Father Daughter relationship
“The father-daughter bond is a prototype for male-female relationships for the daughter and offers positive mental health and self-esteem to the father,” says Frederick B. Phillips, Ph.D., founder of the Progressive Life Center in Washington, D.C., which offers an array of psychological services. “Within the framework of this relationship, the daughter has the opportunity to develop here womanliness, as contrasted with male energy. She can test out her female energy in a safe, nonsexual relationship. Fathers can realize stronger and truer self-esteem by receiving pure love, not to be confused with sexuality.”
Test: What kind of father daughter relationship do you have?
“There are men who lack the income to support their children, but they can sit down and talk to their daughters,” she says. “And a father isn’t just one who provides basic needs. The best fathers reinforce the idea that their girl’s femaleness is charming and positive, that things about her as a female are special.”,says Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., a psychologist who is a professor at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, and who specializes in male-female relationships in her private practice.
Psychologist Wyatt comments, “When a father praises his daughter for her strengths and exposes her to the working world, it says to the daughter that a man sees her as a peer, as capable. That kind of approval from a father is very important for a girl.”
In her book “Embracing Your Father: How to Build the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted with Your Dad,” Professor of Education and Women’s and Gender Studies Linda Nielsen offers practical advice for adult daughters to develop closer ties to their fathers.
Ages 14 to 18 are often the most uncomfortable times, Nielsen said. Divorce and remarriage can present even more hurdles for the father-daughter relationship. Learning more about their fathers — their histories and why they made certain choices — can help daughters reconnect with their fathers.
“No matter how old you and your father are now, getting to know each other on a more personal, more emotionally intimate level will deepen your bond,” Nielsen said. “For example, have your dad choose 10 pictures of himself throughout different periods of his life. Then spend several hours alone with him looking them over and encouraging him to tell you stories about his life.”
HERE ARE some unhealthy father-daughter patterns from the book “The Father-Daughter Dance,” by Joan Minninger:
Lost Father and Yearning Daughter. The father abandons the daughter, either by outright desertion or by rejection, remoteness or neglect. The daughter becomes obsessed with trying to understand his reasons, or with blaming her own shortcomings, or with struggling to earn his acceptance. Example: Marilyn Monroe.
Abusive Father and Victim Daughter. The father persecutes his daughter through physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The daughter identifies herself as a victim and grows up seeking other relationships in which she can play victim and/or rescuer and/or persecutor. Example: Rita Hayworth.
Pampering Father and Spoiled Daughter. The father makes a pet of his daughter, giving her everything she asks for, and more, without requiring her to earn it. The daughter learns to control others through charm or temper, yet lacks inner control and a sense of personal competence. Example: Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
Pygmalion Father and Companion Daughter. The father mentors his daughter, molding her into an exceptionally able woman and his ideal companion. The daughter grows up feeling special and privileged, yet believing that she owes it all to her father. Example: Anna Freud.
Ruined Father and Rescuing Daughter. A previously distant father turns to his daughter in trouble, expecting her to take care of him. The daughter sacrifices her own well-being in order to win his approval. Example: Cordelia in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Depression, low self-esteem and problematic relationships with men are often the residue of a father’s desertion. Experts agree that daughters must attempt to release these painful symptoms. It’s realistic for women to be angry, but unhealthy for them to hold on to their pain. The pain, however, should be taken seriously, according to Wallerstein. She urges women to get an accurate story of their parents’ breakup in orde to begin to heal themselves. “Daughters often feel they were to blame for divorce. Getting a true picture may help them realize that their father’s leaving had nothing to do with them,” says the psychologist, who also advices that daughters seek counseling. “Individual or group therapy can help women work through issues.”
Gail Wyatt suggests that daughters of divorce can support one another in groups that don’t just describe problems, but rather probe for solutions. The therapist is cautious about advising women to confront their absentee fathers, saying, “Confrontation is sometimes therapeutic, but you have to know the man. If he’s basically concerned and will listen, he may be a good candidate. Daughters shouldn’t expect anything to change. Basically, expressing pent-up feelings face-to-face benefits daughters, not fathers.”
He says that many absentee fathers haven’t been taught how to get in touch with the expression of their softer side and feel uncomfortable with tender feelings. For those women who are still trying to negotiate a relationship with the father who has absent during their childhood, he advises direct communication. “Women need to be direct and clear about what they want. They should communicate this to the fathers, either face-to-face, through the telephone or in a letter,” he says. “To communicate effectively, women shouldn’t attack or put the man on the defensive. Instead they should try to connect and form a bond. Start off by saying ‘We share a lot. I know you’ve been hurt about our relationship.’ Provide the father an opportunity to express his pain.”
Roughly between the ages of 19 and 23, when girls begin to think seriously about committing themselves to a man, many seem to reconnect with the pain of their father’s leaving, say psychologists. At that point, the girl’s fear of failure between men and women begins to emerge. The result is that many of these young women distrust men, fearing that they will abandon them as their fathers did.
There are, of course, other violations even more catastrophic than a father’s absence. Physical and emotional abuse and incest leave indelible scars on little girls’ hearts.
“A violation of the father–daughter relationship leads to a fracturing of the psyche for both people,” says says Frederick B. Phillips. “Both go to great lengths to repress that violation, but in deeper terms they become less than whole as they carry the violation around.” Philips believes that both physically and sexually abused women exhibit symptoms of their abuse.
He says that women who have been molested by their fathers have specific pain and anger that play out in different ways. On one end of the spectrum, some abused women may enter the sex industry, becoming prostitutes and porn stars who act out the devaluation they have been taught to feel about their bodies; in the process they turn sex into a power relationship in which they feel they have control. At the other end are abused women who seem to behave normally but who carry their anger, hurt and mistrust into relationships with other men. According to Philips, most incest survivors, as well as victims of physical abuse, need psychological counseling to move beyond the pain of their traumatized girlhoods.
We are driven to create logical, orderly, consistent stories about our lives and about the lives of others, we pick and choose what incidents and information we want to remember, to forget, to enlarge, and to overlook. And our minds play tricks on us so that we can literally “remember” things that in fact never happened — memories created by what other people have told us, not by what we ourselves actually saw, heard, or did. So, for instance, if you believe that the group “mothers” is more self-sacrificing, more sensitive, more easily hurt, and more interested in talking about personal things than the group “fathers”, you will be more likely to notice and to remember the unselfish, sacrificing, sensitive things your mother has done.
You’ll also be more likely to forget the times she’s been selfish, aggressive, insensitive, manipulative, and emotionally abusive. Likewise, you will recall or feel off balance when your father tries to talk with you about personal things, cries in front of you, or talks about the sacrifices he has made for you. In short, I’m trying to get these daughters to understand that all of us usually only see something clearly after we are willing to believe it.
One of the most important factors determining how close a father and his children become is how much the mother allows him to share in the parenting. The mother almost always has power over the father in this respect — an enviable, powerful situation referred to as “maternal gate-keeping”. Put differently: “the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world”. Even the most well-intentioned, loving mother can feel insecure, jealous or competitive about the children’s getting as close to their father as they are to her — especially during infancy and early childhood when it’s the most important for her to open the gates between the father and children. Without meaning any harm, what the mother says and does too often makes it difficult for the father and children to develop as close a relationship as they might have otherwise.
What happens to most fathers after a divorce? Given that 50% of the couples in our country who say “I do”, eventually say “I don’t”, this topic interests students not only because a third of their parents are divorced, but because they are aware of the high probability of their ending up divorced some day. At any rate, the research is a far cry from what most of them imagine. After divorce most fathers are more depressed and suicidal than mothers and grieve for years over losing their children. Most are not joyful, swinging bachelors who end up marrying young women. And most do not end up with a far higher standard of living than their ex-wives and children.
Similarly, researcher Judith Wallerstein finds divorce often turns daughters against fathers. Understandably, daughters raised under such circumstances later tend to have great difficulty establishing trusting, committed relationships with their romantic partners. And because these women sometimes attempt to compensate for the lack of masculine approval by engaging in sex before marriage, their problems often increase rather than decrease over time.
Finally daughters have to come face to face with the fact that the kind of relationship a girl has with her father does matter as much — and in many ways matters more — than her relationship with her mother. Even if they want to believe — as some do — that their relationship with their father no longer matters, the research shows them how and why their fathers continue to affect them: in their academic lives, future careers, relationships with boyfriends, sexual and social self confidence, their ability to express anger and stand up for themselves, mental health, and feelings about how they look and what they weigh.
On the personal level, daughters whose fathers are physically or emotionally absent are much likelier to develop serious problems with other men in their lives. “It is fathers far more than mothers who determine what it means to be a girl and how comfortable she is or is not in her own sexual sin,” writes Victoria Secunda, author of Women and Their Fathers.
One of the most important ways men affirm the femininity of their daughters is by treating their wives with honor, respect, and tenderness. Parents who cannot bear being in one another’s presence reveal as much, if not more, to a child about romantic love as anything the mother or father might say.
Fathers tend to pull away when their girls hit adolescence, which makes things worse. Dads have no idea how much their daughters need them at this point.” Or how much what they say matters. Maine notes that even an innocuous comment from a father about baby fat can initiate a cycle of dieting and depression in young girls.
It can be even more unnerving for some men to engage with their daughters when the girls hit puberty and, at times, overwhelm their dads with their burgeoning sexuality. In response, many fathers simply pull away. “It can be a very confusing time for dads, but when fathers connect with their daughters, they’re laying the groundwork for positive relationships with boys later on. Girls who feel connected and respected by their father will look for the same healthy relationships with the boys in their life.” , says Joe Kelly, co-founder of Dads and Daughters workshop.
Dads and Daughters has come up with some practical suggestions to help fathers connect with their daughters:
–CARPOOL The more time dads spend with daughters and their friends in the car and at their school, the more insight they can have into their daughters’ world.
–TAKE AN INTEREST IN HER ACTIVITIES Studies show that when fathers take an active interest in and play sports with their daughters, the girls are less likely to have unhealthy or abusive relationships.
–LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGING Fathers sometimes want to rush in and fix problems; daughters don’t always need solutions but want to air their feelings without fretting that Dad will freak.
–SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES Girls benefit from knowing that even dads have faced adolescent uncertainty.
–SPEND ONE-ON-ONE TIME Bike riding, going out for ice cream or playing board games together is great for younger girls; older girls enjoy going alone with Dad to a favorite restaurant or having a regular bowling date.