Dr. Meg Meeker has spent more than 30 years practicing pediatric and adolescent medicine. And if you were to ask her what the most startling thing she has discovered as a teen health expert is, she will immediately explain that an active father is the single most important factor in a young woman’s development.
This viewpoint ultimately inspired her to write Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, a bestselling book that helps fathers rebuild relationships with daughters to ultimately strengthen that very special bond that exists between them.
Dr. Meeker’s book is the subject of a new Pure Flix original movie of the same name, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (available now). Starring a pair of real-life husband and wife actors (Robyn Lively/Bart Johnson, Maria Canals-Barrera/David Barrera), the film tells the story of Steve, a father of three who is desperately trying to hold onto his little girls. But can he let go of his child-raising techniques and allow God to shape their future?
I recently sat down with Dr. Meeker to discuss the new movie, why fathers are the single most important figure in a girl’s life, and why it is so vital for a dad to be his daughter’s hero.
First off, you are a highly trained medical professional as you have worked as a doctor for more than 30 years. Did you ever think one of your books would be made into a movie?
No. I never thought I would write a book. You know, many people say to me, ‘I want to write a book. How do I do it?’ And I say, I have no idea. I didn’t mean to do this. I really wrote this book as a pediatrician. I wrote the book because I saw so many kids in our practice having a hard time. And I saw that the girls who had dads engaged, not great dads, not perfect dads, but engaged dads in the home, did much better. While I was seeing that, they were recovering from illnesses. They were doing better in school, so on and so forth. But at the same time, I saw our culture begin to marginalize fathers and pound on them and drive them down and make them the butt of jokes on television. I was very disturbed by this and I thought I’ve got to respond to this because kids need their dads. And so, I brought some of the research for it, but I really wrote the book through the eyes of a daughter because I wanted dads to see how your daughter sees you.
This is very much a story about control as your main character, Steve, believes he is losing his oldest daughter to marriage and a different career path, while he is in a constant battle and fight with his middle daughter who is exactly conforming to goals for her but in the form of rebellion. Can Steve learn to give up control and trust God with their future?
Oh, absolutely. But it’s a learning process. You don’t do it overnight because even though we don’t encourage it, deep down, dads desperately want to control their daughters. Mothers do too, because we want them to be safe. We want them to go a certain direction. But as we grow our faith, which is what happens to him in the movie, we learn to release that control over to God. And that’s a big part of the movie. He had to be taught and he had to be encouraged. I was thrilled to see that they really brought that out in the movie
In your book, and we see this in the movie as well, you write why an active father figure is maybe the single most important factor in a young woman’s development. Why is this so?
The reason I say that is because that goes on and on and on. And I always tell dads, every woman takes one man to her grave and that’s her dad. She either wants more time with him, or she wants more healing with him, because when a daughter’s born, she sees her father very differently than he sees her. She is connected to him by this thread of gold, if you will. And she desperately wants that maintained. Dad is the most important person in his daughter’s life. He is a reflection of Christ. He teaches her how to trust men. He teaches her how to accept male affection. He teaches her how she should be treated by men, her coaches, her teachers, and her brothers. So, he really sets that template early in her life on how to relate with men and male figures. That’s critical for a daughter.
As we see in the movie, Steve thinks he is a strong father but as we quickly find out he is a frustrated puddle of emotions. He definitely isn’t demonstrating how to be a strong father. How can a man become a strong father?
That’s exactly why I wrote the Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Masterclass. It’s to walk men through the process. The movie and the book set forth the principles. And then, the masterclass says, here’s how you do it. Any father, I don’t care where he is, can do this. I’ve had men in prison read the book and go, “Oh my gosh, yes.” Any father can be a strong father. Once he recognizes who he is on the inside, that he has this strength, he has intuitively protective instincts. But people say, “No, no, no, you can’t do that.” He has the instinct to love this little girl in the way he doesn’t love his sons. It’s not better or worse. It’s different. I always say, every man has the wiring, but somebody needs to come along and put a little electricity to it. And then, the father turns 180 degrees. I’ve seen it over and over, over and over. It really is transformational.
Changing gears, in an interesting twist, the movie stars two sets of married couples: Robyn Lively (9-1-1: Lone Star) and Bart Johnson (High School Musical); and Maria Canals-Barrera (Wizards of Waverly Place) and David Barrera (Killing It). Was this planned or intentional? Secondly, was it important to cast the movie this way from your perspective?
I didn’t cast them, so I don’t know if it was intentional. I think it’s fabulous that they’re married because they’re going to communicate a depth in their relationship that you couldn’t no matter how good of an actor you are in a movie. But you can sense that they’re really married to one another. They support each other, they encourage each other. And I think that for their daughters to see that deep connection and that understanding one another very well is very important. This is because it gives dad an even more important role in his family, for the daughters to look up to.
You have been quoted as saying, “This movie communicates the profound transformation that occurs deep within a father when he realizes, perhaps for the first time, how critical he is to his daughter’s happiness and success.” Why is this such an important message to communicate?
For a couple of reasons. First of all, dads have no idea that that’s true. They can’t wrap their minds around that because they feel, ‘oh, I’m just a dad.’ She communicates with her mom. Mom’s are understanding. Dads deeply love their daughters, but they’re afraid to act on that. The other thing, and I talk about this in my book, is that a father is his daughter’s first love. And that means the minute that baby is born, when you hold your daughter as a dad, she knows it’s not mom. She knows you’re different. She knows you smell different. Your voice is lower. Your arms are stronger. She feels something towards her dad that is different from what she feels towards her mother. And she feels that strength. Now, that’s a very countercultural message, but it’s true. So I don’t care. That daughter knows. There’s a love that dad has for her and a love she has for dad that is very unique. And that stays with her all of her life. Dads have a hard time believing it. That’s why they need a book to show them.
I’m glad you mentioned that because I was watching the movie and going through some press materials. I really came to believe that a dad needs to be his daughter’s hero. Why does a father need to be his daughter’s hero?
This is because a daughter needs to look up to somebody who she thinks is powerful and strong and will keep her safe. She needs someone who is wise and who will show her the best way to live. She’s young, she’s little, you’re older, you’re wiser. You are stronger. We don’t teach girls that message anywhere, but they know it. Nobody tells them that and dads know it, but nobody tells him that. So remember, I’m writing the book from a daughter’s perspective, not a dad’s perspective. A daughter looks up to her father. She needs that man to keep her alive. She needs that man to show her what love is and how to be respected. So, he really sets a course for her life. It’s hard for dads to understand because they see it as an adult, not as a child, but this child needs somebody who will keep her safe and whom she can trust.
And we see that particularly during the teen years. This focus is all about girls, but teen boys need strong fathers. It’s really one of the biggest problems in the United States. If you put strong men in the inner cities of Chicago and you put one strong dad on every block in Chicago, I really believe a lot of violence will go down. This is what we need. We need strength in men, in our culture to show particularly their daughters how to live and to set her up for good marriage. One of my chapters is ‘Be the Man You Want Your Daughter to Marry’. That’s a little intimidating. It’s a different story.
What role should faith play in a father’s life as he is raising daughters?
Faith gives fathers a roadmap. Faith teaches a father how to love a male God. And when you learn to love a male, God, who is the Father and Christ, then you can turn and teach your child how to love a father. This is a scary thought, but it’s true. You are the gateway to God because mom isn’t the gateway to God. She teaches about God, she prays and so forth. But a father, if he has a solid relationship with his son, it’s much easier for that son or daughter to relate to God because dad was saved.
Why is right now, the right time for this movie to release?
Because we’ve normalized crazy in our culture. I don’t know how else to say it. We’ve got an identity crisis. We’ve got this notion that girls and boys don’t matter. You can choose to be a father. You can choose to be a mother. We all know that’s not true. So the movie is really important because it plows through all that. And when people watch the movie and read the book, truth hits them and they know, oh, right, this makes sense. So we need something to counter all of that and to bring truth into a mess. Really we’re a mess and parents are scared. They don’t know what to do.
Final question for you. After people have seen Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, what would you like to see audiences get out of the viewing experience? What is your greatest hope for the movie?
My greatest hope is that fathers would walk away going, ‘Wow, I can do this. I’ve got this.’ Also, that wives and mothers would walk away going, ‘Wow, I need to shift how I’m encouraging him to relate to our daughters.’ The truth is mothers like me who are pretty strong willed, we pounce. We get in between our husbands and our daughters because we know best. So, my hope is that this would transform dad’s hearts and they would see a part of themselves they never saw, that God put in there. My hope is a light goes off and they’re transformed into relating to their daughters differently.
Watch a Trailer for the New Pure Flix Release Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: