Over the years more and more research has pointed to the importance fathers have in the lives of children at every stage. As the role evolves, a father’s presence, responsiveness, and involvement in the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting has benefited the health, well-being, and overall development of his sons and daughters. To name a few, associations have been found between father involvement and:
- Decreased risk of illness and infant mortality
- Self-confidence, risk taking, and environmental exploration in early childhood
- Higher self-esteem, and lower fear of failure in childhood through young adulthood
- Academic achievement in childhood, and higher socioeconomic status in adulthood
On the other hand, a father’s absence in his children’s lives is correlated with a number of negative attributes such as:
- Lower ability to delay gratification
- Higher degree of interpersonal problems and fewer problem-solving skills
- Poorer psychological adjustment
- Higher prevalence of depression and anxiety
- Higher levels of alcohol consumption as young adults
- More hostile behaviors
- Higher probability of incarceration
A father’s presence or absence matters. Interestingly, it matters in a unique way for daughters, particularly when it comes to paternal attachment and communication. One study found that girls diagnosed with depression reported:
- Less perceived paternal warmth and more perceived overall rejection
- Less perceived paternal emotional availability and more negative affect about their fathers
- Lower level of attachment and more problematic communication
Further for daughters, fathers who are caring and involved provide an important a buffer against the development of eating disorders, as well as risky sexual behavior.
While studies examining these relationships continue to grow, anecdotes of those in the trenches each day speak the same truths. Consider the words of pediatrician and author, Dr. Meg Meeker, in her post “Why Daughters Need Their Fathers”:
“After more than 20 years of listening to daughters — and doling out antibiotics, antidepressants, and stimulants to girls who have gone without a father’s love — I know just how important fathers are. As a pediatrician, I have listened hour after hour to young girls describe how they vomit in junior high bathrooms to keep their weight down… I’ve watched girls drop off varsity tennis teams, flunk out of school, and carve initials or tattoo cult figures onto their bodies — all to see if their dads will notice.”
Even in times when teenage daughters are closing their doors in the name of privacy, or seem to be pushing parents away — they still peek to see if they are there for them. To see if they notice. And wonderful things happen when dads do notice. Even more when they are connected and involved. For example, an article examined father-daughter relationships when fathers lived or did not live in the home through adolescence. Reflecting on their relationship, these daughters (aged 18-21) reported higher levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction than daughters whose fathers did not live at home. The authors point out that the key factor “is the quality of the relationship and the degree to which it conveys a feeling of support, love, and nurturance to daughters.”
Presence matters. The quality of how a father relates to his daughters matters.
Even if we look at fatherhood through the lens of objective research, we find that the subjective investment of the heart and soul matters most. In the quality of day-to-day connections, fathers can build something durable and true over time. And for their daughters, that is a firm foundation for future relationships and explorations along the way.
Allgood, S. M., Beckert, T. E., & Peterson, C. (2012). The Role of Father Involvement in the Perceived Psychological Well-Being of Young Adult Daughters: A Retrospective Study. North American Journal of Psychology, 14(1).
Demidenko, N., Manion, I., & Lee, C. M. (2015). Father–Daughter Attachment and Communication in Depressed and Nondepressed Adolescent Girls. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(6), 1727-1734.
Hill, S. E., Leyva, R. P. P., & DelPriore, D. J. (2016). Absent fathers and sexual strategies. Psychologist.
Horesh, N., Sommerfeld, E., Wolf, M., Zubery, E., & Zalsman, G. (2015). Father–daughter relationship and the severity of eating disorders. European Psychiatry, 30(1), 114-120.