This is the main event

If you’re in your teens, watch this.

If you’re raising kids, watch this.

If you’re trying to hold it together, regardless of your age, watch this.

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So…how about a daughter’s view on fathers & daughters?

For more good reading on dads & daughters, check on the book & blog from my good friend Michelle Watson, PhD.
Website –
Blog –
Facebook –
Twitter – @mwatsonphd

We think a lot alike. But in person, she’s 10 times as funny.

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Where in the world are the real fathers?

It was a Friday morning like any other in Berkeley, Calif., during the spring of my freshman year. A friend barged into my dorm room and declared, “We need to drive up to Lake Tahoe today and rent a house for the summer.” So we did.

A few weeks later four guys and two girls were splitting $300 a month rent six ways for a summer home on the lake’s south shore. Like hundreds of other college students, we worked just across the Nevada state line in the casinos.

One balmy July night after dinner the guys I lived with and a few other friends went out for a walk. As we wandered through the surrounding neighborhoods we stopped to talk with a father, perhaps in his late thirties, who was playing softball in the street with a few kids, including his daughter. She was 15.

We were all 19. A few of my friends were brutally handsome. A few others were brutally fit. And that 15-year-old girl wanted nothing more than to get to know these newfound neighbors.

She pleaded with her father to let her join us on our walk. The dad, to his credit, slammed the lid on that idea. So she pleaded even more passionately with her dad. “Plleeeaase…..!!!!” she begged. This went on for several minutes. By the end, she was nearly in tears. And her dad stood firm.

As safe as his daughter would have been on a walk with us, her dad had the good sense to keep her away from six unknown guys.

We went about our walk. And I’m sure that girl thought her life was ruined—by the dad who probably steered her down a pretty good life path.

Fast forward about 15 years. A woman I came to know through an interview for my book was a student at the University of Oregon. She dated a player on the university’s football team. He physically beat her up. She is one of the most sensitive, caring women I have ever known. And she was beaten up by a man twice her size who supposedly loved her.

Fast forward another dozen years or so. Kelly Goodman, then a 21-year-old student and single mom who worked in the U of O football team’s equipment room, was by her account raped by a standout who went on to a professional football career.

Dial ahead yet another dozen years, and who-knows-how-many rapes at universities around the country, and The University of Oregon last season suspended Brandon Austin, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, three Duck basketball players accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in March. In the police report of the incident the young woman tells of one of the players boasting to a friend about how physically hard the three had been in their sexual conquest.

These are just a handful of incidents, and those close to home. The violence perpetrated upon women by men around the world is staggering. It’s on college campuses everywhere. It’s in the U.S. military.

It’s in the news again right now, with professional football player Ray Rice slugging his fiancé in the face and knocking her unconscious.

It’s in India, where reports of gang rapes are commonplace. It’s in countries where religious zealots feel so threatened by educated women that they put a bullet into the head of a teenage girl—who miraculously survives. It’s Boko Haram kidnapping hundreds of Nigerian school girls. It is everywhere. It is sheer insanity. This violence against women is insanity. It is the human race at war with itself.
As I write this I have just finished a long walk at Black Butte Ranch, a setting much like Lake Tahoe.

This time, I walked alone. Now I have a 15-year-old daughter. And I cannot help but wonder where all the fathers are, whose sons need them growing up? Whose daughters need them for a lifetime? Where are the men who will hold accountable these wild animals from the species homo sapien who belong in cages?

Every decade, more sons and daughters in this country grow up without their fathers. It’s now at 24 million American children who live without their biological fathers, and counting. Twenty four million.
I think back to that simple act of strength by the father we came across on a summer night in Lake Tahoe. Like 15-year-olds everywhere, my daughter is surrounded by boys who mix two parts testosterone with the common sense and decency of bark dust.

I watch, and listen, and cannot help but wonder. Where are all the fathers who demand a world of common sense and decency for their daughters, and who hold their sons accountable?
They are too few. And too far between.

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So, you want to be a better dad?

Hey dads—and women married to dads. My good friend Michelle Watson, PhD, runs a 9-month program for dads of daughters in their teens and twenties. It’s all about what she’s found over the years as a therapist, mentor, and author about what young women need from their fathers, and what dads can learn about facing these years with intention.

I highly recommend her program, having gone through it. It begins again later this month, in Portland, and she has openings for two more dads. If you want to give your daughter(s) the best possible father, check out her web site:

You’ll find her deeply soulful. And entertaining as hell.

If you can’t take her program, or don’t live in Portland, her book is great:

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Courageous dad, mom, & daughter

One heroic dad, heroic mom, heroic daughter. If this doesn’t change how you look at life, not much will.

It’s a portrait in true courage, for sure.

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On Fatherhood Lost

A grieving Steven R. Woods is sitting, slumped forward, sobbing inconsolably. He hugs to his chest a folded American flag that earlier had covered the casket in front of him.

In 1964 his father—Army Staff Sgt. Lawrence Woods—was shot down during a resupply mission near Bu Prang, Vietnam. It took nearly 50 years to find his remains. On March 21 of this year those remains were put into a casket and returned to the earth as a funeral service was held for him at Arlington National Cemetery.

Three rifle volleys were fired to honor Woods and seven other young men killed during the mission. As Woods’ son accepted the folded flag, a U.S. Air Force band played. And then clutching that flag and a framed picture of his father, the younger Woods sat in his chair and surrendered to the pain and grief of having lost his father a half century ago.

Judging from the picture, Steven Woods would have been six or eight when his father was killed—old enough to have early memories of his father, young enough to need him for decades to come.

Gone was the man whose heroic work would take place not on a battlefield or at 24,000 feet above ground but under the roof of a home. Steven Woods lost the father and mentor he was just coming to know. He lost the man who would teach him how to field ground balls. How to play basketball on the driveway or schoolyard court. How to catch and gut a fish. How to respect the girls he would be drawn to. How to respect the men he would grow up with as peers or bosses. He lost the most important man in his life, the one whose love mattered.

Growing up, boys learn hundreds of lessons from their fathers on the paths to becoming men. When to hold the cards life gives you, and when to fold them and start over. They learn confidence by the competence their fathers help instill in them, from things as simple as how to change a bike tire to how to swim, to ski, to excel at school. They learn about God, in ways that are usually subtle and often unspoken. They learn about sex. About responsibility, accountability and authority.

Steven Woods’ sister Lisa lost her father too. If he could have been as heroic in fatherhood as he was in his military service, he would have been the man to reflect back to her her beauty, her lovability, her worthiness. Through his simple acts of attention and affection he would have helped his daughter internalize the lifelong beliefs, “I am attractive. I am interesting. I am worthy. Men are my equal. I don’t need their approval. I belong with them…”

He would have been there for her when she had problems with boys, when she was asked to a dance for the first time, when she had her heart broken. He would have been there during the drama and fury of adolescence. He would have been there to share the burden of disciplining his daughter and son.

Steven Woods and his sister lost holiday celebrations and birthdays with their father. They lost a part of themselves that they never became because their father was gone.

In a world of graphic and gruesome media coverage, the picture of Steven Woods shakes you to the core.


The raw enormity of that loss and grief is reflected in the anguish on his son’s face at his father’s memorial service. His anguish tells far more than the statistics—that 24 million American children live without their biological fathers. That growing up without a father significantly increases one’s chances of committing rape, committing suicide, or ending up incarcerated. The rates of poverty, mental illness, violence, dropping out of school, drug abuse and more are related to growing up without a father.

Mass culture almost trivializes fatherhood. It doesn’t confer status on those who dedicate their lives to it. It doesn’t translate into promotions at work, and in fact hinder careers. Fathers who insist on living balanced lives often fall behind co-workers who abandon their families to 70-hour workweeks.

There are still 1,642 Vietnam War veterans who remain unaccounted for. Those casualties didn’t end in southeast Asia. Nor are they ending in Syria, Iraq, throughout Africa and everywhere else in the world where men are dying by the thousands, filling the prisons, or simply walking away from the sons and daughters they brought into existence.

This is a day to remember Lawrence Woods, and the ordinary, decent men who do their best when no one has prepared them for the extraordinary demands of fatherhood. And just as well, it’s a day to appreciate the enormity of the demands placed upon the daughters who grow up to be single mothers, far too often called upon to fill the shoes left empty by the men who chose to leave or who were taken too early.

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The resurrection, revisited

The pastor reached out to me by email last Easter. He was so moved by my column about “Katie” that he read it to his congregation. When he finished, he told me, the church was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop, except for those who were crying.

Katie was my sixth grade girlfriend at a middle-class school in east Multnomah County. At 12 she was cute; six years removed from that innocence she was striking, working as a stripper and tucking into her g-string the dollar bills that came flying her way on the stage.

I was living near San Francisco by then. With six years and 600 miles between us, Katie and I had long since lost track of each other.

I found her decades later and asked if she would share her life story with me for my book about fathers and daughters. She was living in Las Vegas, after a long stint in San Diego. She’d relocated there, when she could no longer care for her two kids in Portland, and moved in with a romantic interest she’d met on the Internet.

When I first reached her by email, Katie had no interest in talking with me about her father.

“I am the wrong person for your book. My dad had nothing to do with who I am. Life did. I grew up without a dad. No…I am not pissed off…although it does sound like it with my reply.”

At 15, Katie aborted her first pregnancy. Her next 30 years were a blur of drinking, drugs, strip joints, chain smoking and men who momentarily filled the void left by a dismissive and abusive father.

Her first husband, she found out quickly, was gay. Her second dealt cocaine. A third and fourth were mixed in with three suicide attempts. Her final surrender came in 2001 when she consumed a bottle of Tylenol and chased it with two bottles of wine with as the ultimate pain reliever. She went into cardiac arrest and was in a coma for three days.

Surviving that suicide attempt was a miracle. Within a few years she experienced another miracle, with her father.

When her mother had health problems several years ago, Katie moved to Nevada to live with her for a month—and with her father, the perpetrator of violence against her as a girl. That month turned into two years.

During that time Katie began to see that she did, indeed, have a father, and that he had shaped her profoundly. An email to me about nine months later was more tempered and reflective than her first:

“You know, I really believe that my bad luck with men stems from my relationship with my father. As a grown woman in her fifties, there is still a little girl inside of me who is waiting for her knight in shining armor. I still long for the father I never had. Although these feelings are manageable now, they continue to haunt me.”

Soon after that, she agreed to meet with me and tell me her story for my book. In Nevada, Katie told me, she began venturing alone into the desert. “I found big therapy there,” she said. “You go out there and listen to nothing and you’re going to hear a lot. You can’t run from yourself anymore when there’s nowhere to go.”
During her coma in 2001 she had a communion with God. “That’s when everything turned around for me, because I didn’t see Him, but I knew there was a presence and I was somewhere I’ve never been before in this life. It’s not of this life. It was something completely different.

“I just clearly remember feeling or hearing this thought that said, ‘You have something very large to do. And you have to stay around to get it done.’”

With that spiritual awakening Katie weaned herself from cigarettes, booze, Valium, Xanax, Vicodin and Percoset. As her head cleared, so did her relationship with her father.

“From age 51 until 53, that’s when my relationship with my father was repaired, because I was repaired. I got him to try to see life sober, to see the beauty in things around him, to get in touch with himself and his feelings and his past.”

Her father began to notice the miracle that was his only daughter. “He saw me working with my art, my painting, my jewelry. He got to know how I think and how I feel. We both grew in that two and a half years and our relationship benefited from it immensely. I’m not mad at him anymore. He was a very sick man and he didn’t know how to ask for help.

“It took two years for me to realize the man loves me. He just didn’t have the right tools to show me and he didn’t have the tools to be a good parent. Now when we’re together, we have a great time. It’s almost as if he’s at peace now and he’s let go of his issues and forgiven himself.”

He first told Katie he loved her when she was 52. “I about fell over,” she said. “I actually stopped what I was doing and turned around and said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I love you. I think you should know that.’”

Then they stood together and cried. “I told him that I’ve forgiven him. It choked me up, because I thought he was just a hard-nosed jerk. But he’s a real soft man. I think the years of abuse that he did to himself and the way his mother treated him, he just didn’t know how to get off that.

“I am truly grateful I have him now, rather than never having him and holding on to the anger and resentment that followed me all my life. How stifling it was for me and him, also.”

Katie and I stay in touch now. I recently reached out to her and asked if I could share the next chapter in her resurrection story. She said yes.

Katie now works as a mental health specialist with an agency. “Please tell those who are interested that I am now a successful person helping the mentally ill. I finally make a difference to others in a positive way. I love my job and I love my life now.

“When I went to the other side in my last suicide attempt and the voice I heard told me I had much more to do, I really believe this is it. There have been countless times when I have been filled with so much joy watching someone leave our facility and they tell me, ‘Thank You. You have no idea how much you have helped me.’ That’s when I feel God’s love bursting inside of me and I am so grateful I made the decision I did to forgive my father. I cannot even begin to describe the spiritual blessing I feel from that.
But I see it all the time in the work I do.

“This work is why He saved me. It has taught me so much. I see women come through who are so messed up. It’s like seeing myself how I used to be. My heart aches for them. They seem drawn to me and I spend a lot of time talking with them and listening to their stories. They come in all broken and sad. After two weeks, they are stable on their meds and everyday they can comprehend more reality and all the work they need to do. When I share with them parts of my own mental illness they ask me so many questions…How did you get well? What is your secret?

“Basically I tell them I give it to God and I worked very hard to save my life. When they leave they are stronger and hopeful. This makes my heart smile, that I have touched them enough to want to try.

“I hope you are as proud of me as I am of myself. It’s taken my whole life to get here. Some find their way faster than others. Some never find their way at all….but I did.”

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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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