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This is about a father who returns after a particularly long journey. Typically, he's not available very often anyway, but he deeply cares about his daughter. He also fails at behaving like a father should, because of two things: guilt for something he had to do and his duty, which prevents him from being a good father.

So, now that guy returns to his hometown and his daughter is there, and she is extremely excited that he's back. She has some big news for him about her (basically, she got involved with a duty similar to his). She thinks that he will be proud. But in fact, he's going to take it pretty badly. But before that happens, I want to show that he's trying to be a good father and that circumstances make it hard.

But, I don't have many ideas on how to do that without making him look totally awkward...

I think he could try to discuss his daughter's interests, but she's really just obsessed with the idea that her father will be proud of her because of her new duty.

So, right now, I'm trying to make it so the father tries to drive the discussion around his daughter's love interests (which is ok regarding the story), but I'm not really sure about that. And I'm not sure how the father should discuss that.

In such a context, what can a caring father do/tell to his daughter, so that the reader will consider him as a good guy trying hard to be a good father?

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You need this character to do 2 things that are more or less contradictory. That's fine, it will give him "depth" as readers will be forced to bridge the apparent dichotomy by "filling in the blanks" between the two things.

The problem is trying to get him to do both at the same time.

Rather than sending a single mixed-message the reader must interpret, try having him send first one message before realizing his mistake and attempting to correct it with the second message.

In your scene, allow him to be awkward. Allow him to say the wrong thing and mess it up. Allow him to fail as a parent (it seems he already has), and then realize the mistake and attempt to correct it (maybe not in that moment, he can see the mistake but not know how to come back from it until he learns to actually listen to her). The reader will have more sympathy towards him, seeing his flaws and also seeing that he wants to do better. The reader will have a stronger attachment by being allowed to witness his change in stakes, and the end result will be clearer: #1 he is not perfect; #2 he wants to do the right thing.

By turning the conversation to her lovelife, he is dismissing her career choices, but also dismissing her as a real human being. He is essentially reducing his own daughter to a "girlfriend", which very well might be his opinion of women in general, but it might also be about him wanting grandchildren, or his own regret at not being in her life and somehow imagining there must be a proxy man who has replaced him – in this case since she's an adult the proxy man is not a stepfather but a boyfriend. None of these options are particularly flattering to her, but like her assuming he will be honored by her career choice, he has also constructed an unrealistic representation of her in his mind.

Keep the scene. Allow him to be awkward, and allow it to go badly. Then show the reader that he knows he bungled it and wish he'd acted differently. Since the scene ends on a sour note, you'll probably want to start with high expectations, allow it to turn awkward. Work through that moment so the expectations are that their relationship is shaky but things will get better as they become more familiar. Then slam the "bad news", and let the father over-react.

Plot the scene in terms of dynamics, how their feelings and expectations change over the course of the scene. The reader will build up a picture of these people over time, so it's better to send clear messages and allow the character to change, than to try to hit a perfect but ambiguous multi-note message.

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Let it be awkward.

I see you already got this advice, and there's a reason for it. People in general go through machinations of all sorts just to keep things from "being awkward" between them and someone else. This is actually something that women in particular are taught to do. Make it seem like everything is okay, even if you're dying inside, because the other person might end up feeling bad if you don't.

But you're not a character; you're the writer. You don't need to make everything okay. You need to show it as it is.

To my mind, the daughter is the main emotional driver here. Her father has basically abandoned her for years (in whole or in part) and she has built up an image in her mind of someone who doesn't actually exist (no one's image of someone else they don't really know can be real). She imagines that she's finally hit on the thing that will make him a good father to her: she will make him proud. And then everything will be okay.

Of course that is baloney. His not being available to her when she was younger, and him leaving on a long trip, is not her fault and she can't fix it. Nothing she does can give her the father she wants.

So he's here and he loves her and wants to show her he loves her but all she can do is focus on the one thing she is sure is going to fix their relationship. That's a lot of pressure for anyone and he's already the type to bail. So he's either going to bail again or he's going to fight the urge and that is going to take up a lot of his focus.

She's not listening to him and he's not listening to her. Awkward will be the best outcome.

Show him trying and your reader will see that. They'll also see how hard she's trying and how they both are missing the mark. You don't have to do much and a light hand is better than heavy feeeeeliiiiingssss talks. Let it be what it is.

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