Fathers and Daughters


I opened my paper yesterday to find this lovely photo at the top of Mormontimes (a weekly section of the Deseret News) and the teaser headline FATHERS PROTECT THEIR DAUGHTERS AND GIVE THEM UNCONDITIONAL LOVE pg C9. And there, a lovely article (with photos!) spread across two pages.

It’s been a long time since I’ve submitted a newspaper feature, in fact last piece I wrote for DesNews was published the day before my mother’s death. The idea for this article came to me as a spiritual nudge a few weeks ago and I was surprised when the editor accepted my proposal.

I had no trouble finding three sets of exceptional fathers and daughters to interview– all three live within a paper airplane flight from my home. In truth, I can walk up and down my street or simply look at my four surrounding neighbors and my incredible husband to find outstanding examples of fatherhood. But the families I chose had unique stories I wanted to share: Libbie VanLeeuwen as the much younger baby girl in a family of boys, Rich Allen as the father of six daughters (I’ve informed my boys that someone has to marry an Allen girl. With the similar ages and interests I’m sure it will work out for at least one pairing– is that too much to ask?) and Dean Menlove as the father of seven grown children.

Libbie & Craig– I didn’t photoshop those eyes one bit; they are simply amazing.

Speaking with these fathers and daughters and witnessing the love that flowed between them was incredibly healing for me. Interestingly, the first concept each father spoke of was his desire to protect his daughters.

Because of my place in life, the most profound conversation in this project was with Dean Menlove and his daughter Margee. Even as he introduced his daughter he teared up with pride, “Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she wonderful?” And Margee found time in a busy day to talk to me because:

“I’ll take any opportunity to talk about my dad.”


My first question: “How do you parent your adult daughters differently than your sons?”

Leaning forward, Dean spoke with great emotion, “My girls have tender hearts and feel things deeply. Their emotions are much more intense than my boys, and it’s my responsibility to care for my daughters and protect them from harm.”

“If anything, I need my father more as an adult than I did as a little girl or teenager,” Margee added, “There were teachers and leaders and coaches cheering me on back then, but now I rely on my dad for encouragement and unconditional love. I can show up to a family dinner 20 minutes late, unshowered and feeling impatient with my four rowdy kids. My dad will greet me with joy, telling me how beautiful I am, that he loves my chocolate brown eyes, that I must be getting younger rather than older. Dad always compliments my mothering; he thinks everything I do is fantastic, even if it isn’t.

“I have a wonderful, loving husband,” Connolly continued, “but I still need my dad. Even when I was a little girl, he could look at my face, know what I was feeling and ease my heart with kind words.”

How I wish I’d caught them on video! They spoke so clearly, so beautifully; every interaction infused with respect and kindness.

And I know this is the way it was meant to be, this is the divine pattern for fatherhood.

As we continued to talk, they became so excited about showing me the playhouse Dean built for his daughters that they insisted I come out and see it the next day.

Isn’t it incredible? I think I took over three hundred photos of all the beautiful details. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to build a playhouse like this to be a good father/grandfather. But it is pretty cool.

Father’s Day can be difficult. Society doesn’t place the same expectations on fathers as they do on mothers and sadly, fathers are much more likely to be absent, apathetic or even abusive. But I believe we must keep speaking and writing about the ideal. I intend to raise five excellent loving fathers. For further inspiration, I recommend A Father’s Blessing from my friend Catherine and Dads and their Daughters from my friend Tracy. Neither are Father’s Day posts– they simply relate the way their father helped them at a time they needed it the most.

Dean’s wife Colleen teased me, “Good luck finding any copies of the newspaper; I think Dean cleared out every store within five miles.” And then she became emotional, “You’ve given us something to be joyous about during a very difficult time.” I responded that they had done the same and more for me.

I’ve been having a hard time; this week was one of the most difficult of my life. I’ve been aching, praying to feel the presence of God, to know Him, to feel His love for me. And now I understand the prompting to write this piece– God was telling me, “Look at these men, look at their nature, their love, the way they love their children. They are a reflection of Me; this is the love I have for you.”


Here’s the link:

by Michelle Lehnardt

(honestly, it’s a little stiff; I think I’m much more comfortable writing in first person these days)



June 13, 2011



  1. Jeanelle

    June 17, 2011

    So proud of you! I’m sorry for the painful week but now I know why you’ve been in my thoughts. I personally head into Father’s Day not really knowing how to feel. I intend to not wallow in what I never really had but I will instead honor the great men I know who are amazing dads to my friends and the YW I adore.

  2. Ang

    June 17, 2011

    Great job with the article, Michelle. The photos are fabulous too.

  3. Linn

    June 17, 2011

    Absolutely beautiful and yes, it did make me tear up.

    There are so many days that I cannot believe I married one of the greatest dads I have ever known. And I don’t say that lightly. When you see that it matters to them EVER SINGLE DAY you know you are one of the blessed ones. He has taught me more than he could ever know.

    And you, my friend, what beautiful writing. I am not surprised for a second they published it. Thanks Michelle. Thinking of you this week especially…

  4. Tracy

    June 17, 2011

    So proud of you. You should be published a lot and I hope you ask for it more.

    This post is sob worthy. I have tears running down my face as I read your beautiful words and see these beautiful men.

    I’m thinking about you always and surrounding you with my love.

    Love you so much, my dear friend.

  5. Kerri

    June 17, 2011


    This was beautiful: words and pictures. You did a fantastic job on a subject that was more tender for you than most readers of the DesNews will ever ever imagine. Thank you for focusing our attention on the ideal. My heart is broken for those who struggle with fathers who choose to not work towards that goal, you and our dear little Holden included.

    I’ll be praying for you the next few days. And you can call if you ever need to vent. I’m a good listener. You still have my cell number?

  6. Selwyn

    June 18, 2011

    I’ve been thinking about and praying for you all this week, knowing what Sunday is over there. That is a beautiful piece of writing, Michelle, the article as well.

    I love you.

  7. Cath

    June 18, 2011

    Michelle. This was exceptional! Loved your personal take on the experience, as well as every word of your article. And this? “God was telling me, “Look at these men, look at their nature, their love, the way they love their children. They are a reflection of Me; this is the love I have for you.” This is worth reading daily. I love you.

  8. Jessica

    June 19, 2011

    Great article, so glad that I found you through Tracy!

  9. Lisa

    June 20, 2011

    I am continually amazed by your insight into life through photos and words. Your camera lens seems to always find meaning even where there is sometimes heartache.

    Congratulations on the article…it is just wonderful!

  10. Trainer Momma

    June 20, 2011

    Simply beautiful article. I just moved away from my father and made me miss him even more. Thank you for putting into words my feelings about my father.

  11. cristie

    June 20, 2011

    power here. xox

  12. Mormon Women: Who We Are

    June 21, 2011

    Linked to this on MW. LOVED it. (I laughed out loud at the end of the article…what an awesome idea!)

    I’m so grateful for your voice about keeping the ideal on the table, even as that ideal is not always the reality in people’s lives. Hugs to you.

  13. Mormon Women: Who We Are

    June 21, 2011

    And this? “God was telling me, “Look at these men, look at their nature, their love, the way they love their children. They are a reflection of Me; this is the love I have for you.” This is worth reading daily. I love you.

    p.s. AMEN.

  14. Anne Marie

    June 21, 2011

    Incredible! Thank you for writing this. I am with other readers…the quote about God’s love is breathtaking.

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