Maryland representative and civil rights leader, the honorable Elijah Cummings, passed away on October 17th, 2019. A week later, I watched his daughters, Jennifer and Adia Cummings, eulogize their father. In what turned out to be both moving and comical speeches, the two girls shared with us some of the most candid memories they had made with their dad over the years – how they would stay up and watch movies together, the joy and laughter of exchanging Christmas gifts with him, their regular phone conversations and how Jennifer often called her father after every TV appearance to give him constructive feedback as well as tell him what he had done right.
“Dad, you always told me I was beautiful since I was little,” said Jennifer. “So, when a bully at a playground told me I was ugly, I responded by saying “Well, my dad thinks I’m beautiful.” Jennifer proceeded to pull out her dad’s business card and give it to the bully at the playground that day “Here, call my dad and ask him.”
The younger daughter, Adia Cummings, then talked about how grateful she was that she could call her dad for anything. “Anything,” she emphasized, “Even Cardi B tickets. He didn’t know who she was, but he made the effort to get me the tickets!” Adia also said that it was her father who taught her the difference between blind ambition and true purpose.
After the eulogy by the two girls, former president Obama confessed “Watching Elijah’s daughters just now, I must admit, I got chocked up..there’s something about daughters and their father.”
I confess, too, that I got chocked up. There’s indeed something about daughters and their father
This is not the first time I got chocked up watching beautiful daddy-daughter relationships, though. I could be strolling in the park and see a father sharing a sweet moment with his daughter and get chocked up. Sometimes I’m listening to my friends talk about how they called their dad for money, for an opinion, or even just to say hi and get chocked up
For those of us who didn’t grow up having these special bonds with their fathers, watching such moments can be delicate. You yearn for that strong father figure that you can always depend on, the steadfast love you can run back to when things fall apart elsewhere, the man who not only reassures you but can also answer pretty much any question about your car, investments, and college. More importantly, for most girls, the man to walk you down the aisle on your big day and break down while giving away his “little girl”
It’s important for the dads among us to know how valuable it is to build these long-lasting, endearing relationships with your girls. Don’t be the man who blames “customs” or “traditions” for maintaining a cold, nonchalant relationship with your daughter. If you haven’t already, here are a few things you can do and if you have started, remember there’s always room to strengthen the relationship.
Take an active role in her life from the day she was born. Help to change diapers, feed her and tell her stories. When she’s grown up, know who her friends are and be involved in helping her set friendship boundaries
Teach her new things. It could be a game, a craft or things that are traditionally considered to be “guy things” like fixing cars, fishing, or doing repairs around the house. This is your special bonding time
Set a good example. This can be seen in the way you treat not only the women in your life, but other human beings. Kindness, trustworthiness, integrity and compassion are great lessons for your girl to pick up from you
Validation is important. It does not always have to be physical. Compliment her brain, her inner beauty or other positive traits that she exhibits. This gives her confidence.
As you can see, Jennifer Cummings only cared that her father thought she was beautiful when she was confronted by a bully in the playground. The opinion of the strong man in her life is all that mattered, and that shows you how much your messages shape your girl's life.
Many studies support the positive effects of a secure, loving daddy-daughter relationship. One study found that girls are twice as likely to stay in school and study hard if their fathers are involved in their lives. But even without these studies, you have to admit that a good image of a father nurturing his daughter brings out the “aww” in all of us.
It’s never too late, and you do not have to be the biological father of a girl to foster this kind of relationship and to teach her invaluable lessons that she will carry on for the rest of her life. Teach them unconditional love, leadership and prepare them for the world by sharing your wisdom. Show them what they should expect from their own romantic relationships.