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5 of the Toughest Things Every Father Needs to Talk to His Daughter About

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This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the five toughest things every father needs to talk to his daughter about?
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Answer by Sanjay Sabnani, Asian Dad

As a father of three daughters, I think about them and their future constantly; especially now that my eldest daughter is headed off to college. I am not sure if I have done an adequate job in training her properly, but hopefully I can still make an impact if I keep talking to her and answering her life questions.

I would probably summarize my advice to her or my other daughters as follows:

Self Reliance. You are not someone's property or in their care. All humans must stand on their own two feet and take care of their individual and societal responsibilities. Do not let the labels mother, daughter, sister, wife, or girlfriend limit or define you. You were born in the presence of those who love you most and if you live a good life, may you die surrounded by those who you love the most. Above all else, you are in charge of your body and your sexuality. Use them wisely as you see fit and do not let anyone tell you what you can do with your physical being. Even when your body fails you, your mind will carry you forward through life. Invest in your mind and learn what you can.

Perseverance. You have grown up thinking that your parents have their lives together. This is a lie. We have made countless mistakes while you have been in our care, but we could not allow ourselves to give up because we learned how to persevere and maintain hope from our parents and theirs. You will never give up, you will never surrender and you will never lose hope. It is not genetically acceptable for you to lose your will because you are just the manifestation of countless generations that have preceded you. The fact that you exist means that everyone who came before you still exists. This is the responsibility you carry with you every day and it can fuel you to great heights if you embrace it. Fail every day in every way and learn from your mistakes, but do not wallow in sorrow or self-pity because you are born into a privilege that your forefathers could not have imagined.

Relationships. You must learn that the people around you have a tremendous ability to influence you for the better or worse. Choose your friends wisely and surround yourself with people who are better and wiser than you. It can be painful to not be the best, smartest, fastest, or wealthiest among your peers, but the sooner you learn to find your balance, the better off you will be. Do not avoid people who are better than you until you learn what they have and how to get it. Learn how to love and be loved by those you befriend. The people who accompany you through life will be your biggest influence; choose them wisely. Discard people who hurt you or make you feel bad, but not before you learn how they made you feel bad so you can stop others from doing the same in the future. In matters of the heart, choose your love the same way you would choose your friends. In other words, find someone of quality to love. someone  who is better than you in some ways so that you can learn from them, but also someone whom you can teach. Love is not about gender or sexuality; it is about finding a person who you can make a family with. You may or may not decide to have children in the future. This is your choice, but please understand that reproduction is how you got here in the first place. If you cannot bear children of your own then give your love to a child who needs a home. If the thought of having children creeps you out, then go forth and create something so that you can leave behind a legacy and do credit to your ancestors. If you have children, then promise me that you will give them a better life than you had; just like your mom and I have made sure that your experience was better than ours.

Intoxication. Getting drunk or high is a part of human society. You must learn your limits for yourself, but you must also learn that intoxication often leads to devastation. Whether this is because people become addicted, or do stupid things while under the influence, intoxicants and the intoxicated are not to be taken lightly. If you must drink  then do so socially and only in the company of others. Do not take a drink until after sunset. Do not make decisions or communicate with people who are not physically in your presence while you are intoxicated. Who knows? By the time you are older, cannabis may be fully legal and accepted. If it is, then lean towards this plant even above alcohol if you have a choice. Do not allow yourself to be alone with strangers if you are intoxicated. Immediately get yourself to safety and text or call me or your mom no matter where you are or what your condition. As a woman, men will seek to prey on you when you are weak or impaired. Assume the worst from people you do not know when drug and alcohol are present.

Money. Mastery over money will make your life better than you can ever imagine. Learn about investing, saving, and making money. Ask everyone what they do and keep asking more and more questions until you understand how they make money. When you know someone is well off or successful, ask them for tips and advice. The economy is invisible to many, but for those who understand money, it is a completely different experience. Save 10% of everything you make in cash for a rainy day. When you make more money, start investing it in mutual funds until you know enough to buy stocks. Do not think of investing as saving, think of it as a form of shopping because your goal should be to accumulate pieces of businesses and ideas until money is no longer an object. Do not borrow money and make it clear to your friends that you do not lend money either. Never ever gamble on games of chance without being aware that these games have ruined many peoples lives. When you spend money, spend it on investments and  experiences, not things. Your health and your time are both forms of wealth so treasure them the way you do the money you earn.

Life will be effortless if you learn how to rely upon yourself and your intellect; if you celebrate every failure as an opportunity to do things better the next time; if you learn how to have healthy, loving relationships with people who help you grow and improve; if you have a healthy amount of wariness around intoxicants and the intoxicated; and if you learn how to make money work for you instead of the other way around.

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Answer by Ian McCullough, Quora Contributor Since 2010

I am the father of a 2-year-old firecracker of a daughter, so my answer is largely my thoughts on the future. I'm also coming from the context of an American, suburban, two-parent household where both my wife and I are cisgendered heterosexuals; I can't really speak to what might be toughest in other types of families. Additionally, I do indeed agree with the premise built into the question that there are certain things that it is incumbent specifically upon fathers to say & do for daughters as we generally set the standard for them on how men typically behave.

While there are "big conversations" that parents need to have with any child (e.g., sex, drugs, smoking, physical safety, Internet safety and cyberbullying, camera consciousness), I think that the really tough ones are the things that you have to mindful of almost all of the time. As a universal example, my wife and I are very big on basic manners with our daughter. We insist upon pleases and thank you's, and in addition to nudging her verbally we also have to consciously and conscientiously make sure that we're modeling the behavior that we want to see. That diligence can get surprisingly challenging (especially when exhausted).

With all of that laid out, here are the things that I think are really important for fathers and daughters:
  1. "You are beautiful, inside and out." Note that this is not "you are always beautiful to me" or "in my eyes" or anything like that. This is a clear and direct assertion of an incontestable fact. It is rather staggering how quickly the world starts praising and judging girls on their appearance. I think that the message from Dad needs to be crystal clear: if the world starts telling you that you aren't beautiful, then the world is wrong. I think an important corollary to this is, "Your mother gets more beautiful every day." (I've repeatedly heard it said and seen it written that the best thing a father can do for his children is love their mother.)
  2. "I love you no matter what you do or what happens to you -- even when I get mad or sad." It is a stereotype that, as an orientation/gender, we straight males are often lacking in emotional awareness and vocabulary. I have personally found that stereotype to be frequently true. Regardless of where one is personally, I think it's important for fathers to reinforce to daughters that they are loved unconditionally.
  3. "Your hugs and kisses belong to you and are yours to give or not." In addition to judgement about appearances, it's also amazing the degree to which people (men and women alike) demand affection from small children -- especially girls. With a bit of foresight, one can see how this obligation to give affection taking root early can have potentially serious consequences down the road. While it may be perfectly sweet and appropriate to ask for a hug or a kiss, fathers need to be conscious about not demanding them and really diligent about taking "no" for an answer. Both parents should also be unflinching in standing up to other adults who insist upon affection. She has to be allowed to own herself.
  4. "Here's what I like to do and here's what I liked to do when I was your age." There can often be unchecked assumptions about "boy things" vs. "girl things." This is tough because these assumptions -- despite increased awareness -- are very pervasive. These assumptions can be very ingrained and tough to overcome. While there is the dimension of limiting her perception of her life opportunities, my point here is much more about missed opportunities for personal connection. If you as a father are really enthusiastic about sports, make sure you take your daughter to games and talk through your favorite aspects just like you would a son. If she doesn't take to it, that's fine -- but she'll have more insight into you and what you enjoy. One of the things guaranteed to put me in a blissful state these days is playing trains with my daughter. (My parents got her a Brio set like I used to have.) In years to come, I look forward to walking her through all of the Quora answers I've written.
  5. "It's not okay to hit, kick, or bite. Except that there may be times that you absolutely need to hit, kick, and bite." There are obviously HUGE variables around age and maturity here. For boys, rough-housing and physical confrontation are much more socially acceptable (if not socially encouraged). I think it's important that girls & women be prepared for the possibility of a physical confrontation -- specifically a physical confrontation with a male. Invite her to study a martial art. At the very least she should take some workshops where she can practice with a padded instructor. (SF Bay Area folks should check out Impact Bay Area. They have public classes for girls starting at 12, and can do private groups for younger kids.) I think that fathers should play an active role here in supporting self-esteem and body ownership... and in giving specific blessing to knee a male assailant in the testicles, gauge their eyes, or do whatever is necessary to -- if possible -- create an opportunity to escape. One more note on this: there can be a great, almost primal temptation for a father to position himself as a ferocious, shotgun-wielding menace for any that would dare lay a finger on his daughter. (My daughter is only two and -- generally when thinking forward 10-15 years -- I have already experienced the powerful primitive impulses of the teeth-gnashing, limb-removing Daddy-beast within.) The temptation of this notion is problematic on several fronts, not the least of which is that it can be more disempowering to a daughter than empowering. As I presented in #3, there should be a continuously supported message that she, not you or anyone else, owns her body.
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