Among the many things fathers want to pass on to their daughters, a bleeding disorder is not one of them. A dad may have many emotions and reactions to his daughter’s diagnosis, from anxiety and fear to guilt and grief. But fathers who share a bleeding disorder with their daughters play an important role in their lives, says Michael W. Austin, PhD, chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. He co-edited the book Fatherhood—Philosophy for Everyone: The Dao of Daddy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
As fathers overcome their own health obstacles and setbacks, they can inspire their daughters to do the same, Austin says. “Sometimes it’s a matter of saying, ‘Yeah, this really stinks, but here are some ways to get through it and deal with it,’” he says.
Here are five ways dads can offer support and love for daughters with a bleeding disorder.
- Be open and honest about bleeding disorders
Steve Tejiram, a real estate agent from Valrico, Florida, has hemophilia A, and so does his daughter, Amelia. As a toddler, Amelia watched her dad prepare for infusions, helping open the supplies and asking questions. “She was always very curious and wanted to know what I was doing,” says Steve. “He was very free with sharing information about his bleeding disorder,” Amelia says.
By modeling openness, living life with honesty, integrity and transparency, and admitting flubs and failures, a dad models for his daughter how to weather her own storms. Then when she goes through rough waters, her father can come alongside, showing empathy and encouragement.
- Don’t hold her back
Deciding when to hover versus when to let go is a balancing act for fathers of daughters with bleeding disorders. “Let her explore; do not hold her back from any activities,” says Steve. Amelia says she had her father’s support when she was a kid. “He encouraged me to run, to play sports and stay healthy,” she says. Now that she’s older, that support is still there.
- Let her know you value her
Fathers help shape their daughters’ self-esteem, self-image and confidence. “Communicate clearly to her how you value her for who she is, not for her accomplishments,” Austin says. That shows her that she is valued and loved simply by being his daughter. “Since that can never change, his love can never change.”
- Don’t be consumed by guilt
While guilt at passing on a bleeding disorder is a natural reaction, it’s also based on false beliefs, Austin says. “You didn’t choose to have the disease. You didn’t intentionally inflict it on your daughter,” he says. Focus instead on the shared experience. “Tell your daughter you feel bad about it, but also how you deal with it. Encourage her.”
Make time to let your daughter unload or open up. “She’ll think, ‘Dad’s listening to me. He cares about what I think and feel,’” says Austin. The simple act of listening is one of the best ways to show your daughter you love her, he says.