Daughters Need Fathers, Too
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
~ “Daughters,” by John Mayer
We hear a lot about the importance of male role models in a boy’s life. It is indeed important. But what’s often missing from the conversation is the importance of fathers in a daughter’s life as well. As we come up on the annual celebration of fathers in America, let’s consider the psychology of father-daughter relationships.
Children really do learn what they live. Not having the perspective of older people, they consider whatever their family is like as their “normal.” From infancy, girls draw conclusions about what men are like from the men in their life. If there is a father (or a male in her life who takes a father role), that man becomes her guidepost for what to expect of men and what to expect of men’s attitude toward women. His relationship to her mother or his significant other is her template for what her relationship with a man will be when she grows up.
Those early learnings are powerful. Regardless of what happens as a teen and adult, a girl who identifies her gender as female has already created a set of assumptions of what that means for her to be a woman by the time she is 4 or 5 years old. At each stage of her development, she is watching and learning from the women — and men — around her to figure out how to be successful as a woman and how to be in a relationship with a man. When that learning is positive and helpful for negotiating the world, a daughter will grow up to be at ease in her own skin and in her sexuality. When it is conflicted or creates expectations that are demeaning or less than useful for cooperating with others, her relationship with herself, with other women, and with men will be troubled.
What all this means for a father or father figure is that he counts. He counts a lot. Regardless of whether he wants the responsibility, a father’s relationship to the world and to women sets down a template that will be played out for another generation. Men who take their job as a father of a daughter seriously are men who know the importance of the following 10 basic principles:
1. Love her mother. Theodore M. Hesburgh, a former president of Notre Dame University, is quoted as saying that this is the most important thing a man can do. It’s true. To Hesburgh’s idea, I would add this: If you can’t love her mother, find something to respect and admire in her anyway. With a high divorce rate and equally high never-married-parent rate, it’s important to acknowledge that not all parents are bound by love. But however a father feels emotionally about a girl’s mom, it is in his and the child’s best interests for him to treat the mother with respect and consideration, no matter what. Even if the mother doesn’t return the favor, he can live an honorable life that shows his daughters that a man takes the high road when it comes to his respect for women and his responsibilities to his children.
2. Attach to your daughters. Let them attach to you. Girls with a solid sense of self are often their daddy’s buddy at least for awhile when growing up. Spend regular quality time with her. Don’t be afraid to take her out for a hike or for a game of catch or a round of the basketball game Horse (or Pig, or whatever variant you play). Girls are just as likely to like to do such things with their dad as a boy is. Let her know you love her with the words and hugs that are appropriate for her age. Whatever your relationship with her mother, your relationship with your daughter is critically important.
3. Attach with safety. In America, national surveys of adults find that nine to 28 percent of women say they experienced some type of sexual abuse or assault in childhood. The best preventative measure is to teach your daughter about privacy, modesty, and appropriate boundaries. Fathers model where the lines are between appropriate affection and inappropriate touch.