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Fathers and daughters – relationships that both inspire and disappoint

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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.

Father-daughter relationship is the lynchpin

It follows that the relationship between a girl and her father is inevitably the lynchpin that heavily influences her future personal life. While she shares a lot with her mum, that relationship, though equally special, is more colleague-like; her relationship with her dad is different: it is that of a guiding light and it comes with some awe.

The father figure in a girl’s life – whether her biological father or a guardian or anyone else with a father role, is her pillar and standard of measure, especially of men’s approach to women. As she grows up, she makes vital deductions and conclusions about men in general based on the men who live under the same roof with her. Father and brother shape much of a girl’s view of the male world. Fortunately or unfortunately, her brother’s behavior is also shaped by the father figure — which means that ultimately the father’s impact on daughters will be felt either directly or indirectly through the brother’s influence.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a psychologist, marriage and family counselor, once wrote, “Regardless of whether he wants the responsibility, a father’s relationship to the world and to women sets down a template that will be played out for another generation.” In her article “Daughters need fathers-too“, she listed 10 basic principles for “Men who take their job as a father of a daughter seriously.”

Fathers too come from some parenting – in the past…

One has to realize that a father is himself a result of his experience with his parents. A father who was brought up by an abusive or absentee, or uncaring and irresponsible father, may have been affected to the extent that he does not know how to be a good father to his own children. Such fathers may end up offering unhealthy father daughter relationships without intention.

Inappropriate parenting standards

There are many parents who refer to their past when dealing with their children, with the notion, “if you lived in my times as a child…” In a sense, their parenting standards are informed by the hardships they went through and they may therefore work with a very low parent-child relationship threshhold. For dads who bring up their daughters the way they saw their fathers rear the sisters, the question is whether the standards they apply are appropriate.

The many types of fathers

As a result of many types of historical parenting, we have many types of fathers: There are gentle dads, rough dads, heroic dads, toxic dads, inspirational dads, destructive dads, caring dads, even insulting dads who tell their daughters strange things like, “You are just like your mother,” and so on. There are men who want to be dad and others who loathe it.

A man who claims a child he sired out of wedlock definitely demonstrates that he wants that child. Of course there are many reasons why a man would choose to have a child under his care. Some may be less noble — such as punishing the mum — but let’s first agree that a dad wanting that child is a positive step.

Fathers who love their daughters

There are those who want a daughter as a child; they are fathers who would do anything to protect their daughter. Even face death. There are also dads who forgo their personal ambitions in favour of their relationship with their children. A father who for instance declines an offer to work abroad because the work package does not include relocation of his family, is a treasure to the family.

Such loving dads leave a major gap in life when they die – you never forget them; they never fade away. They are spiritually present whenever you have a problem. You know exactly how dad would have dealt with this situation, and for that you miss him greatly. For many daughters, the thought of such a dad suffering, let alone dying, is unfathomable. Dad is supposed to be strong and able, in charge. Even if his health is failing, he is still seen as having the authority of a fully functional dad.

Fathers who did not want daughters

Further, then there are men who outrightly do not want a girl for a child. They come across as indifferent and uninvolved when the wife delivers a girl. The acid test shows results when when the daughter looks up to dad for guidance or protection but he simply does nothing. Or does not listen. Listens but does not seem to get it. Or gets it but thinks it does not matter!

Such fathers wield pain in both good times and bad times. If the relationship between a daughter and her dad is weak or non-existent, it becomes a heavy burden for her if she has to take care of him when he is ill. He did not care when he was able; he did not offer a hand; he did not encourage – why should I take care of him? Yet because he is dad, a daughter may have mixed feelings of love and hate for him. Rejection and duty. Her mind still carries the fantasy of a dad who never was, while her reality now puts her dad’s well being in her very hands. It can be frustrating and overwhelming!

When a “bad” dad dies, for most daughters, bitterness takes charge, with the knowledge that the dad she wishes he would be will never be. It is both sad and sorrowful, and there are daughters who do not know what to do with these kind of emotions. While some may feel relief because the father was negatively overbearing, abusive or even violent, the relief is rarely as deep as the regret – that he did not change.

Present absentee fathers who do not connect with their daughters

There are also absentee fathers, who cause unfulfilled curiosity. A daughter may blame herself — in appropriately so — for inability to gain or retain the attention of her father. This is common where a father is present in the house but distant to his daughter; an agonising kind of absenteeism. Such a dad is physically visible but emotionally unreachable. She may wonder what it takes to get dad to “look this way” and offer a helping word or hand.

In that circumstance, “What does dad think about…?” is a question that goes oft unanswered. Such a daughter may be tempted to satisfy this curiosity for “dad answers’ by engaging senior men who are ‘dad-like’, ending up in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships.

Discipline-focused fathers who stalk their daughters

Unhealthy father daughter relationships may also emanate from strict disciplinarian fathers, who treat their daughters to ruthless ‘laws’. A daughter would want the dad to pay attention to her and be interested in her life. But there are dads who become too interested and too involved to the liking of the daughters. Such dads are harsh disciplinarians who will nearly stalk the daughter and correct her at every instance. His attention becomes a burden and his counsel is more of manipulation and blackmail than it is guidance. He thinks more about his views and his preferences than he cares about his daughter’s feelings. His words and actions are like painful non-physical whips, more excruciating than physical assault.

Fathers who display might and rigidity

There are also overbearing fathers; whose daughters leave home as soon as they can. Even in adulthood, daughters feel overwhelmed by the strength and unyielding power of such fathers. A daughter may never feel she has mustered enough strength to fight back a dad; so she tends to run away from him. Fathers who shout “shut up” to their daughters teach them how not to speak out when oppressed. A father who does that makes her growing mind understand that men have the final say and one should never question them.

A father needs to be conscious that the eyes of a daughter see the dual combination of father and man in him, not just father.

Fathers are not always in control, though

Children expect their fathers to always be in control, but that is not always the case. In fact, there are many cases of fathers losing touch with their children because of life pressures. Facing a high level of family responsibility can make a father distant if he is unable to meet his own expectations. This is prevalent in fathers who had high hopes about life but have not actualised their dreams into reality.

A father in this scenario may be thinking too much about his predicament and may be trapped by self-resentment to the extent of being unable to offer happiness to his daughter. He may be going through such unspoken challenges that he comes across as aloof and uncaring to a daughter. In such a case, he may do things that negatively affect the daughter without realising it, leading to unhealthy father daughter relationships.

A father’s impact on the daughter’s psyche and character may therefore not always be the result of a deliberate parenting style by a father; it may be purely accidental.

Father’s influence on a daughters relationships with men

Can a father’s care lead a girl to relationships with older men?

You may have heard that many girls marry men who have characteristics similar to their “bad” dad. This may be due to subconscious influences that make a girl gravitate towards men who exhibit traits that are familiar in her life.

Girls who get into relationships with men to subconsciously satisfy the inadequacies of their father-daughter relationship may find themselves trapped in loveless relationships. This may make them wonder if all men are the same as their father. Such girls may offer sex for affection, but find that real love is not forthcoming. They end up feeling dejected, lonely and even suicidal.

There are moments when withdrawn fathers open up, and even tell a daughter something that may shock her. For example a father owns up to a daughter that he is dead broke. This may leave her panicky and wondering how she can help. She may find herself throwing her life to a rich man with the hope of changing the financial fortunes of her dad and the family.

A point of debate is to what extent a stable, wealthy and caring father can influence a daughter to seek father-figure relationships that may not be possible with younger men. Older men might offer more attention, have the financial resources to make her more comfortable and have the time to give her lots of attention and put her needs before all else.

Whereas a father should be caring and while prioritizing his daughter’s needs is recommended, he ought to spend time teaching her about real life issues. He should help her differentiate his parenting style and fortunes from those of other men.

Can dad’s care for daughter be the cause of a failed marriage?

When you have a caring, protective and loving dad who helps you as you seek solutions at an early age, you set out in life with a winner attitude. One thing you always know for sure is that there is someone to fall back to – if you ever fall. It’s like having insurance cover. You may never use it, but having it makes you confident that risks you come across are taken care of.

His investment bears interest throughout your life into your old age, as you keep saying or thinking to yourself, “Dad said…” or “Dad advised…”

Strange as it might sound, it is possible that a daughter’s highly supportive dad may be the reason for her downfall later in life. Just how is that possible?

• Inability to ‘understand’ other men – and their behaviour

If a dad is forthright, honest and straight to the point, a woman may find many other men who are not as transparent to be difficult to understand. When a man does not respond to her concerns with a straight face, she will think of the man as complicated.

• Standards other men may not meet

This can happen if the father’s standards are significantly high. Some of the men she meets in her adult life may fall short. The men may seem inferior and inadequate. Whereas she does not necessarily compare them to her dad, her psyche does it subconsciously.

• Financial stability that others cannot afford

A daughter whose dad spared no coin to make her comfortable may find men of less means to bring insecurity. Of course there are many women from rich backgrounds who cope with men who are not rich. But such men can not rest on their laurels either.

• Expecting levels of care and love that others may not offer

When a father cares for his daughter, he truly cares. He will do anything to protect her, to nature her and to make her succeed. He will overlook her weaknesses and encourage her even when she is at fault. Such a daughter may assume the same level of love and care awaits her when she is in the company of a man who claims to love her.

The love of her life may not necessarily deliver the same level of affection and concern, which may lead to the end of a relationship. Doesn’t mean he does not love her – but dad’s love may be a tough match.

• Expecting men in her life to make career or business choices similar to her father’s

A woman can influence her husband to make decisions and choices in life similar to those made by her father. The result may not always be what she expects, as personalities and circumstances are different. When a father is a successful career or business, a daughter’s mind knows that to be the career or business of choice. A successful man ought to engage in these business / career types.

It follows that a man who is struggling and looking for career or business ideas should not be surprised when his girl suggests a line similar to her dads. Or when she suggests ideas coming from her dad (who she will likely consult on what the man should do). If the man is adamant to her ideas and still fails in his endevours, she may opt out of the relationship. Reason being that he does not seem to be as “intelligent” as she expected.

A study by Ahmad Alsheikh Ali and Fawzi Shaker Daoud titled “Early father–daughter relationship and demographic determinants of spousal marital satisfaction” examined several dimensions of early father–daughter relationship as predictors of marital satisfaction. The conclusion of the study was that the primary relationship between a daughter and her father plays a significant role in both her marital satisfaction as well as her husband’s marital satisfaction. According to the study, this finding is “consistent with the contributions of many theorists and researchers.”

“If the daughter had experienced a safe and secure relationship with her father,” said the study, “she most probably will carry those feelings to her relation with the husband.” The results confirmed that:

  • “Physical relationship with the father” and “Perceptions of fathers’ influence” have significant positive effect on wives’ marital satisfaction.
  • “The kind of relation that women have with their father determines the type of men they choose as their husbands. And the kind of interaction they have with them.” (Seconda).
  • A daughter’s relation with her father has influence “on her relations with other men and her mature sexual decisions later on.” (Bowling and Wermer-Wilson’s).
  • The father-daughter relationship contributes “to the daughter’s psychosocial adjustment, social acceptance, sexual adjustment, perceived warmth and closeness, self-image, and self-esteem.” (Bowling and Wermer-Wilson’s).

Given these results, we get to the critical question: “How can a daughter de-link herself from negative influences of her father’s parenting style? Find out HERE


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