This is the second installment of the SFN Dad To Dad Podcast interview with 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.
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: I’ve listened to dads. I respect men. I’ve had healing in my life with men. I adore men. I wanna see men succeed, and that’s why at the end of the day, I’m saying, dad, here’s a script. I’m a woman. Here’s what I sometimes wish my dad would’ve asked 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 so much to say, we cut her interview into two parts, and today we’ll hear the conclusion. That’s all on this 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 now let’s hear the conclusion of this conversation between Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield and David Hirsch.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: So dads, your voice matters. Your view of your daughter matters more than you may ever know and more than she’ll ever know.
David Hirsch: Why do you think that dads would rather do nothing perhaps than make a mistake? You know, there’s a fear of saying something wrong or not getting it right.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yep, yep. You’re right. I always say, dads, you’d rather do nothing than do it wrong. But remember, that’s my observation now from all these years of traveling from my planet of Venus to your planet of Mars. I now say I’m bilingual. I speak Martian and Venusian, and I’m still learning your language, but I’m getting better.
But that’s what I’ve observed, right? Men would often rather do nothing than do it wrong. And I think you’re brilliant in that men, in the fact that you can literally go, okay, I’m not stupid. I can see I’m making it worse. I don’t wanna make a mistake. So I’m just gonna back off. Here, mom, you go in. You’re a girl. You understand her better. No, no, no, no. Remember, your view of your daughter is internalized. And dad, if you need maybe some statistics, some research, maybe that’s how you’re wired. Gimme the facts, ma’am. Okay. Here you go. The research confirms overwhelmingly that your daughter, if she feels connected to you… Okay, let me ask you, David. You’re representing all men here. Is that a heart word or a head word: feels connected.
David Hirsch: Sounds like it’s a heart word.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Bingo. So, dad, if your daughter feels connected to you at a heart level, I mean, these are just some of the things the research confirms, she will get better grades in school, she’s more likely to finish high school and attend college. She will have less depression, less anxiety, greater self-esteem. She will have less body dissatisfaction and healthier weight. She’s more likely to hold steady employment. There are less suicide attempts. Dads, you’re gonna love this one. She will delay her sexual debut.
Do I hear an amen? I do not care what faith persuasion you are of, you will love that one! But where do we hear that that has to do with a father-daughter bond? I don’t think we hear that enough. And yet, dad, this is why it is so vitally important that your daughter feels connected to you.
One more I’ll tell you that I love in the research is that your daughter, by feeling connected to you, will have more pro-social empathy. Do we need that more in our world now, more than ever before, to have empathy for other cultures, other races, lot of stuff going on, right, with sexual orientation. How do we have more tolerance, grace, understanding. Dad, get more invested in what your daughter cares about because that bond with you will impact every area of her life.
Did I prove my point about why dad’s matter?
David Hirsch: Oh yeah.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And why it’s better to do something than nothing, even if you do it wrong? Because remember, doing nothing IS doing it wrong. And I know you wanna do it right. And that’s really where my energies are spent in writing and podcasting and radio, is that I wanna equip dads with more resources so they can’t do it wrong. They can blame me and I’m their fall guy. Just roll me under the bus. [laughing]
David Hirsch: So the message you just conveyed assumes that your daughter wants to engage. What does a dad who has a reluctant daughter need to do?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: You know, there’s usually what I have found is a lot of reasons for that. If a daughter doesn’t want to engage, the question I would ask you first, dad, is what part in bombing out the bridge between you do you need to own up to? Where do you need to take responsibility? Because if you humble yourself and ask forgiveness and own it and ask her, tell me how I’ve hurt you, that might be where you need to start if your daughter doesn’t wanna get close to you, cause you don’t feel safe, you’re gonna preach at her or lecture her or get angry with her. Or, I’ve had more daughters tell me they hate their dad’s disappointment in them more than anger. They’re like, ah, I’m used to dad’s anger, but man, if he’s disappointed, I can’t handle it. But, but first examine yourself, is there something that you need to take responsibility for as to why your daughter doesn’t wanna get close to you and is reluctant.
Another thing, it might be divorce. That’s what I have lots of dads that I’ve invested in, whether it’s through coaching in online sessions or in my office or in The Abba Project where the daughter feels a loyalty to mom. And sometimes that’s because mom is maybe more in need. Or the daughter perceives it that way. Dad, you’re okay. Mom needs me. So loyalty is there and she doesn’t wanna get close to you because she’s either, I mean, so many men, David, it’s heartbreaking, write me stories all the time of how they’re pushed out of their daughter’s life because of what their wife, ex-wife is saying about them.
David Hirsch: Yeah.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And I grieve with you men because not all the time… I mean, some of you have done things that you’ve gotta own up to, that have led to why your ex-wife is saying those things. But a lot of times it, you’re right, it’s that woman’s own stuff from her childhood, her family of origin, her trauma history that’s been projected on you. And it’s not fair and it’s not good and it’s not right. And David and I, he’s nodding his head, we are standing with you in grieving.
And I wanna say this another practical kind of idea for you dads that may be in that place right now with a, not just a reluctant daughter, but maybe you don’t even know that she wants a relationship with you because she’s being cut off from a lifeline, a life source in relating to you. Cuz you’re going, okay, Michelle, you just gave me the research. I’m with you, but I can’t. So I’m grieving that my daughter is fading away and shriveling up, so to speak emotionally or with life. And I have it to give, but I can’t give it. I would say go either buy a journal. There’s not many bookstores open anymore, but you can buy one online that you think would look like her. The cover looks like her, her style, her color, her personality, and begin to write in it. Date it. And put things in there in your own handwriting, which will stand out, right with technology. Things that you wish you could tell her. It might be wishes you have for her. Dreams you have for her. Memories. Hey, it’s 4th of July and I remember when you were four, and I’ll never forget that sparkler, that you lit and threw in the air. Write out what you remember. Because you’re in this time capsule holding some of those memories for her. You write prayers, you could draw pictures. My dad loves writing poems to this day. In fact, my dad sends me a card every birthday and for some other events that he makes with a Hallmark program on the computer. I love those cards from my dad where he writes on them.
David Hirsch: He probably type sets the print too, doesn’t he?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: You’re right, you’re right! He loves it! Yes, he does. And I, if there was ever a fire, these are what I would grab, you know? And you being able to write things in a book. It might be a card that you tape in there. Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day. I wish I could have given you this this year. And here’s what I’m saying, that will accomplish two things. One is it will keep your heart open to her, cuz it’s really easy to get bitter and say, I’m tired of staying open. I’m gonna shut my own heart door. And I, I happen to be one that believes that in the spirit realm, that gets transmitted somehow, dad. Don’t go there. And, and I’ll tell you another thing in a minute about that, I won’t forget, I promise. Remember, I’m a woman. I can keep all these tracks doors open at the same time. But number two, the second purpose of that, it’ll keep your heart open. But in years to come, it may be months to come, but it might be years. You have a tangible way to say you were never far from my heart. Because if she has been fed maybe a bunch of lies that you don’t care, you’re a deadbeat dad. You get to prove to the contrary. Look it, I was invested. You’re not badmouthing mom in there. You’re just making sure that everything is positive and life breathing to give to her someday.
Let me tell you the thing I was just gonna tell you that I wasn’t gonna forget, which is out of Luke 15. That whole chapter is all red letter, meaning it’s all Jesus’ words. And he’s wanting people to understand what his dad is like. Right? The best dad in the world. And there’s one verse in there. If you’re a dad, doesn’t even matter if you read the Bible or like the Bible. This is some really good truth here. So the prodigal son goes wandering off. I have no idea why dad funded the escapade, but there you go. [laughing] But the dad did five things. It’s Luke 15:20. If you wanna be an engaged dad with a prodigal daughter, maybe that’s it. Maybe you’re still married to mom and you’re both longing for her to come back, and that’s your version of a reluctant daughter.
There are five things the dad does. It says he saw his son a long ways off. Number one, he saw into, and I’m gonna make this a daughter thing, into your daughter’s world. So if your daughter’s into that kind of music, she’s, I mean, I get that there’s some things you really can’t align with, but I even know a dad right now named Dale. Part of a really cool ministry called Men in the Arena in Oregon. His daughter married a woman, and this is pretty recent, and he said to her, I can’t align with that, I can’t give you away. That doesn’t line up with my values biblically. But he said, I will dance with you, a father-daughter dance. And halfway through the dance with now her wife on the side without parents who are invested in her, kind of a real sad story, he said to his daughter, would you be okay now if I danced with her?
David Hirsch: Oh my!
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And he did.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: He danced with his daughter’s new wife because he knew that he saw into his daughter’s life what she needed, that new part of his family needed a good, solid male role. Oh my goodness.
David Hirsch: That’s a tear jerker.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: A tear jerker. In fact, Dale and I were just texting a couple days ago. He has my utmost respect with a dad that could do that and love that way. But that is a Luke 15 dad. He saw. So first you see into your daughter’s world, not with critical eyes, even though you might have that on the inside, but you really see her. Where is she at?
Number two, it says he was filled with compassion. I think we need more compassionate dads who say, I wanna ask you more questions to understand where you’re coming from, rather than make you sit there and listen to what I think about your choices, but filled with compassion.
Then it says, ran toward her. Dad, you are the initiator, you’re the adult. You have to start taking the initiation first, not expect her to come your way. And I know a lot of dads that I have walked alongside that go, I am so tired of keeping my heart open and it getting stomped on. I’m done. I’m like, I know, I feel you. I think I’d say the same thing if I was you. But guess what? You can’t. If you wanna model God as a father to your daughter, you might be the only way she’ll ever be okay with a Father that’s gonna be here a lot longer after you’re gone. And so that means you’re gonna have to do these five things, see her, filled with compassion, run toward her, and then it says threw his arms around, embraced and then kissed.
And someone’s like, oh, my daughter’s love language isn’t touch, you know? And I’m like, well, just think of a dog. You know, it’s gonna kiss your face off whether you like it or not, and that’s really your five-fold I would say commission as a father, if you have a reluctant daughter, is you just keep standing there and maybe doing something like writing in a journal will keep your heart open.
So, there you go, David. Can you tell, I track on a bunch of tracks at the same time. I’m talking about counseling, I’m talking about research, I’m talking about stories and biblical, like I am practical action steps. Like I get that it’s a lot of words, men. I’ve probably worn some of you out and already maxed out the amount you could listen to in one day.
But I tend to just wanna fire on all cylinders to make it relatable and practical so that we can see a healthier generation of women rise up because dad is cheering them on. Dad is invested. And I don’t want fathers anymore to have an excuse of, well, I didn’t know what to do. That’s why I didn’t do anything.
I’m like, well, I’m giving you lots of ideas, so you don’t have any excuse for that because I believe in you. God believes in you, and David believes in you. We are championing you today and praying for a new anointing, a new release on your fathering even today.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks. I think I’m tracking. I’m not a sure if I’m on a hundred percent of the tracks that you’re on, but thank you. So you made passing reference to The Abba Project, a little bit about how it started with the invitation to these 11 dads. You got 10 of them the first time and an 11th signed up the second time. If somebody wants to learn more about The Abba Project or participate, who is that project directed at?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: So it has been for fathers of daughters that are in their teens or their twenties, cuz that’s when it gets a lot more complex. Now here’s the caveat that’s really interesting that you’re saying, how can men know about this? Because just today I had a woman write me from Arizona, hey, do you have one going here? No I don’t. So I have always led them in person. And there’s just something about face-to-face, right? Like I was telling you earlier, I love hugging dads and I’m not copping a feel, and they know the difference and it’s all good and it’s above board, and I love baking for them every time and giving treats and this kind of thing, like right, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And we’re talking about heart engagement. And yet I’ve really been open to this idea of doing a remote Abba Project, with dads across the nation. But I have just this week sensed a closed door on that idea because it’s… I know we could say it’s better than nothing. But I’m not at my best in a remote forum where I cannot really, on a screen, see your facial expressions or your body language.
And I’m working on how men stand up for each other. They become a band of brothers. This group of men really bond over nine months. We meet once a month for nine months. So what I can offer now, for those of you listening is that… You know I’m not just here trying to sell my books, but I’m trying to promote resources to equip you to dial into your daughter’s heart and you don’t have to make up the whole thing… is that my first book that I was just telling you about? And then I have two books. I’m heading into some more, but I haven’t started them yet. But that is basically a synopsis of The Abba Project.
And so I’ve had dads across the country that have bought that book, “Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting With Your Daughter’s Heart”. And it is 48 chapters. Now you might gulp. I wrote it though, I made my publisher follow my lead, and I’m so glad that that publisher did, because I said I don’t like long chapters. I’m always looking to see how many pages are left. So I wrote them all 3-4 pages. They’re short chapters. So, I’ve had dads go, I read three chapters last night and they’re all like, woohoo! And I’m like, I know. Awesome! You accomplished more cause you feel like you read more. But I’ve had dads say, okay, I’m gonna gather with a group of dads of daughters and we’re gonna divide the book up into this many sessions. We’ll maybe do three chapters over 12 weeks, or four or five chapters, whatever you decide to break it up into. And then I’ve had dads have me Zoom in. We do Q&A here and there. I’ll join you for one or two times. And that is kind of a hybrid way to make this happen.
I have done one remote group in Virginia and it just was so hard to see what was happening, and so I’ve kind of, I was open to it, David, but I really at the end of the day go, I don’t think that’s the best use of my energies at this point, but I would love to support those of you dads. Cause I’ve had dads do that now, literally from coast to coast.
And I have a second book that we haven’t talked about yet that are more the practical dad-daughter dates, cuz I, I want dads to do a date with each daughter, one-on-one in between each group in order to really flesh this out. So that might be a way to kind of mobilize some groups around the country.
If you want to, you can write me at DrMichelleWatson@gmail.com and I’m happy to interact with you on how to make that happen.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well you referenced the first book and perhaps using it as a substitute for The Abba Project. And I think what I heard you say is that it was very effective, but it was more of an in-person experience. And I’m gonna guess because of COVID, there weren’t a lot of in-person experiences for a number of years. And that might be a next best way to make use of the resources.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
David Hirsch: Let’s jump into it and talk about your second book, which is entitled “Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters”, which just came out in 2020, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audible version of your book. It wasn’t lost on me that Dr. Meg Meeker, nationally recognized expert and author of “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters”, what I think of as the seminal book on the topic…
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Mm-hmm.
David Hirsch: ….did it forward for your book.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yes. We’re friends.
David Hirsch: In the book you share hundreds of scripted questions for dads to ask daughters to help strengthen their bond. Why is it important for a dad and daughter to have a regular conversation or conversations?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Well, I love that you brought up Meg Meeker because she’s a pediatrician and I’m in the field of psychology over here where we have the medical and the psychology. And she has said to me before, I think we’re the only two women I know with doctorates that are doing this, which we know there are others. There’s like Dr. Linda Nielsen doing research at Wake Forest. But in terms of in the trenches with people, she and I share a similar passion. So I know she would say with me it’s so important for she and I to strengthen the relationships between dads and daughters.
And so the reason I wrote this book, it was borne out of my work with fathers and The Abba Project. And at the end of every session I would give dads practical questions to ask their daughters on all kinds of topics ranging from body image to their personality, to dating, to sex, to sexuality, to even then kind of bridging into father wounds and voids into God as a father. Like kind of here’s the template. And it was really cool, David, how on one weekend, it was right before our last one. This is right before COVID. I just got this download from God that they need more questions on more topics than just what we’re covering here. And the next Monday, that was on a weekend, last session, one of the dads, literally his name is Reid. He said, okay, my confidence is built. I always say this builds confidence and competence. He goes, but you’ve given us all the words. Now what do we do? Now I feel like I’m out floating and I don’t have my life preserver, like you guided me on this. And his daughter, by the way, in eighth grade, was not close to her dad at the beginning of this. In fact, I’ve loved them so much I had them come on my radio program that’s now just podcast, to share their story. Because he began to talk with her for five minutes and then 10 minutes when she turned in her keys and her phone at the end of the day. More phone, but sometimes house keys. He didn’t want her going in and outta the house. And she just says, my dad grew! [laughing] That was her thing. My dad grew over the nine months because he learned how to listen. He learned how to actively listen and reflectively listen. She could feel the difference and she began to open up more.
But really what I’m saying is Reid said, what do we do now? And I said, you’ll never believe this. This weekend I got the download for the next book, and it had been five years in between. So I wasn’t just writing to write, it’s what is the felt need? I don’t think we need more noise. There’s enough books, there’s enough people talking. And I said, okay, you guys, I got the download. Would you buy, how many of you would buy a book with all kinds of topics where the questions are already there and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel? And every hand just immediately went up. And I’m like, well, that’s the download of the next book.
So really that’s where this book “Let’s Talk” comes from, which actually one of my Abba Project dads, when I told him I can’t come up with a title, and he literally said, why don’t you just call it “Let’s Talk”? And I’m like, oh my goodness, that’s brilliant! So again, I had to give him a treat when I got my advance, you know? Cause I’m like, you came up, Steve, with this title.
And I’m just telling you these stories to say I’ve listened to dads. I respect men. I’ve had healing in my life with men. I adore men. I wanna see men succeed. And that’s why at the end of the day, I’m saying, dad, here’s a script. I’m a woman. Here’s what I sometimes wish my dad would’ve asked me. My dad didn’t know how to ask good questions. Yes, he went to seminary. They didn’t talk much about about how to engage children back then in the ’70s.
In fact, I’ll tell you another fun thing a dad might wanna do because I wanna chock this full of all kinds of action steps, dads. So here’s my dad. I’m in seventh, eighth, ninth grade, right there in middle school. And he goes to this men’s retreat and they’re talking about being engaged fathers. And he goes, I literally went, what do girls like? I think they like perfume. Perfume. That’s a good one. He came home and my dad started something with us girls at Christmas. And literally he said his whole thing was, I’ll do this till you get married. He had no idea he was gonna have to do this till I was 60! [laughing] But he literally takes his unmarried daughter. So he did this until I got married to Ken and then he said, Ken, it’s now on you. I’m turning it over to you.
We go to Nordstrom. Sometimes it was Macy’s, back in the day, usually on the 24th of December, maybe the 23rd. Takes us more of us than it was just me to Nordstrom. Imagine a dad sitting on, they have these high chairs in there, in the perfume section for an hour with perfume up and down my arm. [laughing] On the back of my palms? Because we only know perfume based on how it smells on our skin. And my dad is weighing in. I like that one. And I go like, I gotta let it sit for 10 minutes cuz we don’t know till it’s sat. And every year my dad would take me to lunch and then to perfume day. I am not kidding you David, one of my favorite days. It’s an annual holiday for me. I now have dads, I’ve written about it in the book… I’ve had dads of The Abba Project send me pictures, tag me on social media, that now do this. Even dads with granddaughters, one of my friends from high school doing it with his granddaughter and I go, way to go, dad! You started this and it has now become something that dads across the nation are doing and it is one of my favorite days of the year.
Mind you, perfume is so stinkin’ expensive now. Insane. Like, guys, you’re gonna pay, you’re gonna put a couple hundred down probably if you want a really good one. But you know what, I, in fact, before our interview today, I have perfume on right now from my dad, and [whimper] it could almost make me teary. Like, I still smell that. Like, yes, it was a big investment. But I didn’t always think I was worth that much. Like, dad, I’ll get the cheaper one. I don’t wanna get the most expensive, but I sure love it. And my dad said, I wanna get that for you. But all year long, when I put that on, it reminds me that my dad loves me, he’s behind me. And dad, that might be a practical way today that you could take your daughter out, come up with a different holiday if you prefer a different event. But dad, it’s all about making an investment and it’s gonna cost something cuz where your treasure is there your heart is, and if you want a heart connection with your daughter, you gotta put some money, some skin in the game [laughing] into that relationship.
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.
David Hirsch: Well you made reference to talking about easy things like lighter topics like a personality or future dreams. And then moving on to what I call the heavier topics like sex, bullying, addiction.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And speaking from experience, as the father of three adult daughters, 25 to 30, this is overwhelming, can be overwhelming. Can you provide a few pointers on how to best cover these more difficult topics?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yes. So first, just to give dads maybe more of an overview of the second book, “Let’s Talk: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters”, there’s five L’s that guide the five sections. It’s first lead her to laugh, then it’s lead her to love, lead her to look, lead her to lament and lead her to listen. So you can hear the theme, what’s the word? Lead. I wanna equip you as a dad to lead so you don’t have to turn the reins over to mom, to the coach, to the mentor, to the counselor, to the youth pastor. You are gonna be equipped here to step up and step in.
And so you can, on a dad-daughter date, consistency is key. I would say a minimum once a month. That works real well through the thick and the thin of busyness of life for both of you. But create a regular rhythm and a place where you can go. A restaurant that’s your favorite, or a park, hike, whatever.
I start with the lighter things, the lead her to laugh. It could be like asking your daughter, what item of my clothing would you love to see me get rid of? You know, my dad has these big box jeans. I’m like, no more of those. They look awful on you. Big baggy butt. Get rid of ’em. Might just make fun of my dad’s wearing rolls… my dad rolls his white socks up his legs with his sandals. I’m like, not a good look, dad. You know, let yourself get made fun of, and asking your daughter in that section, like, tell me about your wedding day. What colors do you want? Where do you want it to be? What flowers do you want? I’ve had most dads say, I never thought to ask all that. I’m like, see, that’s why! I’m a girl. I’m a woman. I’m gonna tell you what she would probably love. Or if she doesn’t want that, why does she not want a wedding like that? But leading her to laugh, the lighter hearted things. And then love because out of the overflow of our heart of knowing we’re loved, being loved, we give love. So in some of these sections and then leading her to look, it’s kind of lifting up the hood of the car to look at the wiring cuz it’s not working so well.
That’s some of these more complex topics, getting heavier as we go. So in terms of love is what do you wanna be, to do to be a world changer? What do you wanna do to make a difference in your world? Let’s brainstorm together and I’m gonna see how I can help make that happen for you. You know, loving yourself and loving others.
Looking under the hood of the car might be things about cutting, suicidal thoughts, bullying, cyberbullying, being the bully or getting bullied. And if it hasn’t happened to your daughter, I guarantee she has friends that it has happened to. But some of those topics, even about grief now into the lament section. In fact, Ken has told me I think that’s your most important chapter in the whole book. Because borne out of the wounds is where we make choices oftentimes that aren’t the best.
So imagine the impact, dad, if she can talk to you earlier about even wounds or voids from you. In fact, David, I’ve had times in The Abba Project where I will ask the men, how many of you are married to a woman or were married to a woman that you would say is still living with the effects of issues? Daddy issues. Every once in a while, one or two hands doesn’t go up. But for the most part, we have too many adult women that have unhealed stuff with their dad. So imagine dad, if you are now doing this lament section where again, when it gets awkward, you just get to look down at the book. You don’t have to maintain eye contact cuz I know that’s not your favorite thing. Men do better with shoulder to shoulder orientation, which is why sometimes going for a car ride is better for men. They’re like, I did not want to stare at her across the table. But look down at the book. It’s okay to have a script, but look down and ask her questions. Cuz if you can make amends earlier, you’re gonna have a way healthier daughter. She’s gonna make way better choices as she goes forward, but it’s cleaning out some of the stuff where she laments and is hurt.
And then the last one is lead her to listen where you flip the script and you give your daughter the book and she gets to ask you questions about your life. Tell me of one of the most stupid decisions you’ve ever. What did you learn the hard way that no one ever taught you. Because it’s gonna help you also, dad, remember that you were kind of stupid at her age too, and you didn’t have it all together, but you’re hard on her and you kind of forgot that. So it’s also gonna help your daughter learn skills of interpersonal communication while you’re also going to be able to remember back what you were like, which is gonna help you have more grace.
So really that’s kind of the overview, too, of that book as a resource for dads.
David Hirsch: I love it and I love the last aspect about flipping the script and maybe allowing her to ask the questions and you can be the listener, right? Which I think comes easy to some people, but not so easy to others. And you know, just crystal clear advice.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah. And what I wanna add too, dad, is you don’t have to go from beginning to end through the book, cuz I’ve had, that was borne out of daughters saying, I don’t like always being on the hot seat every time we go out. All you wanna do is ask me questions. So you can change it up. Open the front table of contents when you got with your daughter. Let her pick the topic for that time. So she might go, I wanna just go back here one time and then over here to lighthearted and then heavy, and then about you. So I just wanna make sure I clarified that too, David.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I love about it is that you could be the dad that wants to read the book and cherry pick the topics you wanna talk about. Or you could be even more transparent and just say, hey, I’m reading this book. It’s something that I’m sincere about and I’m just gonna lay it out there. Right. Let’s do this together. Right. And just be open about it, right? And that way if there’s some difficult questions, like you’ve indicated you could roll Michelle under the bus, right? These are Michelle’s questions as opposed to, these are questions that are coming from me directly. So it’s a great tool. It’s a great tool. It’s a great resource. Yeah.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah, exactly.
David Hirsch: So let’s switch gears, love the book, and talk just briefly about the podcast called “The Dad Whisperer”. And where did the name come from?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah, I was doing an interview with the first book with Chris Fabry of Moody radio, and he said, he’s a dad to nine kids, but he goes, you know what you should be called? The Dad Whisperer. And I’m like, huh! And it just sorta, I tucked it away. And then I had a guy once, Wayne, say I don’t know how you do it, Dr. Michelle. Somehow, because he goes,we as men do not like women shouting at us. You know that? I’m like, I know. And he said, I don’t know how you do it but somehow you whisper to us. And so it sort of stuck. So then when I did an interview in my hometown at the time of Portland, Oregon on radio, they approached me and said, we liked your sound.
And I’m like, I didn’t know I had a sound. [laughing] And so they invited me to do radio, which then I did podcast. It became a podcast as well. And when they said, okay, what name could we do? Was it the Dr. Michelle show or whatever, like the Dr. Oz Show or whatever. I said, well, you know what, somebody once called me The Dad Whisperer. And they go, we love it!
And I had somebody once say, boy, that sounds kind of arrogant, that you’d call yourself that. I’m like, I promise I didn’t make it up. I was given that name by a father, by a dad, and it seems to be memorable and it has stuck.
[Excerpt from The Dad Whisperer Podcast]
Announcer: You’re listening to The Dad Whisperer Podcast with Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield. The place where you as a dad will gain more tools for your fathering toolbox and where moms and daughters are also invited to listen into the conversation. Now, here is your host, Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Hello everyone and welcome back to The Dad Whisperer Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield. And I love that you are here today as a dad who wants to beef up your fathering toolbox so that you have more tools in it for everything you need to be the best dad to your daughter. And as you all know, these things also apply to your relationships with your sons. And I love how even so many men have said, This also helps with my work.
[End of excerpt from The Dad Whisperer Podcast]
David Hirsch: I love it. So how has it evolved since 2016?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Well, now I’m mostly, there’s still one radio station in Oregon, in Salem, Oregon that’s playing it. But for the most part it’s a podcast only now, on all major platforms. And that’s really my heart desire in terms of how it’s evolved, is I love doing a mix of interviewing people and also what I would say coaching dads myself.
So, truth be told, most of my clients that are women and it’s not a lot of men just tearing the doors down to get in. Hey, I wanna look at my stuff. Hey, I wanna be transparent or vulnerable. I do have male clients, but it’s not as common, right, for men to say, I wanna dive deeper and look at my stuff.
So I then, like I said earlier, you don’t have to go ask for directions. I’m gonna bring resources to you, is I’m addressing things like, how do you drop the anchor? How do you reflectively listen? How do you ask good questions? How do you talk about sexual orientation and gender identity and sexual exploitation?
You’re like, oh my goodness, that is the deep end of the pool. I don’t wanna go there. I’m coaching you as a dad, so you don’t have to go to counseling if you don’t want to, but you get to learn some things that you’re not gonna hear in a sermon. You may not know where to go hear them. So really I’m wanting to bring practical resources to dads that cover the gamut of other stories that might be like their own. Other guest coaches, I call them. And I’ve had so many just amazing people that have joined me. Some of them, the youngest girl I ever had was nine years old. I’m like, let’s learn from a nine year old how her dad does adventures with her in nature and what that’s done to her development, all the way up to older daughters that are in their adult life and some average Joe’s all the way to leaders in our nation.
And it’s really been fun as I know you have had the same thing happen with your amazing podcast too, David, where you’re like, these people somehow find me and I find them, and I’m so honored that they’re using their voice to add to something that’s close to your heart, and that’s how I feel too.
David Hirsch: Do you have a favorite episode or one that you can suggest, for somebody who’s just learning about your podcast?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah. Well, a couple of my favorite ones are, I did one on closing the dream gap, which is based on some research that Mattel funded. Joined with them with three universities on how little girls as young as five and six years old start believing that they’re not as smart as boys. And so they stopped dreaming. And I was presenting, that one happened to be me and I was just presenting on that topic. And what blew me away is that one dad, an African American dad wrote me and said, I just gave this to 20 dads I know. And I wouldn’t have known it would’ve had that impact, but he said, I don’t wanna see this again go to the next generation, because I would be heartbroken if that happened.
I was just trying to remember, David, the name of the other one that I’d sent you with my friend, Armina Sadi. And in that one we ended up talking about a Twitter dialogue that he and I had had where he ended up writing his own eulogy for his daughters of what he hopes they would say about him. But it’s stuff on how to be a world changer. I love that idea of your daughter thinking beyond her world, her clothes, her friends, her popularity, of what can you do to make a difference in the lives of others, volunteering together.
I would say another one of my favorites is even a recent one with Dr. Tony Evans, where he just gave all kinds of practical ways that he invests in his daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, now as a widower. But man, practical stuff there. I could just go on and on. It’s kind of like, I don’t know if you feel like this, David, with your podcast, but it almost feels like they’re all my little babies. Like I love all of them the same. They’re all my kids. I love ’em all in different ways. How do you pick a favorite, you know?
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I think of them, maybe you do too, that they’re all full of golden nuggets, right?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah.
David Hirsch: There’s messages in each one of them that stand out and you can’t really rank ’em. But thanks for sharing. We’ll try to include some of that information in the show notes. And then lastly I know that you’re involved now with the National Center for Fathering, and I’m wondering what your role at NCF is?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Well, the official title is that I’m the co-chair with Ken of something called the Father-Daughter Initiative and years ago with the National Center for Fathering, they did father-daughter summits that were really successful. Like Ken, even still today hears stories of dads saying, the most important day I’ve ever spent with my daughter. Can you imagine that?
David Hirsch: Yeah.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: And it was a one day event and then for a while it was a Friday night/Saturday event. But that is something now coming out of the pandemic that Ken and I are really hopeful and planning toward opening up. We have one this fall. We were gonna do some this summer, but again, we’re still at a kind of a funky space with all the opening back up of things.
But it’s to bring back that father-daughter summit. So we’re looking for churches and men that are listening even now, that wanna partner with us and invite us into their city. Let’s start that conversation because we wanna see lives changed. I mean, that’s the bottom line.
We also, we had done some Facebook Lives there for a while. Maybe we’ll bring that back. I don’t know. But in terms of father-daughter resourcing, we just this past week started brainstorming on one book that we’re gonna start co-writing together. And so, I’d say go to Fathers.com. Keep up to date with what we’re doing. Ken is now rolling out some Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers, his book on now making it more audible. He’s doing video components to supplement that and hopefully in time I’ll have a curriculum series for The Abba Project so that dads can do it in their homes. And so those are some of the dreams and plans we have set in motion. But with getting married and then in our first year of marriage and moving, it has been a little bit of a crazy ride of trying to get our rhythm and land legs on now all of that because we’ve been adjusting a lot in the last couple of years. So we’re getting there and we invite all of you to stay up to date with us. You can even go to my website and sign up for my dad-daughter Friday blogs that I write every other week @drmichellewatson.com. Lots of free resources there, and I’d love to stay in touch with all of you guys listening and let’s keep the conversations going.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, let’s not make this a one and done. We’ll have to check back in six months, a year or so down the road. Is there anything else you’d like to say before I wrap up?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: I just want you to know, men, that you matter. You matter to God as a father, and I have no idea, I don’t know that any of you do either, of why of all people that God would entrust as a father, he’s entrusting you as dads to represent Him, in your humanity, your frailty, right? Is that an overwhelming assignment or what? But God is saying, I wanna partner with you men because you are a representation of a protector, a provider, someone who’s loving consistently.
And so I wanna say to you, dads, I know it’s an overwhelming task a lot of times, especially with daughters that don’t come with a playbook or a manual to know how to father them. So you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be present. You’ve gotta show up, and at the end of the day, you’re building a bridge to God as a father.
And I salute you. I champion you. I’m championing you, and I’m praying even right now that you will feel inspired by the conversation you’ve heard today to step in and step up with even more intention and consistency to pursue your daughter’s hearts.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. If somebody wants to learn more about your books, The Dad Whisperer podcast or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Michelle Watson-Canfield: Yeah, just go to my website, DrMichelleWatson.com and you can find a way to contact me there under the contact tab and write me, and we’ll start the conversation.
David Hirsch: Excellent. We’ll be sure to include that in the show notes and the other references that we talked about. Michelle, thank you for taking the time and many insights.
As a reminder, Michelle is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax-deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support. Michelle, thanks again.
Michelle Watson-Canfield: No, it’s been a joy to be with you, David. Thank you so much.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. 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 match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other 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 would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stCenturyDads.org.
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.