(The Root) — Thankfully, it's no secret that Barack Obama is a good father. More than other presidents in my recent memory, Obama — though never adopting the title "dad in chief" as his wife, Michelle, did with "mom in chief" — has become the poster child for working dads the world over. The proof, of course, is in the national captivation with first daughters Malia and Sasha Obama, two budding young women the country is almost as glad to have around for another four years as they are to have the girls' dad.
"The night belonged to their father, but when Malia and Sasha stepped onto the stage in Grant Park election night, it was hard not to marvel at how much they had matured," said NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker in a segment that aired the night before the inauguration.
On Monday the crowds that packed onto the National Mall to witness history spared no applause for Malia and Sasha as they glided down the Capitol steps in purple J. Crew coats. They looked to be the closet thing a democracy can get to princesses. And precocious princesses at that. When Sasha very noticeably yawned during the president's address, instead of chiding her, the mass of people surrounding me on the mall laughed and shook their heads as if she were one of them — tired, cold and ready to get this show on the road.
In "23 Reasons Sasha and Malia Stole the Inauguration," BuzzFeed called the first daughters "America's awesome kid sisters," and if more than 30,000 Facebook likes on a post are any indication, many agreed. While the entire country was celebrating the peaceful transfer of power in a ceremony rife with America's version of pomp and circumstance, "the girls" (as fans have taken to calling them) reminded everyone of the fact that the man taking the oath is a father and husband first.
The president has claimed in interviews that as the girls get older, they don't want to hang out with poor ol' dad as much. He joked during a press conference, "It's getting kind of lonely in this big house." But who can forget that image of both girls snuggled into their dad while watching their mother give her seminal speech at the Democratic National Convention in September?
Those weren't girls embarrassed by dear ol' Dad. You could clearly see the happiness that comes with being physically and metaphorically surrounded by love and security on their faces. The girls are good, first and foremost, because their parents are — and more specifically because their father is.
In his new book Raising Girls, child psychologist Steve Biddulph says that girls with strong and involved fathers will grow up with higher self-esteem and make smarter choices later in life. Modern fatherhood, according to Biddulph, allows many men more time to spend with their young daughters, but not necessarily the tools to make that time count.
He advises fathers to ask for and listen to their daughter's opinions early on so that "she'll develop the sense that she's both intelligent and worthwhile." Biddulph also encourages dads to show their daughter how to be "happy, exuberant and even silly at times" in order to "increase her capacity to be happy as she grows up."
As I was reading Biddulph's advice, I couldn't help being reminded of the Obama girls — how at once they were mature and graceful standing on the Capitol steps as their dad took the oath of office, and then just a few short hours later at the inaugural parade, they were kids again — snapping "selfies" with their smartphones and making faces at their friends. They are girls who know how to have fun with themselves and their parents. And they are also girls who seem grounded and aware.
The first daughters seem to have been taught by a first-rate dad. More than any other presidential daughters — Caroline Kennedy, for example — Malia and Sasha represent an almost Rockwellian depiction of the archetypal girl: sugar, spice, et cetera. Although this isn't the mid-20th century, the Obama girls, as their dad pointed out in his speech Monday, could graduate from the White House into an unequal working world in which women are still only earning 78 cents to every dollar a man makes.
"Modern womanhood is tough," writes Biddulph. "All too soon, your daughter will need to become self-reliant, clear-thinking, emotionally strong, good with people and responsible for her own life. A good dad gives her a head-start that lasts forever."
Malia and Sasha (and the rest of the country) are lucky. Not only do they have a "good dad" who has clearly already begun planting the seeds they'll need to grow into modern women, but he also leads the free world, making sure those crops yield results for years to come for the rest of us.