About the Project


      When I first decided to compile these stories, my father was in the hospital dying of cancer. After telling him my idea for the book, I waited to see how he would react. I was a touch disappointed when he smiled and nodded with a “that’s nice” expression and fell asleep. Minutes later, he awoke with a start and boomed, “Lesley!” I ran to his side, worried he needed my help or was feeling ill. He popped up in bed, with his warm, brown eyes meeting my gaze and said, “Lesley, when you write your second book, the critics will be very tough. But when you write your third, they will be a bit more forgiving, since the first two were so successful.” I had not written one single word, sentence, or paragraph…nothing. Yet my father, ever the believer in me, had me on book three!

      For weeks, sometimes months at a time, I dropped my children off at school, spent the day in the hospital with Dad, picked the kids up at school, and returned to the hospital in the evening after tucking my three children into bed. My father never asked me to do this. In fact, he expressed surprise and pleasure with each visit, “oh, how wonderful, you’re here again?” The staff noticed our strong bond. Soon nurses, doctors, and technicians began telling me moving stories of their relationships with their fathers and the life lessons that they had learned from them. In an effort to lift my spirits, friends and acquaintances also recounted amazing father/daughter stories. I decided to compile many of those stories here.  Some of the daughters have famous dads and some have “regular” dads, but all the fathers here are heroes to their daughters and have imparted life lessons, which are carried in the hearts and minds of these daughters forever. We are all “daddy’s girls,” not from being sheltered or treated as children, but because we were encouraged to be strong and independent women standing on the most secure foundation of all–our fathers’ shoulders.

      We belong to a “Secret Society,” secret because many women are embarrassed to express how much they love their fathers. I expressed it this way for the first time during what I thought was my father’s last hospitalization. After seeing a commercial on television for the film Mystic River, my father told me he thought it was “his kind of film” but doubted he would live to see it, as the film was not yet released.  A widely-known physician and accomplished musician who had sold out Carnegie Hall more than once, he could have easily made a phone call to get the movie. But this was not his style, so I leapt into action.  My friend Liz is a well-known casting director who also loves her father more than anything. The rare times I can get her on the phone, I have about ten seconds to speak. When her receptionist answered, I told her it was urgent. When Liz picked up, I heard the clock ticking in her “what’s up?” I had to condense the emotional urgency of my request to a couple of words, so I said, “Liz, the ‘Secret Society’ needs you. I am at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. My father wants to see the new Sean Penn movie.” “Call you right back,” she said, hanging up abruptly.

      In the minutes before Liz called back, my father questioned me about the “Secret Society.” I told him that I had never used that expression before, but I needed to sum things up quickly for Liz. The “Secret Society” is made up of women who love their fathers so much they would do anything for them. This shocked my father. “You mean, you and I are not the only father/daughter pair that feels this way?”  He thought only we shared this bond of love, support, respect, and mutual adoration! Liz called back and said, “The DVD is being sent by messenger and should be there within the hour.” The “Secret Society” was alive and well.

      Our “Secret Society” includes not only biological fathers but also anyone who has been loved and taught life’s lessons by a father figure whether it is a stepfather or a male mentor. The definition of father includes anyone who “loves, supports, guides, inspires, and encourages his children” as well as “a man of strong character who teaches by example.” My own stepfather, Jay, taught me how to drive a stick shift, attended all my high school tennis matches, and supported me through the death of my “real” father.  This book is dedicated to all the men who have acted as fathers.

      The title, On Giant Shoulders: Life Lessons Daughters Learn From Their Fathers, comes from a letter written by Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the Shoulders of Giants.” He referred to the intellectual work done before him, which made possible his own discoveries. Likewise, the daughters in this book have all accomplished more and loved more wisely from having been uplifted, guided and taught by their fathers.

      In his 2003 hit song “Daughters,” John Mayer sings, “Fathers, be good to your daughters.  Daughters will love like you do.” The father-daughter relationship prepares a girl for love later on in life. When a daughter is shown love, support, understanding, empathy, and respect from her father, she will be able to share those qualities with others. That “first love” between a father and his daughter models behavior and carries women into and through adult life. Each of these stories explores various forms of that unconditional love that help and guide a daughter throughout her life.

      There are countless lessons that a daughter learns from her father, whether by being taught through discussion or by the father leading by example.  Through these invaluable life lessons, a daughter learns that she can be or do anything, develops a moral code to live by, and learns to laugh, love and listen.  This book is written, therefore, for all who want to benefit from these life lessons and want to walk away with a deeper understanding of the father/daughter relationship. These inspiring tales include how Itzak Perlman helped his daughter Navah to face her own illness and not be overcome by it, helping her back on the path to being a concert pianist again. Also, how Roger Staubach’s daughter Stephanie learned the value of hard work and became a successful businesswoman as general counsel for her father’s company.  Or, as Earl, “The Pearl” Monroe’s daughter relays how her father taught her to take a leap of faith in life. And, the lesson on the importance of “letting go” is told so beautifully by John Walsh’s daughter Meghan who was born a year after her brother’s disappearance and murder. Many daughters who wrote for this book tell of a time when they didn’t think they could do something. With their fathers’ gentle guidance and belief in them, they achieved their goals. Some women, such as Jack Nicklaus’ daughter Nan, speak about how a serious, well-respected public father’s persona contradicts the warm, humorous man they know as dad.

      Many fathers are capable of this kind of love and respect for their daughters, but few recognize its significance. My own husband did not fully realize his impact on our fourteen-year-old daughter Claire, although I was working on this book, until I pointed it out to him. From the time she was about five years’ old, Claire and her father developed a morning ritual that she will always cherish. Every morning until fairly recently, Claire would awake and bring her school clothes and hairbrush into our room while David would shave. She proceeded to get dressed and brush her long, dirty blond hair while chatting away incessantly about friends, favorite foods, books, and life. He responded when he could get a word in!  I adored this time too, as I would listen while waking up slowly. It reminded me of moments I had with my own father when I was Claire’s age. Moments etched in my memory not because I was receiving a cool toy or going to the circus or anything like that…moments that were just that. They were instants of simply being together. Some of the best times I can remember. The very power of these moments is their spontaneity, and then they are gone. I hope this book will prolong and preserve such moments for these strong, talented women with extraordinary fathers. And beyond our “Secret Society,” the love exchanged and the life lessons learned in these stories serves as a model for all parents.

      I was lucky to have my father’s example. While compiling this book, there were countless times that I thought about giving up.  However, when I felt that way, I sought reassurance in the mirror of my memory where I still see my Dad’s warm, brown eyes. Peering into his eyes, I see the reflection of my same brown eyes and am reminded that he gave me more than a certain eye shape and color.  I remember how he already had me on book three.  

Lesley Kelman Koeppel