New fatherhood can spark fear of the unknown—especially if the baby's a girl. A man may have grown up with sisters and learned about women from his partner, but neither set of experiences can prepare him completely for the father-daughter relationship. And, given dads' importance to the social and emotional development of their daughters, fathers have every reason to be concerned.
The good news is that for the first 18 months, baby girls and boys are pretty much the same. In my own experience as the dad of both, girls are actually easier, especially with diaper changing—you don't have to remember to point their pipework down before fastening the tabs. But if I complain about taking care of my little girl—or if I don't complain enough—I'm admonished by seasoned parents: "Oh, just wait till she's a teenager!"
More than an Enforcer
The phrase carries an unintended and ponderous truth: dads, if you wait to become involved until your daughters are teenagers—if you only step in as an enforcer when their moms can no longer control them—you're in for an uphill battle. However, if you take part in your daughter's life from the start (taking part, not taking over), the dreaded teen rebellion is likely to be less intense because your daughter will know that her father understands her and has clear expectations of her behavior.
The idea of girls actually wanting father-involvement may sound far-fetched, but it's a familiar story to Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes. In compiling interviews with teenage girls for her authoritative guide to parenting daughters, Wiseman found many of them fearful of "losing [parents'] respect and disappointing [them]" as consequences of bad behavior. In the words of 21-year-old Ellie, "Dads play a really important role in their daughters' lives. Girls want their fathers' approval."