In today’s busy world, Fathers find very little time to get involved in the nurture and development of their children. In her book Back to the Family, clinical psychologist, Dr. Ray Guarendi says:
Fathers bring a unique presence, a special strength to raising children.
How true this is in the bringing up of daughters! Just as there is a special bond between mothers and sons, the relationship between fathers and daughters is unique. Fathers, therefore, cannot afford to remain remote characters in the lives of their daughters. Parenting is a joint venture, with fathers just as active participants as mothers.
There are various reasons why paternal involvement becomes limited.
1. Ambitious and over-worked Dads: They put their jobs before the welfare of their families. They come home too tired to spend quality time with their children. Often, the children are asleep when they return and leave for school before Dads are awake.
2. Absentee Dads: Those with traveling jobs like airline pilots, sales representatives, businessmen or long- distance truck drivers may be away from home frequently, sometimes for long stretches.
3. Divorced Dads: They may have limited visiting rights and cannot spend sufficient time with their children.
4. False notions: A false notion that girls are to be brought up exclusively by mothers or women can make men distance themselves from their daughters. They feel awkward showing affection, and they miss out on the little intimacies they could share with their daughters.
The word “Dad” is of a universal nature. It conjures up qualities of responsibility, protection, love, and discipline. Being a father can be a rewarding job, and a man who abdicates his responsibility is falling short of his God-given role. John Rosemond, a Family Counselor, wrote in one of his articles that a father must not only be present but be ‘actively involved’ and ‘a vigorously interested participant’ in the child rearing process.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, spent long spells in prison during the struggle for Indian independence. He sorely regretted his separation from his beloved daughter Indira, but he kept in contact with her through letters which were later compiled into his book, Glimpses of World History. These letters express his deep love for her and the ease with which he expressed it.
“Priyadarshini, dear to my sight but dearer still to my heart…..”
“I think of the day when we shall all three meet again, and the thought of it lightens and cheers my heart.”
In spite of being absent, he kindled in her an interest in World history, science and politics, which contributed, in no small measure, to the moulding of her character.
Or who can forget William Jackson Smart, a Dad who raised six children single handedly in rural Washington, or his daughter Senora Dodd, who fought for Fathers’ Day as a dedication to dads like him?
To be a good father, one must be aware of a few essential requirements.
1. Show love: No father should feel embarrassed to show affection to his daughter. A touch, a hug, a special smile, and three little words “I love you” are tangible ways of communicating love. She learns to reciprocate that love. This is her first male-female relationship with her father, and it will influence her behaviour with her husband in later life. The earliest reflection of herself as female comes from her dad. How does he regard her? Does he accept her without reservations? Or does he treat her as inferior to her brother? When he shows respect, she feels worthwhile as an individual. When he ignores her or is too critical, she begins to feel that she is worthless.
2. Show love and respect to her mother: A good and loving relationship between parents is the foundation for her evolution into a happy, well balanced child. It gives her a sense of security, and a good opinion about marriage.
3. Shared activities: A good father will show interest in his daughter’s activities. He will make her feel good about her abilities and achievements. He will find something to praise. A father should be his daughter’s cheerleader. Doing things together like reading, walking, or playing games is time well spent. He will also learn to see things through her eyes as she walks him through her wonderland. Time is a very precious gift.
4. Communication: Listening and paying attention to what a daughter says is a way of showing love. What may seem silly to an adult may be bothersome to a child. She should be encouraged to talk of her school problems, peer pressure, studies or any other conflict situations. A good father will help her find solutions to her problems. He will teach, not blame. She will be free to voice her opinions and be open to advice.
5. Respect: A girl child is to be regarded as a person and not as a possession. Her right to privacy and her space to grow must be respected.
6. Honesty: Being honest with his child will make a father trustworthy in her estimation. Her questions should be answered sensibly. She should be taught to distinguish between right and wrong, honesty and dishonesty. She should not be forced to do what she doesn’t want to do through inducements, threats or emotional blackmail.
7. Discipline: “Discipline is one of the most loving, durable gifts a parent can give to his child,” says Gaurendi. It should be consistent, fair and administered with love. When training a child in the way she should go, the father should make sure he goes that way himself. The task of parenting is overwhelming. It is exciting to see men who take family responsibility seriously, and are caring and compassionate. The way a father speaks, the words he uses, and the tone of his voice can be encouraging or discouraging. Dependability and integrity, which she learns from her father, will prepare her for ‘the school of hard knocks’ she must pass through on her trek toward adulthood.
The relationship between father and daughter reaches a very delicate phase when she is in her teens. This period must be negotiated with tact and efficiency. She must be assured that he values her as an intelligent and independent person. Becoming aware of his daughter’s sexuality makes many a father uncomfortable. Suddenly, he feels demoted in her list of priorities. So far, he was the centre of her universe. Now her eyes begin to rove and get focused on other boys. She wants to dress differently and behave differently. Some fathers cannot handle these changes. They might react by being overprotective or overbearing.
Overprotective: In a society which does not value modesty or sexual purity, Dad becomes afraid that his precious girl may go astray. He feels it is his duty to impose rules about dating and whom she will date, or how she will dress, or what company she will keep. This ‘paternal neurosis’ is unwelcome. The girl feels restricted. On the one hand it may make her feel insecure, as though she is incapable of taking care of herself. On the other hand, she might want to escape from this ‘smother love’ before it stunts her emotional growth.
Overbearing: Daughters tend to rebel against dictatorial fathers. When rigid rules are imposed, which she thinks unnecessary, or when he restricts her activities, she might begin to fear him or hate him. There is a distinct inclination to rebel. A father must be sensitive to the growing needs of his daughter and make allowances appropriately. He should negotiate fairly, allowing her to gain confidence and pride in her choices. But he must also impress upon her that choices have consequences.
A daughter considers her father a gauge by which she will estimate the worth of other men. If he is well behaved, dependable, honest and loving, she will look for those qualities in other men. He must be a praying father, too; he reflects the unconditional love of God, our father. Child psychologist, Phyllis Bronstein, says that while a mother teaches a child to nurture and care, a father teaches physical competence, self-confidence in asserting opinions, and adventurism. Children with good fathers get on well with other people and are achievers. Whereas those who are neglected by their fathers show lower IQ, poor performance in school, and delinquency.
When fathers are abusive, hot tempered, irresponsible or alcoholics, this too has an adverse impact on daughters. They look for similar traits in husbands or lovers. Irrespective of the damage it does to them physically, psychologically and emotionally, this ‘father hunger’ compels them to seek such men, hoping that eventually things will change. One father said, “If I screw up, she will spend the rest of her life with a ‘screw up.’ I don’t want that to happen.”
Too much of molly coddling is unhealthy and can lead to ‘father fixation.’ This kind of wrong parenting can be the cause of the Electra Complex – a psychological term for a girl’s romantic feelings toward her father and anger toward her mother. Carl Jung called it the “Female Oedipus Attitude.” This could even lead to an incestuous relationship between father and daughter. An anonymous poet has this advice for fathers:
Take stock of yourself and consider your child,
Your time and your thoughts are her due;
For how would you answer the Lord if he asks
What kind of a father were you?