Princess and angel are the two words I hear most when I hear men describe their daughters. As the father of two, I can’t describe the feeling I had when the doctor in the delivery room said ‘it’s a girl’. Because both girls were caesarean, I got to hold them first while the doctors went about stitching (stapling) my big girl back together. They both had healthy lungs, and protested their rude arrival into this hideously sterile theatre very loudly. The thing I remember most about holding these yelling little pink bundles was their breath. It’s a smell that I haven’t smelled since, and I struggle to know how to describe. It was earthy and beautiful, and it occurred to me that I was the first person to ever smell it.
I’m wondering how some men get from this initial joy, to becoming either absent, abusive, or both? ‘Daddy’s little angel’ who squeals when you put her on your shoulders or push her on the swing, doesn’t perpetually remain a cute 4 year old with pig tails, and at some point may even tell you to get fucked! There seems to be a point when fathers start to remove themselves from their daughters. Suddenly the cute little girl is a young women developing sexual characteristics, and some men speak openly about how uncomfortable this makes them: daddies little girl isn’t supposed to get breasts!!
Of course there are some men who are never interested in their children, preferring other another lifestyle instead. I remember speaking to a bloke once who was lamenting the fact that his family seemed to resent him. “How could they? They mean everything to me, I live for them. Maybe I don’t give them quite enough time, but you know, I’m really busy”. When I asked him to tell me about his life, he said that it was great. Monday was indoor cricket, Tuesday was outdoor cricket training, Wednesday was the indoor cricket again, Thursday he played pool, Friday was of course the end of long week so he ‘deserved’ to go out with the boys for a ‘couple’ of beers. Saturday was outdoor cricket and depending on the weather, Sunday was either fishing or going around to his mate’s house to help him restore his vintage car. “Wow, you sure are busy” I said. “Where does your family fit in to all that?”. “Well that’s the problem, as you can see I just don’t have the time; you understand don’t you?” he pleaded. My blank stare and wry smile probably told him all he needed to know about what I thought of his ‘busy’ life.
Anyway, I’m waffling! Where was I?….Oh yeah, dads and daughters…. Ok, so the formulae is simple. Be involved in your daughter’s life, and accept that there comes a point when the relationship will change. Change doesn’t mean end, it means change. You need more motivation? There are countless studies that show that a women’s relationship with her father has a huge impact on her future relationship with other men. Most recently I was reading an addition of Child Development Journal about father absenteeism, that stated
The impact of father absence on early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy was investigated in longitudinal studies in the United States (N= 242) and New Zealand (N= 520), in which community samples of girls were followed prospectively from early in life (5 years) to approximately age 18. Greater exposure to father absence was strongly associated with elevated risk for early sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy.
I had this explained to me by one female clients last year when she told me that following her father’s departure, she realises now that she looked for him everywhere: In other men, drugs, alcohol, gambling etc….Of course this doesn’t happen to all women whose fathers are absent, but it certainly increases the risk.
I work very closely with violent men, and the biggest obstacle is overcoming denial and lack of responsibility for their actions. It’s usually someone else’s fault, or they minimise their actions to such an extent, that for example when describing an assault in which they crack their wife’s cheekbone, it’s reduced to “we had a bit of a scuffle”. Anyway, if the man I’m working with has a daughter, I find this an excellent opportunity to gain some leverage. I ask him –
“So, if you got word that your daughter was being bashed by her husband/boyfriend, what would you think?”
“I’D BASH THE FUCK OUT THE PRICK!!!!!!!!!” or variations of is usually the response.
From here I ask him that if he could do something NOW to lesson the chance of this happening in the future, would you commit to it? I haven’t had anyone say no. I then have a discussion about how HE is the number one risk factor for her behaviour in the future. Consider this –
In families where the mother is assaulted by the father, daughters are at risk of sexual abuse 6.51 times greater than girls in non-abusive families (Bowker, Arbitell and McFerron, 1988
A child’s exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk fact for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next (American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family,1996
There’s plenty more, but those are interesting reads if you can find them. The excuse “Oh, but I never hit the kids” holds no water, as merely witnessing the violence greatly increases the child’s risk of abuse in the future.
Daughters who have close and functional relationships with their fathers are more likely to form healthy relationships, have a better body image, higher self esteem and be more successful in future. So to put it bluntly, don’t fuck it up!