I had just finished showering and was ready to take over putting the kids to bed when I stopped short of the door to listen.

“I’m not sure that Mommy wants you to have more ice cream,” he was saying. “She already brushed your teeth—” (I could just see those big, brown eyes working him over…)

“Pweeese, Daddy?” (He was already losing the battle.)

“Well, I think that’s enough sugar right before bedtime; besides, we’ll have to brush your teeth again…” (Cue the eye-batting, the irresistible smile.)

“Okay, I bwush teeth!” (Yep, it’s all over.)

“Ahhh… Alright, come on then—but only a little!” (Then you can deal with the sugar effects.)

“Yay, ice cream!”

I stifled a giggle and took my time getting dressed so our conspiratorial two-year-old could relish her little victory.

Our daughter certainly seems to don a bigger halo when she’s with him, but I love that they have always shared such a special bond. She has her daddy wrapped around her little finger, and he would move heaven and earth for her, if he could.

When I reflect on these things, I feel a profound appreciation for the man I married, and for all great fathers of daughters. Because while I don’t exactly think my job as mom is a cakewalk, it takes a real man to raise a little lady and embrace the role of girl dad.

He is her superhero. His brawny arms scoop her up and swing her around when he gets home from work, and his hands have the magical ability to find all the best tickle spots. His back serves as the princess’s steed, yet she looks up to him like a king. It takes a strong man to be one that serves with honor.

He is the object of her princessly persuasions. It’s not easy to say no to batting lashes, pleading eyes, and sweet supplications. Taking her sensitive nature into consideration, it’s no simple task determine whether he should hold his ground or give in to the heart-melting kisses. It takes a strong man to practice such discernment.

He is the Ken to her Barbie. She entices him to play dress-up, model her glittery crown, tie bows in her hair, and dance with her at the father-daughter ball. He watches Frozen and plays My Lil’ Pony with her. He wears the outfit she picked out for him. It takes a strong man to do so in public.

He is a lifeboat amidst a sea of emotions. Whether toddler tumults or teenage turbulence, he endures the hormonal highs and lows of the “estrogen ocean.” When girlhood fantasies merge into the wild waves of womanhood, it takes a strong man to help keep a girl’s head above water.

He is the model of the kind of man he wants her to marry. He thinks twice about his actions; thrice about the words he speaks. He works hard and prays harder. He treats his little girl like a princess, but her mother like a queen. He shows others kindness and respect, not only because it’s right, but also because she’s watching. It takes a strong man to embody strong character.

He is both her protector and releaser. He keeps close tabs on the boys who notice her, readies himself for possible rescues, and restrains himself from commandeering her first date. He answers the beau who requests her hand in marriage, then finds himself walking her down a rose petal-strewn aisle, arm in arm, steeling himself to release his baby girl into another man’s arms. And it is in that moment when his knees go weak and his own arms are trembling that he realizes it is she who is steadying him, confidently marching them both onward to uncharted territory.

It takes a strong man to raise a strong daughter—and an even stronger one to let her go.

Leann Clarke

Leann Clarke is an outdoor-loving mama who enjoys riding horses, dancing, soaking in a good book, and hunting with her husband. She’s also mom to two active kiddos who excel at keeping her humble. She believes strongly in prayer, laughter, and eating chocolate for breakfast. Leann shares snippets of her life in Montana and more on her blog, The Hunting Mom.