My father was a military man. I loved him to bits. He was a man of stature; both physically and in rank. I was very proud of him and I can remember specific occasions which made me feel even more proud than usual. Like the times we would drive to his base camp in his big old Mercedes-Benz. We would be saluted by the guards at the gate and by everyone else in uniform as we made our way to the main building where his office was. Once there, we would walk into his big office at the end of the corridor – an office befitting to the senior rank he held with flags on both sides of his huge wooden desk. The walls were decorated with honorary awards of all kinds. Throughout his office, there were all sorts of interesting artefacts: Spent cannon shells, bayonets and scale models of military vehicles. Photographs of friends and foes with a story to each them scattered throughout. His office kept me busy for hours.
He was a senior officer, and I was the senior officer’s son – a title I keenly assigned to myself as if it was a rank in its own right. I believed that my dad could conquer the world! He was able to order the mobilisation of tanks and cannons and other armoured vehicles in a matter of hours. The politics and authorisations around doing was unknown to me, obviously. The way I saw it, he had what it took to move and shake the world! And because I was his son, I believed I had that too.
But I didn’t always feel this way about my dad. He did not always act honourably and principled. There were times when his short temper would get the better of him and he would take it out on me. There were times when he would say things without thinking. Things that he didn’t really mean and would not have said had he thought it through.
One specific day – I must have been about nine or ten years old – my dad said to me: “Why are you not more like so and so?” He was referring to a friend of mine. I can’t really remember what the context was, but I remember that he wanted me to be more like someone else’s son. He wasn’t happy with the way I was put together – with the only me I knew how to be. Or at least, this is how I felt. From that moment on, I could sense my “not having what it takes” in almost every interaction with that friend of mine. In that very moment, my self-esteem was gone – stolen unintentionally.
Although he probably only said it to me once on that specific occasion, it kept replaying in my head, over and over a hundred times. It became like a broken record – something I wasn’t able to stop that kept on repeating itself in my mind. It became part of my inner voice. In my mind, I declared that I did not have what it takes. Why? Because my dad said so. The guy in uniform – my ultimate figure of authority. If he said so, it had to be true.
You may wonder how it is possible for me to still remember that incident of so long ago. But we all have incidents like that. Just get over it, dude! Well, I believe I have. But it probably took me three decades to figure out that I DO actually have what it takes – in so many ways! Ways that are totally unique to me; that taps into my traits, abilities and personality to create a package of valuable service to those around me. I discovered that I could be of great service to man and God alike – very fulfilling experience!
I believe that my dad probably struggled with the same burden I struggled with. I wonder if his father ever took him on his knee and told him that he loved him and that he had what it takes – that he was so proud of him. I doubt it. I never asked him about it because he died when I was 15.
How can a man’s heart be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak if he does not know that he is loved? And how can his character be strong and steadfast if someone didn’t tell him that he has what it takes? But there is someone very special that can make magic happen in a little boy – someone who can make him believe that he has what it takes – better than anyone else. That someone is his daddy. No one else will be able to say to him – with more effect and credibility – that he has what it takes. No one else can do it like dad. A son yearns to hear it from his father.
We can share with our boys what it takes to be a man. We can guard and direct their minds so they can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. We can pray with them daily to teach them where their Strength lies. We can teach them to work hard and play hard and to be brave in the face of danger. We can encourage them to stand up for what they believe in. But all of these concepts will only blossom in a young man whose dad took him on his knee and told him that he has what it takes.
In two of his books (Bringing up Girls and Bringing up Boys) James Dobson talks about a fundamental concept that critically influences the lives of girls and boys. It’s the concept of the inner voice. It encapsulates the essence of what a child needs to hear to grow a healthy self-esteem. It is the basic starting block for him or her to understand their self-worth and sets the table for how they will be treated by others in future. The inner voice ultimately influences us as adults in a very profound way, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.
Dobson explores the inner voice concept by examining the mind of a child to help us understand how this (self)belief system starts during our early childhood and eventually becomes part of our inner voice as adults. This inner voice remains throughout our lives and could develop into an immense catalyst for greatness. But it could also become a massive inhibitor of our ability to achieve our full potential, depending on the character of this inner voice. Amongst boys and girls, that inner voice differs, and the need (or even yearning) for what the voice should be saying is not necessarily the same. In this blog entry we examine the inner voice of girls.
Dobson believes that the most important thing a little girl’s inner voice needs to tell her is that she is lovely. Think about this for a moment. What does it mean to be lovely in this context? To me, Dictionary.com provides the most fitting description of what lovely means: “Charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye; of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.” Merriam-webster.com says “Attractive or beautiful especially in a graceful way.” Wow! This is a form of beauty that speaks to the soul! Something that has to come from God – not a worldly type of beauty as we so often see in magazines and movies. I believe that this depiction of what lovely means could be translated to this: “I am worthy of being treated like a princess.”
I recently came across a letter a father wrote to his young daughter. In it, he expresses his anger at the perception that women need to “keep him interested.” By chance, this dad came across numerous online discussions focusing on how women need to be sexy and how they can make their man feel “smart and superior”. That’s missing the point, in a very profound way. I was as angry as this daddy when I observed the general trend of discussions on forums and in articles where the concept of being lovely is completely absent. Because of this absence, it is so important for us dads to influence that inner voice – to create the reference for our girls to know that they are lovely and worthy.
When I Google “how to treat a woman like a princess” I am overwhelmed with about 13 100 000 results – all steps and guides in letting your girlfriend or wife feel cherished and appreciated. It’s about whispering sweet nothings in her ear or confessing your love to her over voicemail. It certainly is romantic and will put a smile on her face. But if she is lovely, she is worthy of your time and attention. The focus is on the word worthy. She deserves it. And she needs to feel that she deserves it. She needs to know it, believe it and expect others to treat her that way. And if her inner voice tells her that she is lovely, she will believe it. She will know that she is worthy of care and attention. But where does it start? Where do I, as a dad, have a chance to influence that inner voice of my precious little girl?
From the very beginning, a little girl’s daddy becomes a template against which she will measure future interaction with men. If her dad treats her like his little princess – like a lady, and if he makes her feel lovely, she will expect nothing less from her future husband. And as a daddy, I will also expect nothing less from my daughter’s future husband. But when the time comes, I will not have a say in her choice of life partner. I will have to bear witness to the result of the inner voice which I played a part in forming and experience the outcome of the template I created for her. For this reason, I cannot waste a single minute. I need to ensure that my little princess knows – in her heart and mind – that she is lovely.