In this interview, WSJ Columnist and Published Author Jeffrey Zaslow talks about what it takes to raise three daughters.
You wrote The Girls from Ames, a book described as “a moving tribute to female friendships.” You have also written a number of articles on women’s relationships. Meanwhile, you’re the father of three girls. How does all the research you’ve done for your book and articles affect your experience as a father?
It’s hard to be a teenage girl today, and it’s hard to be a father to girls. Two years ago my daughter was asked to Homecoming. She got a dress, flowers, her hair done. Then a couple of days before the dance the guy decided that Homecoming was for nerds, but there was this party, so she should meet him and his friends at the party. And, you know, she was sad.
And I thought, what could I do for my daughter? Embarrass these boys in front of millions of people by publishing an article on The Wall Street Journal. So I wrote up the incident, Some Date: How Homecoming Is Losing Out to Hanging Out. The lesson of the story – and of that night – is to teach your sons to be chivalrous, and your daughters not to take it.
Wow, that sounds like quite a reaction. How did your daughter handle it?
My daughter was not thrilled. And the boy was not thrilled. But you know what? The next time you want to take my daughter to the dance, follow through.
Do you have any pointers for fathers?
It’s hard. I don’t have any sons, but you know, a lot of girls look in the mirror, and they say, “I’m fat, I’m ugly, I’m stupid.” The father’s role is to say, "Here’s why you’re special."
I’m not perfect. My kids will say to me, “You need to read The Last Lecture." [The Last Lecture is a book Jeffrey Zaslow co-wrote with Randy Pausch about “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” and how parents can help make that happen.] I talk a good game. But I do know girls need someone in their lives who loves them.
You can do simple things. Put a note in your child’s lunchbox that says, “I love you.” I wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal about this, and readers followed my advice. I put a note in my daughter’s lunchbox, and at the end of the day I asked her if she’d gotten it. She said, “I did dad, and so did four other girls at the lunch table. What’s the deal with writing ‘I love you’ in your kid’s lunch box?”
I’m not great. My daughters complain about me. I’m trying my best… Well, I’m not trying my best. I could do better. We could all do better. But sometimes it’s better to leave them alone. It’s better to not be too overbearing. My eldest daughter is at college. I call her once a week.
How is your approach to parenting different from your wife's approach?
My wife has a harder time with the girls. It’s good cop, bad cop, and I’m the good cop. The relationships between women are complicated, and they take those relationships very seriously. Women, mothers, daughters – their relationships are almost visceral.
How can women encourage their husbands to get more involved with their children?
Fathers need to keep showing their love. There are statistics that show that a girl who has an involved father is less likely to have sex earlier, to do drugs, to commit suicide. Girls completely need their fathers’ affection. You can’t get back the time you could have spent with them while they were growing up.
How is being a father to daughters different from being a father to sons?
Marriages are tougher when the parents have daughters. Research shows that marriages are 10 percent more likely to end in divorce if the parents have three daughters than if they have three sons. One reason, according to the study, is that mothers feel their sons need a father figure in their lives (so the wives keep their husbands around). When people learn that I have three daughters, they say, “Oh, three daughters -- good luck.” I’ve never had sons, but there’s a lot of drama with daughters.
But I do know that being a father is a gift. When I was working with Randy on The Last Lecture he had these little kids. I had these teenagers. He always envied me because I'd get to see my children grow up, while he wouldn't. [Randy Pausch had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.] Before Randy died, I used to send him all these links to websites referencing our book. After a while he said to me, “Will you stop Googling me and go hug your kids?”
He’s right, you know. I’m grateful to still be here with my daughters.