Positive Path Recommended Reading

Fathers Raising Daughters
By Michael Grose

A recurring theme of the 90's is "fathers need to be available, visible and well-adjusted if we are to have well-adjusted boys". This message has been spread by authors such as Steve Biddulph in Australia and David Blankenhorn and Myriam Miedzian in the United States. 

The recognition of the links between dads and sons is to be applauded but in the clamour to highlight the plight of boys we have forgotten that dads play an important role in the lives of their daughters too.

Traditionally a father's place in the family has offered girls a sense of protection and safety. While this maybe a throwback to the caveman days when part of the male role was to protect his family this is still partly true today. The notion of a father who is home and available affords a sense of security for young girls even if the only protective behaviours men actually indulge in are the removal of the occasional spider from the bedroom wall or to reassure children that they are quite safe from those things that go bump in the night. There are not too many hairy mammoths roaming the suburbs these days so a man's capacity to protect his brood is severely limited. He can only do so much. 

The real value of fathers in girls' lives is less tangible but more far-reaching. It is from fathers that girls learn their major lessons about the world of males. Okay kids may spend hours in front of television observing men in their favourite soaps or watching action movie heroes solve most of the woes of the world, but today's young people are not easily fooled. They know the difference between celluloid heroes and real life people even if they don't recognise heroes in the flesh. It is from their fathers that both boys and girls gain their first-hand knowledge of how ordinary garden-variety men think, act and speak.

The implications of this are scary. In a sense fathers teach their daughters how they should expect to be treated by males when they get older. They teach them by the way they speak and act toward them and through their treatment of other females especially their own partners. The high proportion of girls who grew up with violent fathers who marry similar men or live in relationships with violent men is testament to the strength of this type of conditioning. The message for dads is simple - be gentle, be respectful and allow your daughters to be assertive towards you. 

Fathers usually experience very special relationships with their young daughters but can feel extremely awkward when their 'little girls' reach adolescence. Many girls describe how a previously close relationship with their father evaporated when they reached adolescence. Coming to terms with a daughter's emerging sexuality is a problem for many dads which is often reflected in a lack of physical contact and sometimes sheer panic if his adolescent daughter appears seductive.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that fathers are linked to the development of a girl's healthy self-esteem particularly in adolescence. At a time when 60% of teenage girls have dieted presumably in search of the perfect female figure presented in magazines a father's positive comments may well make a difference to how his daughter see herself. Reluctant as many dads are to complement their daughters' positive comments about appearance and dress sense can be very reassuring. Most girls, like boys, still want their fathers' approval - although many don't know how to gain it. 

The relationship between adolescent girls and their mothers is frequently strained. Fathers often act as buffers between mothers and daughters when the atmosphere at home becomes highly charged. Many dads find the wisest policy is to remain a neutral ally even though both sides may solicit his support. 

For most of the twentieth century fathers have been sent the message that their role is secondary in the lives of their children. Sigmund Freud reinforced this notion when he reminded us, all those years ago, that the mother-child bond was the only relationship worthy of note. Motherhood became a type of main event and fathers were pushed to the side as a support act. 

Today we can see that good fathering does matter. It matters for girls as well as boys. I suspect it also matters for men themselves as their own wellbeing is closely linked to that of their children. Anecdotal evidence suggest that, increasingly, fathers want to get things right between them and their kids and they are less likely to respond with 'go see your mother' when it comes to hands-on parenting issues.

About the author: Michael Grose is a parenting and work-life balance specialist who always makes good sense. Michael helps parents raise happy, confident kids and resilient young people, through his parenting courses, seminars, keynote presentations, books and articles. Visit his website at www.parentingideas.com.au

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