suggest that, some parents try to help their children by suppressing their grief and not talking or allowing conversation about the other parent’s death.) Let her wear his shirts and sweaters. Let her fill her life with symbols of him if she wants. Tell her stories about her dad if she wants to hear them. If he has brothers or sisters, bring them into your daughter’s life as much as you can.

I’m a big fan of counseling and therapy, not just for someone who’s suffered such a loss, but also for the entire family left behind. Going through this without professional help is like going through an amputation without physical therapy to recover. The Dougy Center in Portland has a wealth of resources online for dealing with grief.

Your daughter may find it helpful to meet adults or other teens who have lost parents early in life. If she wants to, try to help her with those connections. Bring surrogate fathers into her life, as long as they are men you can trust deeply, because she is likely to have a deep hunger for male approval and affection. Such young women are vulnerable to being exploited. Cousins, uncles, coaches, friends—try to make natural and easy-to-accept connections to as many of them as you can, as long as you know them well enough to trust them.

And here is a final thought. Help your daughter find someone safe who she can cry with.

From Norma: I have shared your columns with most of my friends and especially my daughters. My youngest daughters response was, “I hope you’re not thinking of dating, because you have never known how to interact with men, and still don’t.”

In the late 40′s and early 50′s, my father was sometimes verbally and a couple times, physically abusive. He left when I was eight and my brother was four. We only saw him twice (once a couple months after he had left to introduce us to his new wife and then again when I was 13, when he introduced us to his third wife). After the age of about 36 he came and visited on 2 occasions.

You have really touched my heart and I am starting to understand a lot more about the psychological problems I had / have relating to men and why I grew up so insecure. I have been in and out of counseling a good part of my life. But one thing that never came up, in all my counseling, was my relationship with my dad, or for that matter anything about my dad. So again thank you very much for your words.

Dear Norma:

Your father is the tap root from which your life grew. Your story of abuse is unfortunately so common. Abuse breaks the trust between fathers and their daughters, and can too easily poison a woman’s ability to sustain intimate relationships with men.

At a minimum it takes a great deal of hard work to process a father’s abuse, abandonment, or ambivalence, to get to a point where one can stay present in an intimate relationship. You are anything but alone, and your struggle is shared by people you might not imagine.

A minister in her 70s wrote to me recently and shared the story of her strained relationship with her father, and her struggle to find intimacy in a partnership, something that eluded her for decades until she married recently. I met a clinical psychologist at a writer’s conference a few years ago. She was also in her 70s. During a break in the conference she began telling me the story of her neglectful, uncaring father. Soon it was clear that she was being consumed with sadness as the memories came back. So I just listened, she spoke, and then she began to cry.

You’re also not alone in having your father story never come up during counseling. A close friend shared with me that in ten years of therapy, she and her therapist had never explored the relationship she had with her father. She told me it had never occurred to her until she read my book.

Every woman is a daughter. And her father, by either his presence or absence, had an enormous influence on her life. As the psychologist and author Kate Kavanagh wrote to me, “Reading (your) memoir of fatherhood prompts me to say to women, regardless of age, culture, or background: ‘Tell me if and how your father loved you as a child, and I’ll tell you whether or not you have found love as a woman.’”

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So, daughters, women of the world, what is YOUR story?

I’ve received a great deal of email from my last blog post and Oregonian article. Share your own father-daughter story with me and my blog readers. You can send it through the blog response here on the site, and feel free to keep your real name out if you please.

So many rich stories are coming my way. Let the world hear them; they are important for other daughters of all ages to experience.

OK; sound off. What is your story? I’ll respond to every post possible.

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