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I would not have finished my first semester of college without my dad. I won’t go into details here, but my first three months at college were some of the darkest times I’ve ever experienced, and I reached a breaking point in early November. My parents and I were talking daily, trying to decide whether I’d be able to finish the semester or if I’d have to come home. My mom was ready to bring me home. It hurt her mama’s heart to have me so far away and not be able to be there with me, and she told me if I decided to stay, she would support that, but she would also support my coming home. I was ready to throw in the towel and come home. Then my dad got on the phone.

I remember it was a Sunday afternoon. He got on the phone and said, “I think you should stick it out. I will do anything I need to do to get you across the finish line. I will pick you up and carry you across the finish line if you need me to.”

And you know what? He did. He cancelled all of his meetings for that next day, and on Monday morning he got on a flight to Michigan to help me cross the finish line. He arrived on campus, and we met with each of my professors and the dean of students to figure out how I could finish the semester. We made some changes, I switched dorms, dropped a class, and I finished that gosh darn semester.

My dad carried me across that finish line, just as he promised. And to make one thing clear: he didn’t carry me in the sense that he did all the work for me. He was there with me for a day, but I still had to finish the semester. He carried me through those last couple weeks by giving me his vote of confidence that I could finish.

This story is just one of myriad reasons the role of a father is so important. Moms and dads play different roles in a child’s life—complementary roles. My mom is a nurturer. She saw her baby hurting, and her instinct was to bring that baby home to take care of her. In this case, though, my dad’s instinct and guidance was what I needed. My dad knew I needed to finish that semester to show myself that I could do it, to make sure I knew that I was capable of finishing. He knew that if I didn’t finish, I’d look back on it and beat myself up over it. He knew I would feel like a failure. He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, he told me what I needed to hear. He knew that this was something I had to push through, and he was right there (literally . . . in Michigan) to help me do it.

This experience reminded me of a Harper Lee quote I’ve always loved, “She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father.”

Research shows that the presence of fathers in their daughters’ lives builds their self-esteem, improves their academic and career performances, and positively impacts their romantic life, by giving them a framework for how a man can and should treat them. Inspired by my experience with my father, I asked other women how their fathers have helped them cross a finish line, realize an important trait about themselves, or helped them become stronger women.

Dad’s can help us think differently about what matters in life.

“My heart was set on swimming in college, but that wasn’t much of a possibility because I couldn’t afford my dream school. I had been swimming since I was seven years old, and the thought of not swimming and giving up the one thing that I loved the most, the sport that shaped me into the person I had become, was unbearable. My dad sat me down to write a pros and cons list together, one of his favorite tools to help me when I have no direction on a problem.

Once we wrote the pros and cons, my heart was still set on making swimming work. I expressed more frustration about my predicament, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Gianna, swimming isn’t everything.’ In that moment I realized that there was so much more to life than swimming. There were my academics, the people who I hung out with, my faith, my family, my extracurriculars, and all that fun stuff.

My dad helped me realize the value of all of my life over something I considered to be life or death. He taught me what truly mattered like quality time with the people you love and to enjoy where you are in life even if it isn’t what you thought. In that moment, my dad became someone who changed my outlook on college and a world without swimming, which I was truly blind to seeing.” —Gianna

“My dad is the reason I attend the college I do, my home away from home. I had gone to small schools all my life, and thought I wanted a change. My dad and I went on a college tour to the Midwest. We saw several colleges, and my college—much smaller than all the other schools I was considering—was on the list because my mom had found it and thought it looked great.

I complained to my dad countless times: ‘Why do we need to go here? I’m not interested, and we’ve seen so many schools.’ He said we did. So we did. My dad scheduled numerous interviews with admissions counselors, professors, and students, and by the end of my first visit, I fell in love. The students with whom I spoke didn’t care about the size; in fact, they said the size of the school was beneficial to their learning experience.

To think that I would have skipped over my second home, because I was exhausted, or tired of seeing schools, or ‘wanted to go to a big school’ is unfathomable to me now. But my dad pushed me out of my narrow-minded thinking. I owe the most formative years of my life (to date) to my college, and the choice of this college, I owe to my dad.” —Mary

Dad’s inspire a sense of adventure.

“My dad has always seen and encouraged a fearlessness that I often fail to see in myself. He has shown me the joy that comes from taking risks. When I was little, we had a tradition of weekend adventures—hiking, pilgrimages, or ordering the most unusual foods from the most unusual restaurants. I was an unusual 10-year-old girl who loved eating frog legs, alligator tails, or fried fish with eyes. If I got scared while rock climbing, he would coach me through it one step at a time, until I was on top of the rock and over my fear.

My dad has taught me to hold my head up high and to reject self-doubt. As I get older, I have bigger risks to take, but I am not afraid to be bold and trust I’ll make it through life one step at a time.” —Rian

“I decided to go on a service trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, before senior year of high school with only two other girls from America (none of us were fluent in Spanish). A few days before we left, my dad had me watch Taken with him, a harrowing story about a girl who is kidnapped while traveling internationally and whose dad makes it his mission to find her. I thought my dad’s motive was to convince me not to go, and it almost worked! But instead, he wanted me to be safe, smart, and confident in another country.

My dad has a way of supporting me wholeheartedly while also making sure I know what I’m getting into. I am often reminded of a phrase my dad used the morning I left for that service trip: ‘Don’t take any wooden nickels.’ Today, I am cautiously adventurous, thanks to my dad!” —Beka

Good relationships between daughters and dads help shape a woman’s sense of purpose in life.

“A lot of those important things that my dad has helped me with have just occurred very naturally over the years. He is a very handy man, and he enjoys being active, working with his hands, fixing or improving parts of our family home. I often expressed a great interest in what he was doing. I wanted to help him (whether it was putting new mulch out in our landscaping, or painting our garage, or installing new flooring), and he was loving and gracious enough to let me. And if the task required a new skill that I had not yet learned, he would patiently explain the process to me and help me get comfortable so that I could work on my own alongside him.

While it seems like something small and unimportant, I think that in the big picture his willingness to teach me and let me work with him led to many of my own skills and much of the confidence that I possess today.” —Shelby

“With every conversation I share with my dad, he always reminds me of my purpose at that time and how important it is to focus and push through, how important it is to reach that finish line. He reminds me that when I reach that finish line, it will be worth it, I will be glad I pushed through. With the help of my dad, I'm not afraid to take on the next challenge life presents.” —Julia

“I believe in my hopeful future and my inherent goodness because my father first believed in my value. On ‘daddy-daughter’ dates, he showed me with his eye contact and respectful attention that I was beautiful and worthy of receiving true love.

At father-daughter dances, he taught me how to waltz and two-step. The love I now have for partner dancing, for the give-and-take motion and the chivalry it represents, has inspired in me the belief that I will only fall in love with a man who can dance with me. As I see in my parents’ compatibility on the dance floor, and as I first learned from my father, I seek a partner who can literally and metaphorically help choreograph our lives together.

My dad first taught me to be the storyteller of my life. While I often focus on the impossibility of reaching my goals, my dad always seems to be already dreaming about the next ones to be set.” —McKenna

“My dad has guided me in finding who I want to be and how I want people to know me. Anyone who knows my dad knows him to be thoughtful, hilarious, and kind. A picture of a Southern gentleman, he has always subtly taught my siblings and me the importance of a generous smile and caring word. We hardly pass someone in a store without my dad’s booming voice asking them ‘How are you?’ Not until I was older did I realize very few people even glance up to look you in the eye, let alone ask after your day.

His little actions have always inspired me to speak kindly to a cashier or smile at a student walking by. His caring has always taught me that the smallest word of recognition can make a person’s day and help a person see their worth.” —Meg