Profound. Long-lasting. Fathers and daughters – relationships that traverse from great friendships to unhealthy father daughter relationships. We examine, in this article, the real issues and the nature of impact of a father on his daughter’s future.
Why is a father figure central to a girl’s development? We dig deep into the impact of different types of fathers on daughters’ future pysche. We delve into the world of daughters and men and seek to answer the questions: Can a father’s care lead his daughter into relationships with older men? Can dad’s tender care for daughter be the cause of a failed marriage? We link you to a study that gives empirical insights into this incredible and intriguing issue. And finally ask the critical question: how can a daughter de-link herself from negative influences of her father’s parenting style?
A father figure is central to a girl’s development
What we do and how we think today is largely a result of our experiences from the past. Our parents take credit for the greatest share of that impact from our past. Both mum and dad have their unique lasting impressions and influences on our mindset.
Father and daughter relationships are complex
There is no doubt that a child’s foundation in life revolves around who mum and dad are. Around their characters and preferences. What they do for a living and the circumstances and environment they present at home. In the case of single mum, the father figure shifts to mummy or her partner.
Childhood memories of many adults attest to this. They are filled with flashes of mum and dad interacting either gently or viciously. Going about their busy individual schedules — productive or destructive. The kids absorbed whatever came their way, through alert eyes and ears.
Sometimes the causative link between our current disposition and the parenting styles we were subjected to may not be obvious. We truly believe we are masters of our own minds. The fact is, however, that the psychological dynamics between children and parents are quite deep. The journey from conception to birth and upbringing to adulthood comprises millions of strands of unique communication between a parent and a child.
So let’s start by recognising that the influences of a father-daughter relationship are extremely complex.
The unwritten rules about being a girl
The father-daughter relationship actually starts long before a girl realises she is a girl. And when she does eventually know and think to herself, “I am a girl”, that brings with it lots of meaning. Among many other connotations, being a girl is about what a girl should or should not do; what she can or cannot say; how a girl should or should not behave while eating; the way a girl should cry; how a girl should laugh, and many other unwritten rules. It is also about how a girl should relate to others. How she treats people and how she should be treated.
All this is summed up when a parent eventually says to her, “don’t behave like a boy.”
From then on, hers becomes a world of girls and boys. She observes, through dress code, physique, voice and character, and without being told so, that mum is a girl and dad is a boy. A big boy and a big girl, called mum and dad.
Learning by the minute, step-by-step, year-after-another
Her father or father figure offers this girl her very first experience of how “boys” treat “girls.” First through the mother-father relationship that plays in her eyes and ears every single day, 365 days in a year. Second, through the father-daughter relationship that she experiences directly and indirectly with her daddy.
The girl quietly studies her mum and her aunties. She draws lessons on how to become accomplished or botched as a woman. She combines that with the treatment she observes her mother giving to her father. From that she deduces what normal women do to men. In her belief her mother’s actions are the epitome of normalcy.
In addition, the stories that aunties bring to her mother through gossip, about their husbands, add to the learning. Aunties are revered, hence their narratives are edicts of truth. The girl develops viewpoints on what is acceptable or unacceptable as treatment by a man. If her mother looks away when dad slaps her, she takes that as ordinary. If her auntie visits with bruises but still lives with her husband, the girl learns that is also acceptable.
When mum packs bags amidst an argument with dad — and returns weeks later with a broad reconciliatory smile, she absorbs that too. Likely, neither mum nor dad will bother to explain to her all the on goings — and they are plenty. She internalizes how it is like to be in a relationship and how to behave in a marriage. If her learning process has been positive, with her primary man (father) and others like her uncles treating their women lovingly, that is her take home.
Overall, a daughter sees and experiences dad as an infant, as a toddler, as a preschooler, as a pre-teen and as a teen. It amounts to thousands of days of father-daughter re-play. By the time she gets into adolescent, her mind is made up. Her father has provided a full course on the boy-girl relationship. He has set the standards — whether low or high. He has embedded her expectations — whether perfect or flawed. The course is powerful and enduring.