Raising a daughter is one of the scariest endeavors I’ve ever faced. Once we got past the toddler phase with our son, I had a fairly good idea of what to do; we played catch, we talked about sports and we laughed at body noises. I made my share of mistakes raising our son, but I was at least on familiar ground.

When our daughter came along, that completely changed. We also played catch, talked about sports and laughed at body noises, at least when she was young, but there were so many more layers to our relationship. When my son did something dumb I could just say: “Dude, don’t ever do that again. Got it?” and it was settled. With my daughter, that simple sentence led to incredible levels of angst and emotion. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter, but there were so many things I didn’t understand, and I know I baffled her as well.

My daughter is grown now and living on her own. We have a great relationship, but I often wish I could go back and try again to be a better father. There are so many things I wish she understood about how I felt as her dad, but I didn’t have the words. I can’t go back, but I can pass on a few things I know most dads wish their daughters knew about them.

Dads will always see their daughter as their little girl.

My daughter is a beautiful young woman living halfway across the country. She has an apartment, a career, and a boyfriend. But to me, she is still that talented little girl rollerblading in our driveway. Even though she is all grown up and capable of taking care of herself, she is still daddy’s little girl. But that perspective can inadvertently present itself as not seeing her for the talented adult that she is. In my words and actions, I need to remind myself (and her) that I am proud of the capable adult she is becoming.

Read more: Secrets for Dads from a Daughter

Dads have a God-given instinct to protect.

Every healthy father has a deep desire to protect his little girl from harm. It’s not because he doesn’t think she can take care of herself, or that he thinks girls are less capable than boys. When dads insist on more background checks than the CIA on a potential boyfriend, he is simply responding to the ingrained need to protect his daughter from harm. Our daughters think it’s a pain, but it’s what we do. It’s in our job description. As dads, we need to remind ourselves that this can look like we trust our sons more, or that girls can’t manage themselves. It can help to talk to our daughters about our dad instincts within the context of how much we cherish them.

Dads want a window into their daughter’s world.

When my daughter was young, we talked all the time. We talked about sports and music and Spongebob Squarepants. As she moved into the teen years, however, it became harder and harder to find common ground. Eventually, she felt like I was prying and snooping more than just trying to talk. While there was some snooping going on (see the point above), mostly I just wanted to know what she liked, what she cared about, and what she thought. It means the world to a dad when he gets a peek into his daughter’s world. I have found that asking open-ended questions about her likes, dislikes, and inviting her to share her feelings about them—versus asking what she is doing and why—opens that window without putting her on the defensive.

Dads often don’t understand how daughters feel.

I am sure dads seem completely clueless to their daughters, and often it’s because they are. Girls process experiences through a completely different lens than boys, so dads often have no map for the world of emotions. We aren’t being insensitive or uncaring, we honestly have no idea what our daughters are feeling. Expecting a dad to intuitively know how they feel is like asking a blind man to understand color. Dad wants to understand, but he needs help. Here’s where opening your eyes and ears (while keeping your mouth mostly shut) can be helpful. Notice her body language and the look on her face while she is talking. Be honest and tell her when you don’t understand, and invite her to help you get there. Don’t feel like you have to fix whatever is wrong even though you will desperately want to.

Dads want their daughters to be happy and successful when they grow up.

A dad thinks all the time about what his daughter’s life will be like when she leaves the house. He worries that the decisions made now will have a negative impact down the road. He knows that the wrong friends, the wrong activities and the wrong experiences can have consequences for the rest of their life. He doesn’t mean to ruin his daughter’s life now, but he wants her future to be amazing. But this can come across as, “Dad never wants me to have fun.” So invite your daughter to share what she’s dreaming about for her life, try to suspend judgement, and listen. Look her right in the eye, and tell her she’s beautiful and talented and the daughter you’ve always dreamed of.

Things to Consider

  1. Have you taken the time to tell your daughter how you feel about her? For some dads, this much emotion can feel uncomfortable and you might struggle with the right words. Consider writing your daughter a letter or a note that she can keep for years to come.
  2. Consider sharing one or more of the points above with your daughter that especially rings true with you. Helping her to understand your role as her dad can open up great conversation.