We are very excited to be able to share this interview we did with Dr. Michelle Watson. Dr. Watson recently released her new book: Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart. (Which, by the way, we highly recommend).
Fatherville: Tell us what motivated you to start using Twitter as @mwatsonphd.
Dr. Michelle Watson: I started using Twitter a year and a half ago because my book was about to launch and I had little to no connections with people outside my local area. Since then it has been so fun to meet those who share a similar passion for fathering through Twitter because we wouldn’t have met any other way!
FV: Tell us why you have a heart for Fathers and Daughters?
MW: I am the oldest of four girls so my poor dad was always outnumbered. This, I would say, is the first variable that has impacted my heart for fathers and daughters. I also have mentored and counseled girls in their teens and 20’s for most of my adult life, giving me a vantage point of hearing their heart cries and longings. One consistent theme I’ve heard over the last 35 years is that most girls wish they were closer to their dads.
I realize that men and women have different definitions of the word “close” (which is something I address in my book), with most dads thinking they are closer to their daughter than what their daughter might say or feel about her relationship with her dad. This isn’t about who is getting the details of the story right, but it’s about dads choosing to dial in to his daughter’s heart needs in a way that she feels his heart turned towards hers.
Out of this felt need, I started The Abba Project in January of 2010 by inviting 11 dads whose daughters between the ages of 13 and 30 were my counseling clients at the time, asking if they would want to meet together once a month for six months to see if there would be a change in them, their daughter, and their relationship. To my surprise, ten of the 11 said “yes.” We ended up meeting for a year, and since then I’ve honed it to a nine month, once-a-month group format where dads of daughters gather together as a “band of brothers” while I am what they call their “token female” to help them better understand and relate to their daughters.
For me to see the way these dads engage, lead, and pursue to their daughter’s hearts has yielded benefit beyond what I could have imagined! I remember one dad last year saying that as a result of the group he now was a better dad even to his sons, as well as his wife, and a better manager at work. Why? Because he had put into ACTION the things he was learning, and as a result the overflow impacted his other relationships and his work. Win-win! The action part is key because change doesn’t happen with theoretical ideas that stay stuck in our heads. This is about hearts turning—dad towards daughter. As a result, daughters thrive!
And because I’ve had requests from dads who aren’t in Portland, Oregon, asking how to be more dialed in as a dad, this led to write my first book titled “Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart.” My desire in writing it has been to give men a road map that guides them in practical ways to take positive action steps with their daughters in a way that opens up conversation and dialogue while allowing them to connect at a heart level, thus developing a closer bond.
You ask about why I have a heart for fathers and daughters. It truly is because I believe our entire country will strengthen as women are more solid in their identities, leading them to can change the world out of their gifts and passions with more clarity and confidence. And without a doubt, a woman with a dad who believes in her and invests well in her stands out in a crowd. I long for the day when every daughter in America will be well loved by her dad in ways that she knows it and feels it so that out of that space our entire culture will be healthier and stronger.
FV: How long have you been a champion for strengthening and building up the father/daughter relationship?
MW: It’s been six years now…and I’m going to be investing in this area until my last breath! I am so passionate about the dad-to-daughter connection, and it is my joy to see the lights come on in fathers as they better understand the things their daughters need them to do and say. I’ve come to discover that many dads didn’t have solid role models with their own fathers, and as a result, are lacking a road map and tools in the area of fathering. So my goal is to partner with their heart desire to be a great dad and help fill in the blanks when it comes to understanding their daughters from my vantage point as a woman. And not only is it me filling in the blanks, but it’s equipping them to ask their daughters about what she needs while making amends when need be, which then propels daughters to move forward in a more positive way.
FV: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for raising daughters in today’s culture?
MW: Clearly this answer is multi-faceted. For starters, a reality is that girls are exposed to things well beyond their years before they are developmentally ready to “go there.” And often they are left on their own to process, understand, and/or make wise choices in response—-sometimes because they don’t let their parents know what’s going on and sometimes because there is peer pressure to conform or natural curiosity that ends up going sour or even denial about the negative realities of a choice she’s made, resulting often in deep shame or embarrassment. And at younger and younger ages, girls are up close and personal to intense dynamics with their friends, ranging from cutting or dealing with an eating disorder, rape, abuse, and on it goes. And many are being influenced to have sex earlier and earlier while feeling like an outcast if they don’t keep up with the choices friends are making, be it with drugs or alcohol, etc.
Suffice it to say that since we live in such a fast paced society with messages coming in quicker than we can blink, our daughters are vulnerable to influences that don’t always empower them as individuals to stay unique and pursue goals that are their own. Whether or not we are always aware of it, our culture often objectifies women, leading to watering down the strengths in our girls so that they lose their individuality while being told they need to blend in and use their bodies or sexuality to reach their goals rather than their minds and intellect and talents or skills. Girls easily stop dreaming because somehow the message has been given that the dream can’t happen anyway (too expensive, not practical, too hard, etc). The sabotage may come from outside forces or from within herself, but if a dad stays connected to her dreams and goals while helping her achieve them and navigate the challenges, she will thrive.
This is where my passion is fueled for equipping dads to dial in to their daughter because repeatedly in the research it is clear that the most significant influence in a daughter’s life is her dad and her mom. And with daughters, dads were the first man to have her heart and if he keeps connected to hers, she will more boldly and confidently navigate her life choices. She needs her dad to believe in her and help her reach her goals with his support and encouragement, even when the chips are down.
Perhaps you’ve heard the quote that “more is caught than taught.” I continue telling fathers to be the person they want their daughters to become or to marry. Dad, let your life behind closed doors match the lectures you’re giving her and the things you’re teaching her. How you live your life will go further than anything you say.
The reason I share all this is to say that regardless of the challenges in our culture for girls to look a certain way, weigh a certain number, buy certain clothes, do certain things to fit in, etc., if fathers continue to look in the direction of their daughter’s hearts (and her eyes) while investing time, your daughter will soar. When a daughter knows that her dad enjoys her, pursues her, and is interested in her life, her confidence will strengthen and she has the power and support to literally change the world! It will be less about her and more about seeing that she has the ability to impact the world around her. She needs her dad to believe in her even when she doesn’t believe in herself, and especially when she doubts that she has what it takes to succeed.
Remember the song “Cats in the Cradle?” It serves as a powerful reminder that the time invested now matters the most because you’ll blink and your daughter will be all grown up. The only time you have is NOW to invest in her future and yours.
FV: What are some of your favorite parenting books? Any books specifically for building the Father/Daughter relationship?
MW: One of my favorites is Strong Fathers/Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker.
If someone wants a spiritually specific book, I would recommend The Price of a Pearl by Maurice Hilliard, former women’s basketball coach at Pepperdine University, and Prized Possession by Alan Smyth.
And any book by Joe Kelley, called “The Dad Man,” is excellent….specifically one called Dads & Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter When She’s Growing Up So Fast.
FV: What in your opinion is one of the biggest challenges fathers face today when it comes to raising daughters?
MW: Since I’m from Venus where we tend towards having more words rather than less, I am going to give a three-fold answer to this question! (I’ll give you three “T’s” to make it easier to organize these ideas)
I know that most men have full time jobs and then commitments on the side. Clearly there is a definite need for self care (which may include working out, alone time, time with friends, etc), making it challenging oftentimes to choose to invest face to face time with a daughter. It’s so easy to have life take over and not take the TIME to initiate and pursue his daughter’s heart. But that is the first place to start if a dad wants to raise a healthy, solid, strong, empowered daughter.
I believe it’s a challenge for fathers with daughters to keep their anger at bay, especially as she ages and matures and has a mind of her own. Her pace and wiring are different than dads and that often creates challenges, especially when she hits adolescence. In fact, when dads ask me what the one thing they need to focus on to be a great dad, I will say: “drop the anger.” Because of the fact that most of us are busier than we’d like to be, it’s easy when we’re maxed out to have a smaller emotional margin to handle life when things go sideways. The reality is that as women we have 11% more neurons in our brain centers involved in hearing and language as compared to men, leading us oftentimes to be better skilled at expressing emotions. This means that her responses tend towards more emotionality. As a result, dads often “lose it” and then their daughters bear the brunt of scars due to words spoken in anger that weren’t aligned with her dad’s heart. Dads must take time to cool often before responding if they want to avoid hurting (and/or destroying) her heart.
After six years now of traveling to Mars (!!), I’ve discovered that men would rather do nothing than do it wrong. Yet I continue to say to dads that “doing nothing IS doing it wrong.” Their response? “Then tell me what to do to do it right.” That’s where the toolbox comes in. I have sought, both in The Abba Project and in my book, to give dads the exact scripts to open up what I call “deeper dialogue” with their daughters. The goal is to equip dads to lead the conversations so they can get know each other better. We on Venus tend to figure things out by talking….so this is a gift to us when our dads help us process what’s inside ourselves. I would encourage dads to pursue their daughter’s hearts with the same motivation and passion as they do their work and their work outs. By consistently initiating and being intentional in pursuit of their daughters heart, it will not only change her life but I believe it will change his, as well as the landscape of our country as girls live from their hearts and not from their hearts because dad helped her live from that space.
FV: Growing up–who were your childhood heroes?
MW: For whatever reason I was never one of those kids who had a hero. I have always been wired to look underneath things, I guess you could say. No one seemed perfect enough or heroic enough for me to idolize them or set them up.
FV: Who are your heroes today?
MW: But I’ve come a ways since childhood and now can say that I do have heroes. I have people whom I deeply respect because they’ve survived and done courageous things out of love for others.
First, my mom is probably my biggest hero. She has survived some pretty intense realities, including abuse as a child. And yet she is one of the most vibrant, faith-filled, prayer-loving, generous, wise, kind, optimistic, tender women I have ever known.
Second, I would say my dad. He also had a really rough upbringing—extreme poverty, in gangs on the South side of Chicago growing up, no real dad around to invest or steer him, etc. Yet he learned to work hard from the time he was six years old and has sought to be a dad who was active in his daughters lives, unlike the model he had set before him.
And last, every dad who has been part of The Abba Project and seeks to pursue his daughter’s heart intentionally is my hero. To see these dads meet month after month, while being willing to learn from me—a woman—-all out of love for their daughter, is something that brings me more joy that I can even put into words! And as dads around the country begin to write me and tell me how they’re putting their love into action by taking things I talk about in my book and making them happen with their girls means that my list of heroes is growing…one dad at a time!
FV: Dr. Watson, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments to date?
MW: I used to never think I was smart and have always said that I’ve “simply worked hard in school to get where I’m at.” I’ve had to face huge fears inside myself in order to earn my doctorate because I honestly didn’t think I could do it. With my deep faith in God and a lot of support from family and a few friends, I put one foot in front of the other and did it! I would call that an accomplishment. It was more than letters after my name and was about facing the giants in my life that sought to sabotage any growth.
The second thing that truly terrified me was writing a book. Yet again, with support from others and lots of faith + prayer, it happened. My deepest desire has been to write something that would truly impact in real time the relationship that dads have with their girls. I believe that dad wounds and dad voids lead girls to go “looking for love in all the wrong places” to assuage the wound or fill the void. As a solution, I have sought to put a tool in the hands of fathers who want to change the course of their daughter’s lives for the better. As I continue to get more feedback as time goes on, my joy grows and I do a big happy dance over and over because my dream is coming to life! Dads are reading my book and doing the work to connect with their daughters. There’s no greater accomplishment, I can assure you that!
FV: Tell us a little bit more about yourself. Your passions, hobbies, and goals for the future.
MW: I would say that I’m an outlier on a bell curve in that I am 55 years old and have never been married! Super crazy and not what I ever thought would be my life story! I’ve been involved in counseling and mentoring girls for my entire adult life and absolutely LOVE being able to love girls well…and yet I never had the opportunity to have children of my own. Instead, however, I get to now channel all that love into what I’m doing in my day job as a counselor and into teaching fathers how to better love their girls. My life has deep meaning as a result and I love my life!
I’m also a very right brain dominant woman, meaning I love to play the piano and sing, as well as create one-of-a-kind art by painting on canvas. Any creative, artistic venture is something that I enjoy.
I live in Portland, Oregon where we have a lot of rain, beautiful mountains and rivers, and beaches on the Pacific Ocean. We’re also known for food carts and awesome food eateries. For fun I enjoy everything from jogging in my neighborhood to meeting friends for Happy Hour at fun restaurants in my city.
I’m blessed to have the house I have with friends and family who love and support me. I’m also traveling more these days and love speaking at conferences where I meet enthusiastic men and women who want to grow and learn. My new favorite venture has been speaking at men’s conferences, which is highly unusual as a woman. And yet when men hear how I am championing their cause and want to help them decode their daughters so they can parent with more precision, I am making more and more new friends.
You can find out more about Dr. Michelle Watson on her website at:www.drmichellewatson.comTweet