I think I speak for a majority of women when I say that interacting with devices that have the potential to blow up and set our house on fire doesn’t rank high on our list of favorite things to do. But as we all know, sometimes we have to face the scary things in life. Adulthood seems to require that of us, doesn’t it though?
For me that came in the guise of needing to relight the pilot light of my water heater a few days ago after it went out during a strong windstorm.
In the past, I’ve always been able to talk my dad into coming over and relighting it for me. He knows it scares me, especially once I start smelling gas (after a few failed attempts at starting the dumb thing), which usually results in me calling him to come to the rescue. One time, it was even after 9 pm, which prompted him to drive all the way to my house just so I’d have hot water in the morning for my shower. (Thank you, Dad!)
Through the past six years I’ve lived in this house, my dad has repeatedly tried showing me how to relight the pilot light, but for some reason, it’s just not something I’ve been able to master. Maybe it’s that I don’t do it enough to be good at it. Regardless, it comes close to terrifying me and I’d rather defer. My dad has tried to cheer me on by saying, “You can do it!” while standing there with me, but that honestly doesn’t help. Oftentimes I’ve gotten frustrated and then refused to keep trying after repeated unsuccessful tries. (I know…not a mature response on my part, but I’m keeping it real.)
But then, a few days ago, things changed. This time I knelt there on the garage floor to read the instructions my dad had written on the side of the water heater a few years ago:
1. Turn to off
2. Turn to “Pilot” and push down and hold
3. Hold one minute WHILE pushing green button (clicker) 3 times
4. Turn to “on” — should light
I’m not going to lie, I was feeling a bit of anxiety the whole time. And then, when I smelled gas, I was ready to quit and call my dad to come to the rescue yet again. But I also wanted to prove to myself (and him) that I could do it. I wanted to face my fear and succeed this time. That’s when I started praying for a miracle.
And on the fifth try…success! To say I was excited was an understatement. I could hardly wait to let my dad know that I DID IT!!!
You may be asking yourself why I’m making such a big deal about a seemingly insignificant thing. After all, don’t we all have opportunities to relight pilot lights
on our water heaters when they go out?
The reason is that this experience highlighted for me some key fathering tools that I thought would be worth passing along. I guess you could say the water heater issue revealed a few things about what it means to be a good father. Here’s what I am calling “Lessons from the Water Heater” (or pilot light wisdom for fathers)
1. When you teach your daughter to do something that doesn’t scare you but does scare her, don’t expect her to walk into her fear in the same way or within the same time frame that you do. (It has taken me over six years to finally do this, even after repeated “tutorials” with my dad here on site!)
2. Don’t belittle your daughter in the process of teaching her something new, especially when it’s a skill that you have but she doesn’t have yet. Never tell her that she’s a “baby” or a “scaredy cat” if her real emotions of fear surface. Use nurturing words that encourage and support, even if she fails on that particular day in facing her fear. Courage happens in stages. For today, she is one step closer to conquering the mountain.
3. Be available to come to her aid by doing things for her, because it communicates that she’s worth the help you can offer. Anytime you can stand with your daughter while providing supportive help, it’s a good day for you and a great day for her. This is love in action. Talk about a win-win!
4. Respond to her in the way that you want her to eventually respond in crisis when she’s on her own. Because more is caught than taught, she is always watching how you respond (to her and the situation) during these times that are often stressful (with a dash of urgency and panic thrown in). Model to her what it looks like to stay steady in the storm as you demonstrate problem-solving with diligence and strength.
5. Be willing to write out the steps for her to navigate tricky and scary things so she has everything she needs to succeed on her own. Having my dad’s hand-written instructions on the side of the water heater, which I could eventually use to navigate the situation on my own, was a gift. It took me years to be ready to follow his instructions, but when I was ready they were there. (Perhaps penning a hand-written note to your daughter today that affirms her will give you a way to put this step into action. Even if it’s not a “step-by-step action plan” like my dad’s water heater list, the note can help her remember you’re there for her when her fears surface).
In the end I fully believe that most women want:
- to successfully face our fears
- to internalize the lessons you’ve taught us, dad, while making good decisions of our own
- to be proud of ourselves because we did it…all by ourselves
- to know that you’re willing to step in when we need your help, especially during those times when things scare us…because it lets us know we’re worth being cared for
- for you to be proud of us
- for you to cheer us on no matter how long it takes to finally get it right and figure it out
- to live empowered lives where we do what needs to be done with anything and everything that comes up in our lives
So this week I cheer you on, dad, to start 2016 with resolve to stand next to your daughter as you help her face her fears while you are there with her, sometimes in person and always in spirit.
If you do, she will soar. And so will you.
Michelle Watson, PhD is a Portland, Oregon therapist and provider of wisdom for fathers. She runs The Abba Project–a group for courageous dads who are ready to commit to “kicking it up a notch” with their teenage and/or 20-something daughters over the course of a year in her life. Learn more about her at www.drmichellewatson.com. Reprinted by permission.