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posted: 1/28/2012 6:00 AM

Dads, young adult daughters can have special bond

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It came up three times in three separate conversations with three separate dads. I think we've got a trend here.

Over the holidays, I had the chance to talk to some friends of mine who also have young adult daughters. As dads do, we compared notes on just how our kids were traversing the sometimes rocky path between adolescence and adulthood.

We also talked about how we were doing watching our children, who are no longer children, make this journey.

What we all wound up realizing is that our relationships with our daughters had never been better. We looked forward to time together, to hearing about their lives, to offering a tip or two on how the world out there works.

Whether it was a hurried phone call, a breakfast together, a stop back home to use the washing machine, or a trip together to the grocery store, we truly cherished our dad-and-daughter interludes.

What perhaps surprised us even more was that our daughters now seemed to take an interest in our lives. Sometimes that interest came in the form of a comment about graying hair or an expanding waistline, or in an admonition to slow down and take it a bit easy (usually with a not too subtle reference to the aging process), but it was well-intentioned. They were just saying they cared.

Actually, in many ways, you could say our adult daughters were becoming our friends. Oh, they would always be our daughters. We would always feel that combination of protectiveness, anxiety, pride, frustration, joy and sorrow that parents feel when they see their children become adults.

Yet, somehow, perhaps as we realized just how little power we had to really guide or protect our newly adult offspring, we were also able to step back a bit and just enjoy them as people.

Now, I don't want to paint too rosy a picture here. We three dads were fortunate in that all three of our girls were in a period of their lives when they were fairly successfully negotiating the adult worlds of education, work and relationships. But I suspect that even in rockier times we would still find this special bond between dad and adult daughter we were enjoying so much.

There did seem to be a key to developing this sort of relationship, however. We dads had to stop resisting the process of our little girls becoming young women. First, that meant realizing just how little influence we had over their lives and, rather than denying, protesting or fighting this loss of power, accepting it as a normal stage in family life.

Second, it also meant giving up our hope that we could somehow make up for all the times in our daughters' growing up that we weren't the dads we could -- or should -- have been. We had let them down, I suspect, more times than we knew. But we simply couldn't go back and correct our mistakes or repair the damage we might have done.

What we could do, though, was be the best dads for young adult daughters that we knew how to be. That meant sometimes confessing to our no-longer-little girls that we had failed them and asking for their forgiveness (that's a lot harder than it sounds).

It also meant the chance to build a very special relationship in the here and now that, we discovered, was one of the greatest gifts a dad could receive.

• The Rev. Ken Potts' book "Mix, Don't Blend: A Guide to Dating, Engagement, and Remarriage with Children" is available through retailers.

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