Fathers and stepfathers don’t always realize what a key role we play in the intellectual and academic development of our daughters. In a culture that repeatedly tells girls that guys care far more about their looks than their brains, Dad—as the “first man” in a girl’s life—can prove otherwise.
When my own now-adult daughters were younger, our family often had wandering and wondering dinner conversations where, fueled by the girls’ natural curiosity, we'd end up unable to answer a question or two. I usually responded by looking the answers up in the old-school World Book Encyclopedia. Since I kept the volumes on a bookshelf near the table, I became known around home as the encyclopedia guy.
More nights than not, I’d jump up from the table and grab a volume to search out the fact in question, like “Which president had the most children?” (John Tyler had 15, eight with his first wife, Lelita Christian, who died in the second year of his presidency; and seven with Julia Gardiner, who he married during his term’s last year– the first president married while in office!)
My daughters and I actually get excited about learning facts like this, and next thing we know, we’re discussing ways to measure time, the size of Texas, the impact of television and other topics beginning with the letter T.
This is fun and good for our relationship and communication. It also reinforces a curiosity so strong that my daughters now get out the encyclopedia (or look up in Wikipedia) themselves at meals. They’re proud of this simple family tradition of learning, a tradition that challenges and stretches how they think about the present and the future.
I believe that this simple encyclopedic activity help laid a foundation for their eventual interest in history, social anthropology, journalism – and their desire to be eclectic, lifelong learners.