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The Role of a Father

November 28th, 2012by Bob Wurzelbacher

My 4-year old daughter is in love with Belle, the Disney princess from Beauty and the Beast.  Ever since she watched the movie, she has wanted to imitate her. She dressed up like her for Halloween (and I donned a Beast costume as well), and we had a lovely dance to end our evening of Halloween festivities last month.

She also likes to play the part of Belle.  Recently, we were outside playing with my other 9-month old daughter when my four-year old said she wanted to play “Beauty and the Beast.”  “I am Belle”, she said, “And you are the Beast.”  Well, those role assignments were certainly no surprise.  I’m glad I wasn’t relegated to the talking candle holder or a tea cup.

We had recently seen the Disney movie, and I recalled the scene where Belle discovered her father imprisoned by the Beast.  The Beast said to Belle, “Your father is my prisoner. You are not welcome here.”  Belle in return said, “If you let him go, I will become your prisoner.”  The Beast agreed.  This scene immediately jumped to mind, so I picked up our baby and using my best beast voice I said, “Your sister is my prisoner, you are not welcome here.”  My daughter immediately responded, “If you let her go, I will not become your prisoner, but I’ll send you my Daddy.”

I thought that was pretty funny, throwing Daddy under the bus.  Still, my first thought was that this wasn’t the response I was looking for. After all, we’re just playing.  Shouldn’t I be hoping to form in her some self-sacrificial sense?

But, then, after a little reflection, I realized that her response was exactly what it should have been. Movie references aside, no 4 year old girl should be thinking to herself, even in play, that there is a circumstance under which she needs to sacrifice her life. Share her cookies? Sure. Let her sister play with her toys?  You bet.  But her life and safety? That is her parent’s job, and if she is fortunate enough to have a father in her life, it is in particular her father’s job.

I read a book recently by Dr. Meg Meeker, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.”  In it, Dr. Meeker uses statistical data from multiple studies interspersed with personal stories from her own experience as a pediatrician and counselor, to make a strong case for the importance of fathers in the lives of their daughters.  A young girl naturally wants to look up to her father and view him as a leader, protector and provider, and will likely see that man’s relationship with her mother (good or bad) for the way men ought to be.  Daughters learn more from how their fathers treat their mothers than anywhere else how they should expect to be treated by men in future relationships.

At four years old, my daughter is clearly still forming this sense of being loved and protected and cared for, and throwing her father under the bus for the sake of her sister is perfectly in align with what she should be thinking. In fact, I’m rather thankful of that response. If she had volunteered herself, I think it would suggest a lack of faith or trust in the role her father should play in protecting her family from the Beast.  As it stands, I am grateful that my daughter—despite  the example she clearly had in mind from what is currently her favorite movie—saw it fit to turn the tables and make up her own ending, one that tells me she sees no need to sacrifice herself right now because she knows her Daddy can do that. And that is all she needs to know right now.

Bob Wurzelbacher

Bob Wurzelbacher serves as Associate Director for the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. He also serves as Pastoral Associate for Liturgy at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish in Reading. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Cindy, and two young daughters.