On Sunday, we celebrate the dads and father figures in our lives -- men who provide for their families, patch skinned knees, coach our Little League teams, and stand as role models. While father-son relationships are often emphasized and are incredibly important, we must always remember how much our daughters are watching us, too.
We don't often realize how critical a role we play as fathers, uncles and male mentors to girls.
Today, girls continue to encounter significant obstacles to their well-being and success, particularly around teen pregnancy, high school completion, body image and preventing violence.
These issues belong not just to girls; they affect our families and communities, and where we as men can make a huge difference.
These are lessons I have learned as a dad to my amazing daughter and now, as a board member at Girls Inc. in Alameda. I am dedicated to ensuring all our community's girls grow up strong, smart and bold.
So, after you kick back with the barbecue, think about five gifts you as a father or father figure can give a girl so she grows up confident in the face of any challenge:
1. Compliment her on what she does, not just how she looks. Girls are usually praised for being pretty, their hair or fashion. Media often send the message that her appearance should be her priority. You can help counter this by showing and telling her that you value her intelligence, hard work, bravery, persistence when trying something new and achievements.
2. Take on physical fitness together as fun, not something focused on weight loss. Almost all girls and women struggle with body image throughout their lives. Take on exercise as a fun activity, not a weight-focused one. Don't make diets a discussion topic, or make negative comments about your or others' appearance. Help her see that beauty has a diverse definition and that she should value her health most of all, just like you do.
3. Be respectful of her and all other women. Girls need to experience and see relationships that are built on honesty, caring and respect. Modeling healthy communication and trust can help her carry these into future relationships, especially romantic ones. One study found that young women with good communication and trust with their fathers also demonstrate the same positives in their relationships with boyfriends.
4. Make the bed, wash dishes or do laundry. Girls can benefit from seeing men who break down gender stereotypes. Recent research shows that girls with dads who help with household responsibilities are more likely to aspire to less traditional and potentially higher paying careers. Take this approach beyond doing the dishes and actively encourage girls to consider nontraditional and leadership roles in their play, schoolwork and career dreams.
5. Be there and listen without judgment. Girls need trusted adults in their lives who listen when they have questions or make mistakes. Instead of trying to solve her problems, ask questions that will help her work through them.
On Sunday, let's proudly commit to being dads, uncles, grandfathers and men who care about girls' success. Let's show the girls in our lives there is someone in their corner who believes in their strength and ability.
Happy Father's Day.
Jason Santiago is a board member of Alameda-based Girls Inc. of the Island City.