Each time a boy arrived to take out one of his daughters, Greg Anderson ushered the young man into his well-appointed office, offered him a seat in a plush leather chair and chatted for a few minutes. At the end of the conversation, he handed the boy a large shotgun shell and a permanent marker. “Will you sign your name on that?”
Flattered by Anderson's attention, the boy usually admired the shell and signed his name with a flourish. “Great,” Anderson said, gesturing to a large shotgun hanging over his desk, “you’ve got my daughter for the evening, and I’ve got a bullet with your name on it.”
Protecting daughters is an almost universal desire among fathers. “Hey, I’ve raised teenage boys,” mused Craig VanLeeuwen, “I know what they are thinking. I know they are silly, often reckless, and I hope to protect my Libbie.”
That sense of safeguarding reaches beyond the worries of dating and teenage years. Dean Menlove said of his grown daughters, “My girls have tender hearts and feel things deeply. Their emotions are much more intense than my boys, and it’s my responsibility to care for my daughters and protect them from harm.”
“If anything, I need my father more as an adult than I did as a little girl or teenager,” Menlove’s daughter, Margee Connolly, said. “There were teachers and leaders and coaches cheering me on back then, but now I rely on my dad for encouragement and unconditional love. I can show up to a family dinner 20 minutes late, unshowered and feeling impatient with my four rowdy kids. My dad will greet me with joy, telling me how beautiful I am, that he loves my chocolate-brown eyes, that I must be getting younger rather than older. Dad always compliments my mothering; he thinks everything I do is fantastic, even if it isn’t.
“I have a wonderful, loving husband,” Connolly continued, “but I still need my dad. Even when I was a little girl, he could look at my face, know what I was feeling and ease my heart with kind words.”
As the father of six daughters ages 4 to 17, Rich Allen has cultivated deep emotional reserves. “It's important to recognize each child's gifts and talents and abilities. I realized from day one that each of my daughters has a unique and wonderful personality. Our little family has a wide range of abilities and talents, and it’s important for me to celebrate them as individuals rather than using a one-size-fits-all philosophy for my family of girls.”
Rather than eschewing traditional boy activities in his all-girl family, Allen pursues them with his red-headed daughters. Warm weather finds them hiking, camping and, as Allen says, “even fishing, though my Olivia enjoys it much more than I do.”
Allen isn’t the only father who participates in non-favorite activities just to be closer to his daughters. “Libbie knows that coaching soccer isn’t my passion,” said VanLeeuwen, “I don’t like to yell, and I don’t enjoy being in charge. But I love coaching because I can be an active part of something that is important to my girl.”
Not only does VanLeeuwen contribute to his daughter's recreation, he also teaches her to work. Every Friday, he closes his optometry office a bit early to drive Libbie to their job as janitors at a printing office. "My dad has taught me how to work efficiently, to find little touches that will impress my employer and to put forth my best effort. At home, my mom teaches me to clean the house, cook meals and how to notice people who need help. They've both taught me how to work in different ways," she said.
Allen agrees. "We teach our daughters to do well in school, develop a love for music, to be learners in every part of their life. We try to balance the fact that we want to ready them for the world, to go to college — but our goal for them is to be good mothers like their mom. Hopefully we are preparing them for both."
"I learned as much about nurturing from my father as I have from my mother," Connolly said. "When I was a little girl, my dad built a playhouse for me and my sister in the backyard. All my brothers helped, and my 9-year old sister and I joined in the construction as well. My dad took such care in every detail — the princess turret, the wallpaper, the scrollwork over the sink. It was finished on my fifth birthday, and even today I look at it and feel my father's love.
"My dad cherishes things," Connolly continued. "He has a drawer where he keeps every birthday card, every letter, every scrap of a love note from his children. If any one of my siblings were sitting here, they would tear up as they expressed their relationship with my dad. His love, and that of my mother's, gives each of us strength."
Not every father devotes himself to his children. But it is important that as Saints, we teach the ideal. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" reads, "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families." Father's Day can be excruciating for those who have been abandoned or abused by their fathers; still, we must continue to search for good examples. Only by asserting the importance and value of fatherhood can we hope to raise a generation of devoted, loving fathers. As President Ezra Taft Benson avowed, "Remember your sacred calling as a father in Israel — your most important calling in time and eternity — a calling from which you will never be released."
After the bouquet had been tossed and cake cut and served, Anderson lugged out a bucket of shotgun shells, handed the gun to his new son-in-law and watched him shoot the shells bearing the names of all the past boyfriends into the waning evening light.
Still, anyone who wants to harm his daughters had better watch out. Anderson is a father; he’ll never stop protecting his girls.
Writer, photographer Michelle Lehnardt is raising five future fathers and one little mother. She writes at scenesfromthewild.blogspot.com on building chicken coops, hosting tea parties and missing her missionary son in Italy.