A father’s relationship with his daughter has an amazingly powerful influence in shaping her self-image, competence, and femininity, as well as her perception of all the men in her life.
One of my first memories of my father is of the two of us playing with my new doctor’s kit. I was the physician, of course, and he was my willing patient. While other dads may have submitted to having their hearts checked and endured endless pretend shots with a giant plastic syringe, my father went the extra mile. He actually allowed me to sit on his lap and pluck hairs from his chest with my new medical tweezers. At the time, I thought his grimaces and grunts were hilarious; little did I know that he sat there in pain just to see the smile on his little girl’s face.
This is the same man who not only read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to my sister and me, but used food coloring to whip up green eggs and ham for us in the morning. As little girls at the pool, we would cling to his back while he swam underwater, or we’d stand on his shoulders and dive off into the deep end. When my sister or I brought home a high test score, he’d launch into the Mr. Rogers song, I’m Proud of You at the top of his lungs. But our dad wasn’t all fun and games. He didn’t bribe us for good grades; he expected them. While other tenth grade girls were heading off to the movies with their boyfriends, we were prohibited from going on independent dates until age sixteen. The make-up we longed to glop on was to be applied subtly, and curfews were strictly enforced.
Looking back, it’s easy to see we were Daddy’s Girls. Little did I know that his behavior and our relationship would influence how I perceived all the men in my life, and ultimately determine who I married. Nor did I suspect that the games we played and his expectations of me would go on to affect my confidence, ambition and achievements, even shape my view of myself as a woman.
As recently as the 1980s, the prevalent view among parents and family courts was that as females, girls identified most closely with their mothers, therefore fathers were more or less secondary, even irrelevant, to the upbringing of little girls. What that theory failed to take into account is the approximately three billion males that populate our planet, the same males that young girls play with and eventually work with, date, and marry.
Joe Kelly, President of Dads and Daughters, a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving father-daughter relationships, and author of Dads and Daughters, says, “A father plays the role of the first man in her life. He sets the standard for his daughter about what she will expect from boys now and men later.”
H. Norman Wright, family counselor and author of Always Daddy’s Girl, agrees: “Your father was the vehicle for introducing you to the opposite sex. He has colored your perception of men and shaped your expectations of how men will or should behave toward you.”
Boys play differently than girls. They communicate in different ways, and they tackle problems from different angles. For a young girl to understand and appreciate these differences, and for her to become comfortable around males, she needs lots of one-on-one time with a man she can trust. Simply by spending time with his daughter, a father teaches her how to relate and interact with the boys and men in her life.