Our guest this week is Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield, PhD, LPC, a nationally known speaker, author, licensed professional counselor of 28 years and founder of The Abba Project, a program serving dads and daughters.
She writes regularly for professional journals and magazines. She is also the author of books:
- Dad Here’s What I Really Need from You, and
- Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters.
Michelle also hosts “The Dad Whisperer” Podcast.
Michelle talks openly and authentically about her spirituality, marrying late in life as well as her personal experience with eating disorders and sexual abuse. She brings a high level of energy and enthusiasm to her work and life.
Michelle and her husband, Dr. Ken Canfield, founder of the National Center For Fathering, live in Fayetteville, Arkansas near their family which includes 14 grandkids.
Michelle has so much to say we split the interview in two parts and today we’ll hear the the first installment. That’s all on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Web site: https://www.drmichellewatson.com
Podcast Episode: Closing the Dream Gap – https://www.drmichellewatson.com/podcast/2021/1/11/helping-your-daughter-close-the-dream-gap
National Center for Fathering: https://fathers.com
Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters For Dads And Daughters – https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Talk-Conversation-Starters-Daughters-ebook/dp/B0821QBSDK/ref=sr_1_1?crid=24BDDPZ7Y507D&keywords=michelle+watson+canfield+books&qid=1671646661&sprefix=michelle+watson+%2Caps%2C89&sr=8-1
Dad Here’s What I Really Need From You – https://www.amazon.com/Dad-Heres-What-Really-Need/dp/B07GJVKDFH/ref=sr_1_3?crid=24BDDPZ7Y507D&keywords=michelle+watson+canfield+books&qid=1671646661&sprefix=michelle+watson+%2Caps%2C89&sr=8-3
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at HorizonTherapeutics.com.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And every year my dad would take me to lunch, and then to perfume day. Usually on the 24th of December, maybe the 23rd. We’d go to Nordstroms, sometimes it was Macy’s. Imagine a dad in the perfume section for an hour with perfume up and down my arm, and my dad is weighing in. I am not kidding you, David. One of my favorite days. It’s an annual holiday for me.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest, Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield, a national speaker, author, and professional counselor who stresses the importance of a strong father-daughter relationship. She writes a dad-daughter blog and she’s written a couple of books, both available on Amazon: “Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You” and “Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters”.
Michelle has a lot to say to us and she’ll do so in two parts. Part one this week and part two next. That’s all on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Here now is our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”.
Tom Couch: So let’s hear this incredible conversation between Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield, a national speaker, bestselling author, licensed professional counselor of 27 years, and founder of The Abba Project, a nine month group forum for dads whose daughters are in their teens and twenties. Dr. Michelle is also known as the Dad Whisperer and is host of the Dad Whisperer Podcast.
Michelle, thank you for taking the time to do an interview for the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: I’m so glad to be here, David. Thanks for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your husband, Dr. Ken Canfield, make your home in Fayetteville, Arkansas, near family, including five children, their spouses, and 14 grandchildren.
For the record, and as many of our listeners know, Ken is a longtime friend and was one of the early on mentors back in 1997, who inspired me to help create the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, one of the country’s first and only statewide, not-for-profit fatherhood programs, and advocate for fathers all these years.
And just as a quick heads up, this interview is primarily about how dads can more deeply connect with their daughters and to help prepare their sons to be more engaged fathers.
Michelle, let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Sure. I’m the oldest of four girls. I was born in Oakland, California. My parents met at the Presidio in San Francisco. My mom was my dad’s boss. They told her to have nothing to do with the men under her. She obviously didn’t listen. My goodness. Then, more sisters came along. My dad always said he was waiting for another boy, and here he got four girls, so it’s probably not coincidence that I’ve landed in this lane to help dads understand their daughters better.
I should probably put my dad in this seat instead of me. And then when I was 10, we moved from the Bay Area to Portland, Oregon for my dad to actually go to seminary to become a pastor. And then when he finished, we didn’t like how dry it was in California, so we stayed in Portland and I’ve actually lived in Portland for 51 years.
And then just a little over a year ago, moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas! Talk about a system change! It’s more than the weather. I don’t know where I am at times, I’m gonna be straight up honest with you. But really friendly people and it’s crazy, at like political things, they start with prayer and end with prayer! I’m like literally going, where am I? But it’s been yeah, quite a journey.
I married Ken because, some people might really think this is a crazy way to say it but I’m telling my story. The way it happened is, after his wife died and she had been a friend of mine, I’d been in their home in Kansas and Ken and I had been colleagues, he wrote the forward to my first book. Always above board, everything relationally. And I thought I would stay single and really invest in helping to turn the hearts, not the heads, of fathers to their daughter. And Ken had always been a champion of me. He’d invited me to Washington DC to the Department of Health and Human Services as a fathering expert back in ’18. He loves championing people.
David Hirsch: Oh yeah.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And so I happened to be one of those, and I just got this download from God not long after Dee had gone to heaven that I was to marry him. And I’m like, what? And I kept it under wraps because literally I’m like, this is crazy. And out of the blue, Ken called me on January 1st of 2020 and said, okay… And I realize I’m veering off your question of my family of origin [laughing], but I’m just giving you the really quick overview.
And he called and said, how would you like to move from professional to personal? And I’m like God already told me to marry you! [laughing] At the age of 60, I got married for the first time. Yes, the first time! And so now here’s a whole new life for me here, and I really am so grateful to be where I’m at.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing, but we’re gonna go backwards a little bit.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: [laughing] I like the scenic route. Welcome to Venus, my planet, right?
David Hirsch: Oh yeah. But you mentioned that your parents were in the military, your mom was your dad’s boss, and you grew up in San Francisco, moved to Oregon. And I’m wondering how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Complicated. Great. Deep. Bonded. And I would say my dad and I are very close, even still to this day because as I just shared, getting married so late, living close to my parents in Portland for all of my life until I moved to Arkansas, I had the blessing of having a dad who loves acts of service to show love. And so my dad would mow my lawn. He would edge it the way I liked it. He would say, it’s fine. I’m like no. I’m a perfectionist. I like it this way. And he had to learn to do it my way. He would come and fix broken things.
In my fifties, my dad and I would do Monday night dad-daughter dates, go to Costco and get pizza or a salad and shop together. And we would do dad-daughter selfie pictures at the grocery store and put stuff on our head and put captions and people… My dad loved this, David, because people would come up, you’re Michelle’s dad! Because they would recognize him from photos. And so you know the reason that I really enjoyed that kind of thing with my dad is that my dad had a pretty rough upbringing and so the idea of knowing how to engage his daughters was not something he saw modeled in his home.
I would often say my dad and I were close, but we didn’t go as “deep” as I would’ve liked. And I remember on one of those dad-daughter dates to Costco on Monday nights to get groceries, I remember once saying, dad, do you think we’re close? And he literally said, I don’t think we’re as close as you’d like us to be.
David Hirsch: Oh my. [laughing]
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And [I said, you’re exactly right. I want more vulnerability, more depth. Like I want more of you. Like I love that you can listen, but I want more openness. So I invented, if you will, I came up with this idea of, Dad on the way home, it’s 10 minutes. Every time we go home, can you tell me one story from your life?
He grew up on the south side of Chicago, three different last names among the seven boys and one sister, abject poverty. He was in gangs from the time he was 12. The only reason he went into the military is he had a grandfather that had been in the military. He was like, I think I’ll go into the Army. And he, they asked him if he wanted to go to West Point and he turned it down cause it was too much school. No one told him, here’s a great way to do life. He just figured it out on his own. Always a hard worker, very intelligent. But that whole side of being emotionally vulnerable and transparent and authentic and feeling feelings, that’s not something you do to survive on the streets of Chicago.
David Hirsch: A different generation too. Your dad’s in his what, mid eighties?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yep.
David Hirsch: Men of that generation, our parents’ generation if you will, were not wearing their emotions on their sleeves. They weren’t expected to be vulnerable. So your dad was in the middle of the pack. He might have grown up in a higher level of poverty and had a harder row to hoe but it was a different era as far as parenting and fathering is concerned.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And then he has me! Oldest of four going, dad, I want more. I’m a feeler. Come on, dad. I want more feelings. And I think for those dads listening that maybe have daughters like me going, oh my goodness, this one gives me a run for my money. What did I do to deserve this much of an emotional child that pushes me past my limits? And yet, If you can see your daughter as a gift to help lead you to more vulnerability, more honesty, more transparency, I would say that’s where my dad and I have grown. And as he began to tell me stories on those trips home from the grocery store, I learned things about my dad I’d never heard that made him make more sense to me.
So dad, maybe that’s just a challenge to take from this part of the conversation is, tell your daughter more stories about your life. Let her know stories of things you’ve survived, that you’ve lived through, challenges you’ve faced, things you’ve learned the hard way, stupid things you’ve done. She will love you more, understand you more, and respect you more. Cause that’s what’s happened with me and my dad.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So is there an important takeaway or two when you think about your dad, a lesson in life that you’d like to share?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Wasn’t that a packed question? There’s so many different ways I could answer that, but I guess what I would say as a takeaway is I’ve been hard on my dad, to be honest with you.
I think I have a lot of expectations for myself as a firstborn, and I want my dad to always get it right. I want him to always figure me out and understand me and pace with me and have grace for me and not have anger at me, but more patience. But at the end of the day, I see how far my dad has come from the hand he was dealt, which then really helps me respect him more for what he’s overcome. And so I’d say that’s probably one of my biggest takeaways without a doubt.
David Hirsch: It sounds like he’s really made something of himself from those humble beginnings and that he has been pastoring, like you had said, for decades or that was part of this career. And what a role model that is for so many people.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah, and my dad was a typesetter from the time he was in high school. He went to a vocational high school in Chicago and learned how to be an apprentice, a printer where he would typeset letter by letter the paper, the newspaper. So even when he went to seminary, he worked in Portland at a place, Metropolitan Printing Company. It’s not even there anymore. And he would do typesettings. I look at the fact that my dad knew and still knows how to work hard. He hates that his body is aching and paining him because in his mind he can still get on the roof, and he’s a hard worker. And I think that’s one of the things that my generation and generations that have followed me, probably in some that have preceded me, would say, that whole thing. I used to walk to school in the snow and… But really my dad did those things. He did have it hard.
My dad was in the rodeo in high school. He would leave for days and no one would know he was gone. No one cared. It was too much chaos in their home. My dad did the rodeo where he would get bucked off, and stay on. I’m like, my dad knows how to take a hit. He knows how to fall hard and get back up. And I know that I’m part of that generation because he’s instilled that in me, for the most part. Really so grateful for a father that’s modeled that to me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s fabulous. Thank you for sharing. So my recollection was that you have a number of degrees. I’ll just rattle ’em off. You have a BS in Biblical Studies from Multnomah University. You have a MA in Counseling Psychology from Lewis and Clark University. And you got your PhD in Health Psychology from Walden University. And that wasn’t like back to back. That was over the better part of 20 or 30 years, your education. So I’m thinking about your career and I’m wondering where did your career begin and how has it evolved into the work that you’re doing primarily with dads and daughters today?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah. In my late twenties, I always set the bar real high. I didn’t date a lot. I had a high standard, but for whatever reason, I was in a band, a Christian band, actually with all guys in my late twenties. And I started dating the lead guy and over the course of about two and a half years, I wore down. And what I mean by that is that my parents used to say, we lost you. We lost our Michelle. He was very verbally critical and put me down a lot. And I would say now looking back was emotionally, mentally, and verbally abusive.
And I became very quiet. Like you can tell I have a lot of senergy, a lot of personality, and I literally would go out with him and I would get in trouble afterwards if I talked too much or said too many words or took over or was in the spotlight. And so I learned to just be really quiet and set him up, so to speak, to succeed.
And there’s not much that I did right. I talked too much. I laughed too loud. I weighed too much. Everything was too much about me. And I distanced from my parents during that time because they saw the red flags. But again, my late twenties, like a lot of women are like there’s not much to pick from here. This is as good as it’s gonna get. And I’m thinking, my parents, I know they wore out their knees cuz they would, I wouldn’t listen, but they prayed and thankfully, we did break up finally. But I called a counselor out of desperation because I wasn’t doing well, to understand why I would’ve been drawn to someone like that. And that’s when I began to process the sexual abuse from my history, from my mom’s dad primarily, and some others.
I have a sexual abuse history. Because I needed to make sense. Why would I be drawn to someone who would treat me like this without realizing that the “skeletons” in my closet. Those things that had happened to me that I shoved in the back of the closet. Because sadly I was raised in Christian circles that would say, forget what lies behind, reach forward to what lies ahead. But oh my goodness, talk about a misrepresentation of what Philippians 3 and 4 are saying. That’s it, because I’ll digress just here for a minute, David, but actually Paul wrote those words and he had just in the preceeding chapter 3, listed everything he had done. So he wasn’t forgetting that he’d been a Pharisee of the Pharisees and worked his way up through the ranks.
But what he was saying is, my identity is not in those things that I have done or those titles I’ve held. I’m reaching forward to what God has ahead for me. So it wasn’t about forgetting everything that’s ever happened, but that’s what I was taught and I tried my best to do that. I’m just gonna press forward in doing things that God wants me to do or being who I think I need to be.
But boy it began to catch up with me in my late twenties. And so this guy was the representation, if you will, of all things bad that I had shoved in the closet, but he just gave a voice to them. And if you have a daughter who is dating what you would call an abuser or a loser, and your whole goal is just to get her away from him, I want you to hear me say this: If she doesn’t do the deeper work on what led her to him, she’ll go find another one. So you’ll break off this one, dad, or get in the way or find a way to stop it. But if she doesn’t have healing for the lies that have been embedded in the wounds of her heart, then she will find another guy who will treat her the same way.
And so that’s what I had to finally do that deeper work and call a counselor. I happened to have had a counselor who would say, where’s Jesus in the memory after memory of abuse? And I’m like, he doesn’t show up to places like this. But over time I begin to learn how to hear Him, first person hear Him. Show up in my stuff, in my trauma. And David, it literally changed my life. That is how I am where I am today and why I could then finally, even going back to that guy, if you can believe it, after one time I wrote down everything you didn’t like about me. You wanna know how many things I wrote down? 66 things!
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And I got back together with him two months after that. Because, if you will, that horrible scent was familiar to me on the inside, even though I did all the things outside that looked good. On the inside, that was really what I believed was I was worthless and a piece of trash and doesn’t matter, cuz I already believed that about me anyway.
I’m too much and I’m too this. And so when I was able to go back and have Jesus put truth into lies that I had believed about myself, it began to really change me from the inside out. Now, you couldn’t pay me.
Oh my goodness! You’re gonna love this story! This just comes to my mind. On one of my dad-daughter dates at Costco, literally at that Costco, one night we were eating and I go, dad, who is that? That guy looks so familiar. Literally, we both go, I don’t know. It had been years since I’d broken up with that guy. Dan. I’ll just give you his first name. And then all of a sudden I go, was that Dan? And my dad goes, no, I don’t think it was. We took another look and it was him.
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And I said, do you think I should go up to him? It’d been like at least a decade. He was married. It was actually probably about 15 years. And I said, I have to. If I don’t go up, I will regret it. I know it. And I walked over and put my hand out. My dad’s over in the other chairs, cheering me on. And I put my hand out and I said, hi Dan. Michelle Watson. And I looked him in the eyes. And he was like oh, hi. Oh, whoa. Threw him off. And my dad came over, said hello. Later down one of the aisles, no lie, we’re back by the toilet paper. And we run into him and his son, his teenage son, and he says to me, I’m really sorry for how it ended. And I thought later I could have said, ended? How about the whole thing? The whole dang thing? But I had already forgiven him and done the deep dive into the trauma and the impact so that I could forgive him.
I think I’m gonna preach here. A little bit of a get on my soapbox. I think we’ve also not done a very good job sometimes as a culture where we say, just forgive. I think one is just forget the past. One is just forgive, like just move on. But if we haven’t understood the impact of the injury, I don’t think the forgiveness always holds. It’s like I’m trying to forgive. But when we really look at the impact, I can name it, I can talk about it, I can own it, I can feel it. I really had already forgiven him and I looked him in the eyes and I said, I forgive you. And he was like, thank you. No, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen that guy before or since. But I was with my dad when it happened. We’d already set in motion these dad-daughter dates.
And I am where I am today in my counseling. That was what led me to then go to school in my mid thirties to say, I wanna now walk other people through deep waters like I had someone walk through with me. Change professions. That’s when I got my master’s in counseling. Wanted to go to a secular school. I’m like, yeah, I’ve had so much Christian education I need to prove myself in the world. And I ended up later teaching at that same college, Lewis and Clark, in their eating disorder graduate department for many years.
So all that to say, what led me then to work with fathers is borne out of my counseling work. And then I’ve mentored a lot of girls in camps, in churches. So I’ve done some of that in what you call a lay position, a volunteer position, and then some professionally.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help. 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey, will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And just over the years I began to realize that so often the heart wounds or the stupid choices women make, like you think, why would I have been drawn to Dan?
I had a lot more grandfather wounding and abuse than I did father stuff, but I had father stuff. My dad would get angry with us easy and those kinds of things. And I began to realize how much the hearts of women, of young girls, so often are hurting because of their dad not understanding them. A dad void, an absence or a dad wound the cause of hurt.
And so it was December of 2009. I was just reading in Luke 1 about how John the Baptist wasn’t even born yet, but his dad was already told your son is gonna help turn the hearts, not the heads, of fathers to their children. And I just heard God whisper to me and say, Michelle, that’s what I want you to do.
And I’m like, what? You got the wrong girl? I’m 49. Never been married. What do you mean? I clearly do not have a way with men. But I obeyed. In the next two days, it just stayed with me. And I was blow drying my hair literally two days later and just heard the name, The Abba Project, Abba meaning Daddy in Aramaic and men love a project. Am I right, David?
David Hirsch: Absolutely.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: A project. Tell me what to do to what? Fix it! And so I said, okay, I have no material, no curriculum. So January of ’10, I wrote 11 dads whose daughters were my clients. I wrote them an email and these daughters were in their teens and their twenties. And I said, how would you like to join me once a month for six months? See if there’s a change in you, your daughter, or your relationship. And 10 of the 11 dads said we’re in. And I’ve had people say, men do not add more to an already full plate unless there’s a felt need. They know there’s a need. And my one holdout, I’m just gonna add this. He joined the second year, so I got all of ’em!
So that’s what started The Abba Project. And I had no curriculum. Every month, literally, I would get a download from God about, do this. I still use that model today. And it really became the foundation of my first book, “Dad, Here’s What I Really Need From You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart”. So really that’s the whole thing about how I came through a lot of my stuff and I’m now so honored, I really mean that from the depths of my heart, that men would invite me into their tribe and listen to anything I have to say. But at the end of the day, my heart desires to see dads be more invested in their daughter’s lives.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s an amazing run by. Thank you for the summary. And you teed up one of the issues that I wanted you to talk about, which was the sexual abuse that you had experienced, because it’s one of the thornier issues in our society to be able to talk about that. So thank you for sharing.
And the other issue that I wanted to ask you to speak to, because you also have some firsthand experience, has to do with eating disorders. It’s not every family that has been touched by eating disorders, but ours has been, and I know that way too many others have been. And I’m wondering if you can share the backstory on how that’s influenced your work as well.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: So the eating disorder in my twenties, remember back what I was just telling you about my story. So I’ve now graduated. I didn’t tell you this but I graduated from the Bible college my parents made me go to a year. And then I was a cheerleader and the next year they were going to Europe and I’m like, okay, I’m not stupid, I’m gonna come back for that. And then it was a three year program. Ended up getting my bachelor’s from another school being added in with that fourth year. But all this to say, what do you do with that degree? It’s okay, I got a biblical education degree. What do you honestly do with that? And that’s why I became a dental assistant and all of that.
But anyways, through that maze of finishing school, an eating disorder in college began to take root. And through my twenties, even though I’m in the workforce now and I’m doing youth ministry, in my private world I was bingeing a lot. So I gained about 50 pounds in my twenties, and that’s how I explained to myself that no guys were interested me.
And yet I look back now with more understanding and see that weight became somewhat of a shield around me of protection to be less desirable to men. And so I love the book that’s titled, in fact, I wanted to write a book when I got done with my doctorate on eating disorders because I had done my dissertation on the relationship between eating disorders and unforgiveness of the self, and no one had ever published anything on that topic.
So I only have one article that’s not really my jam, but I did one. So it was out there in a journal, an eating disorder journal, on that relationship. Because I found a 42% correlation between drive for thinness and unforgiveness of the self. So looking back at my story, a lot of what had happened to me, and this happens to most sexual abuse survivors, is that we believe we caused it. There’s something about me that brought this on. So there’s usually a deep sense of self-hatred, self-blame, self-punishment, self-loathing. And those were the areas, we call them constructs, that I looked at in my research to then bring it back and saying, you guys, do you realize it’s not about the food?
That’s that book title I love. “It’s Not About Food”, it’s about deeper things that have happened or are still happening. And that’s what I, even in my work with fathers address. Let’s look at eating issues because I can go off on lots of tangents to make this make sense, but I’ll summarize it by saying I hardly know a woman alive that doesn’t have body image issues and eating issues of some sort. I believe at least 75% of our culture if not up to probably 95% of women struggle in some area. And so sometimes dads, you might just make a funny comment that you would say to a guy in a locker room like, hey, something about her backside, and you kinda slap her. That stuff is not funny to us. It’s not neutral to us. We take that in and think it’s something wrong with us that made that happen, in terms of abuse. And so that’s an area that I have focused on in my counseling career of heading not too long into three decades here of that, of really getting underneath the food behaviors and mine was binge eating disorder.
So I would, that’s why I gained weight is I would plan the next binge having no idea that it had anything to do with numbing out, stuffing down, what I didn’t know how to look at. Or want to look at. And so now to be on this side where I get to walk through that process with other men and women, primarily women, but men too is really again, an honor.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It is one of your superpowers, at least I think of it as a superpower. And it wasn’t something you might have asked for. These challenges, the sexual abuse, the eating disorder experiences. But now that you’ve got them in perspective and you’re on this side, if you will, like you describe it, it qualifies you to help others, not just from a clinical standpoint, like this is something that I learned in my studies or from the work that I’ve been doing. It’s from your personal experience and I think the level of authenticity is way up the charts. So again, thanks for sharing.
Let’s talk a little bit about fathers and daughters. What is it about the father-daughter relationship that’s so important for men to understand?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: The first thing is that your daughter’s identity has some of its roots, a lot of its roots, in her relationship with you. For starters, most likely her last name is the same as yours. Know that your daughter will look at her reflection in you to see herself. So the way you see her becomes internalized in how she sees herself. So if you’re a dad that’s highly critical of her, perhaps you see that as a way to inspire her to be better, cuz that’s the model you had set. Your daughter will internalize your voice and do that to herself, which I believe as women, like I said earlier, we’re already vulnerable to that, I found more than men anyway. Which is why to talk about how important the father-daughter relationship. I love, love, love speaking at men’s conferences. Because a lot of times I find men are like, we don’t know where to go to ask for directions. We don’t even know who to ask these things.
David Hirsch: We don’t pull over as a gender, we’re not gonna pull over and ask for directions. That’s pretty well understood.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Exactly. So I’m showing up! Like you don’t even have to ask for directions. I’m in your space. Which by the way, I’ll tell you really quick story. The very first conference I spoke at was in 2015 and I was super stoked. You can tell I am an energetic sort. I’m finally invited, men invited me into their forum, into their tribe. They were not all excited to have a woman in their midst, and it caught me off guard. It was like there was a “no girls allowed” sign on the door that was invisible that I didn’t have the decoder for.
Yet God really… I had to go out in my rental car for an hour before I spoke and go, what was happening in there? And I literally heard God say, I gave you a message. It’s their stuff. And you get out and say what I told you to say, just like Esther. She prepared herself for a year to go before the king. You are going out before these kings, before these men, and you give the message that I’ve given you.
And I’m gonna tell you cuz I love practical things for men. I don’t think we need more theory. Men already know they need to be better dads, more engaged, more dialed in. You know that. But here is a practical way for you if you have a daughter who’s hard on herself. Maybe you’re part of what’s to, I wouldn’t say blame, but to understand that. And you maybe have a daughter who has had an eating disorder or that struggles with the mirror or has had struggling with guys. She’s not married and she’s older like I was. To say, what’s wrong with me that I can’t hold a man’s gaze. I used to believe that lie until I got freed up in my fifties, but, It took me a long time. I would love your daughters to get freed up before my age.
But here is a powerful way, dad, that you can make an impact if your daughter’s struggling at all with the mirror is, I want you today, don’t even wait till tomorrow. Go get a dry erase marker and a pack of sticky notes. You probably have them already in your drawer in your office. And before the day is over, go and write a message on her mirror because that exact mirror is the one that’s criticizing her. She hears the voice in her head of what’s wrong, but imagine she looks at that same mirror, her bedroom mirror, her bathroom mirror, the rear view mirror of her car, where you’re saying you’re beautiful to me. I love being your dad. I’m praying for you to be bold today. I love your courage. I respect the way you stand up. Short notes.
I can tell you so many stories cuz I tell men around the country to do this and I just got an email yesterday actually from a friend of mine that leads a fathering ministry in Virginia. He goes, I just did this at our dad-daughter event and I had a dad coming up going, this is brilliant. He’s I give you the credit, Michelle. But it’s not about me guys. I want you to get full credit, but you’ve gotta take action. Think of it as a little kid, you only like the superhero because he took action. Who wants a little Spiderman with Superman sitting on the curb? No, they’ve gotta rise up and take action.
So if you wanna be a dad who makes a vibrant, vital, life-breathing impact into your daughter’s life, you have to take action. And a way you can do that is you go write on her mirror what you love about her. You’re beautiful to me. I love your eyes.
Yes! Make comments on physical outward appearance. I know a dad, he was in The Abba Project. His daughter had been a counseling client. He and his wife made a vow to never ever address outward, only inward qualities. But it flipped because the, both of his daughters never thought they were anything to look at, and saw the absence of positive words as actually meaning that they didn’t have qualities.
And when dad learned to turn that around in The Abba Project, oh, I need to say things. Let’s do both/and not either/or. His daughter began to thrive because she needed to hear from dad. Because if she doesn’t hear it from you she’s gonna go looking for love in all the wrong places, right? So dad, here’s even a better idea if you’re a dad who travels a lot, I got this idea from my friend, Tim. He heard me at that first conference in ’15. I saw him like a month later. He pulls this brown dry erase marker out of his back pocket. He said, I don’t go anywhere without this now. He goes, I got an away game too. I now in hotel rooms write on the mirror in the hotel room, take a screenshot, and he goes, and I send it to my daughters in real time.
So they still get it. I’m like, that is brilliant! So dad, do it today. Your voice matters. Your view of your daughter matters more than you may ever know and more than she’ll ever know.
Tom Couch: And that brings us to the end of part one of David’s conversation with Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield. Join us next time when we’ll hear about a special perfume her dad bought for her.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yes, it was a big investment, but I didn’t always think I was worth that much. Dad, I’ll get the cheaper one. I don’t wanna get the most expensive. But I sure love it. My dad said, I wanna get that for you.
Tom Couch: That’s all on part two of David Hirsch’s conversation with Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch.
Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at HorizonTherapeutics.com.