07/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Fathers: Give Up Your Day for Your Daughters

No, I am not necessarily talking about your own daughter who I assume you are taking care of, but those daughters that are called Paraya Dhan which means "somebody else's property," those daughters who fetch water all day, those daughters who may be 9 or 10 years old but have to be mothers to their younger siblings, or are given in marriage before puberty to older men, daughters who are not in school because are not considered worthy of an education but instead are used, abused, mutilated and trafficked.

This Father's Day, this Centennial of Father's Day, why not give up our day, as fathers, and focus on the centuries-old plight of girls such as those in India, in Benin, in Guatemala, in Yemen, who suffer day in and day out. Our own daughters' dignity is upheld when we support those other daughters who are less fortunate. Conversely, when those girls abroad are treated as objects or animals, our own daughters' dignity is diminished. Ultimately, all of them are our daughters.

"Boys should go with their fathers and girls with their mothers, because it is hard for us men to understand our daughters' issues" stated emphatically a man during a meeting my teenage daughter and I held with a group of fathers in New Delhi, India last January.

It is no wonder that there are 426 girls out of school for every 100 boys in India, according to UNESCO. In fact, of the 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 64% of them are women. Thus the vicious cycle continues since an illiterate mother is far less likely to send her daughters to school.

And who holds the keys to a girl's education in these countries? Well, the fathers. Sudha Parthasarathy, Executive Director for Deepalaya, an educational NGO in New Delhi, recounts that what she hears most often is: "I want my daughter to attend school but her father has to agree."

It is a fact that most of the countries in the developing world in which girls don't have access to school or drop out in greater numbers than boys are led by traditional, often religious men. Thus the need to involve men, and especially traditional and even religious men who have seen the light on these issues to work with other traditional/religious men and help them see the importance of their daughters' education.

I am a traditional and religious man and father who grew up in the macho-dominated culture of Latin America. I used to think that it was enough for my daughter to be pretty, learn how to cook and find a good husband to take care of all her needs. And of course, at the same time, I was encouraging my two boys to study hard, be competitive and prepare to succeed in the professional world.

Then it hit me. Do I know my daughter's favorite color? Have I made an effort to relate to her? Do I know her dreams and aspirations? Perhaps she wants to be an astronaut. Maybe she does not even want to get married. Or she may want to have both a career and a family.

So, thankfully I changed. My daughter changed me. Her drive for sports. Her desire to be a professional -- to succeed in different arenas. Her independent streak and fearlessness when it comes to taking initiative.

As a changed father, I want to provide every opportunity for my daughter. But not just for my daughter, but those other daughters who need our help.

And this is our challenge -- could we fathers, this Father's Day, this one day in a hundred years, think about what challenges these other daughters in India, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Benin are going through, what opportunities could be available to them, and how we could help them better themselves?

A day we give up for them may amount to a drastic redirecting for the better of these girls' entire lives.