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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2012

Father's Day: Now it's every day

Fathers and daughters often share a special, tight bond

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kirk Baird and his daughter, Lainie spend time together at Wildwood Preserve Metropark. Kirk Baird and his daughter, Lainie spend time together at Wildwood Preserve Metropark.
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I looked down at my newborn daughter as I cradled her in a warm blanket, smiled, and said her name for the first time. "Lainie."

My wife, Sarah, meanwhile, exhausted by labor and delivery, was briefly abandoned to the sidelines to think, "Well, I guess that's her name."

We had gone into the delivery room with three possible name choices; based on an instant connection I had with my daughter, the name Lainie just felt like the perfect fit. Five and a half years later on Father's Day, I'm convinced I got that one right.

If only being a father to a daughter were so easy and quick with these kinds of big decisions. Instead, the gender gap that bonds can also be a barrier. Dolls, dresses, pigtails, Disney princesses -- they're often uncomfortable rites of passage for dads of little girls. And I'm still years away from the teen years, and then college, and then meeting her first serious boyfriend.

But through it all, if I do my job right as a parent, I expect my daughter and I to remain close. Society says the daddy-daughter bond is special, and there is something to that belief, said Dr. Tim Valko, a Toledo psychiatrist for two decades.

"I think there's something truly special about a father and a daughter that's definitely not a mother and daughter or even a dad and son. I think there's a sense of protection from the father and the daughters sense that.

"Those bonds between parents and kids are important, but the bond between a father and a daughter does seem to be especially tight."

I'd like to think my daughter and I bonded the moment we first made eye contact. At least, that's what movies sell us, and as usual, Hollywood and real life couldn't be much more different.

I think our first moment of bonding, strangely enough, came after we'd been apart for several months. I'd taken the job at The Blade while my wife and daughter remained in Las Vegas to sell our house. Lainie and I had been separated for two months before their first visit during a hot September weekend. When I met them at the airport, it was like seeing a different child as my 1 1/2-year-old ran to meet me and give me the first of many, many big hugs to come during that quick visit.

Jay Wagner, 42, of Holland, remembers the first time he and his daughter, Ashley, 5, had their first "significant bonding moment" as well.

"She was 3 [and] she and I went out to breakfast together for the first time -- just the two of us. I felt like everyone was watching us. I'm sure that wasn't the case, but for some reason it seemed like everyone knew this was the first 'Daddy Date' between father and daughter. While I was looking so forward to our little outing together, part of me was also just hoping all would go smoothly -- no problems getting ourselves situated at our table, no worries keeping Ashley entertained, no unforeseen outbursts, etc.

"Ashley was awesome. It was as if she knew this was supposed to be a significant step in our ever-developing relationship. She was engaging me with the … activities on her kid's placemat, she was chatting a mile a minute, and she just seemed like a little lady all of a sudden. It felt so rewarding, and I was so proud of her for acting so grown up and making what could have been a memorable morning for all the wrong reasons, one which I won't forget for all the right reasons."

Being a dad can be trying, of course. It's being a referee to the inevitable mother-daughter conflicts that seem to escalate each year as daughters grow older and want to assert their independence. It's smiling through fashion shows, and enjoying a daughter's empty cups of "tea," along with a dinner of plastic bananas, apples, broccoli, cauliflower, and anything else she might find in her kitchen set. It's praying she doesn't have to go to the bathroom when you're alone with her at a restaurant and there are no family restrooms. It's sharing some of your favorite movies, music, sports, and other interests, and hoping it will rub off on her. It's finding good female role models in the world to point to. Most importantly, it's being there for her.

"It really is important for parents to always be available for their kids," Dr. Valko said. "If a daughter has issues or questions, she needs to know she can come to you and you'll do your best to listen -- not give judgment.

"Younger kids and especially adolescents, they expect their father to start lecturing, but sometimes they are not really looking for answers; just sit down with her and hear what she says. When your child says, 'I need to talk with you,' stop what you're doing and listen ... "

Once a daughter knows a father is willing to do that, Dr. Valko said, the talks may not be as frequent as she gets older, "but they will be more important."

Contrary to what dads may think, daughters are pretty tough and incredibly resilient, so don't be afraid of making a few mistakes.

"If you don't make a mistake as a parent," he said, "then you're probably not parenting enough."

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-725-6734.



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