Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Fathers Be Good To Your Daughters..."

Baseball hall of famer Harmon Killebrew tells a story that describes the impact that fathers and men have upon boys. He said (click this link and you can hear the emotion in his voice!), “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard, Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ And Dad would reply ‘We’re not raising grass. We’re raising boys.’”
The needs of Killebrew and his brothers was a driving force in his dad’s life. We accept that every boy needs a father as easily as we accept the notion that he needs a dog. However, a father is far more crucial than a dog to the boy’s well-being but the question of how important fathers are to the well-being of their daughters is just being recognized.

John Mayer wrote:

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too

Oh, you see that skin
It's the same she's been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she's left
Cleaning up the mess he made

Boys, you can break
You'll find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without the warmth from
A woman's good good heart

On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the God and the weight of her world

As I watch my wife of 30 years interact with her sisters and as I observe their relationship with their father (my father-in-law) I am awed at the impact this man has upon these girls. Even now, my wife shines with delight as she talks to her dad via the phone and worries with cares as she sees him age. How many times have I heard her say, “You know Daddy just can’t do that anymore…?” In addition, you can ‘see’ on her face the love, care, and concern she has for this man.

I remember walking down our sidewalk one time when they visited and thanking him for raising ‘this girl’ that I love. I thanked him for never violating her nor for damaging her heart. I will never forget his old weathered face quivering with tears springing into his eyes. Moreover, in typical fashion he said, “Oh I have not been perfect and have made mistakes…” And his voice trailed off and I added, “But you loved her!” And he said, “I do…”

Not every daughter has a father like my wife. Many relationships between daughters and fathers are best characterized by ‘distance.’ The distance many times is both physical (they never see each other and he may not even attend her wedding) and emotional (she has no idea what he believes, what he thinks, nor what he feels, she does not even know his core values)

If a daughter's relationship with her father is very distant, it may seem that by the time she is grown and married it has become too late to do anything about it. Dr. Linda Nielsen, a psychologist and a professor of Adolescent Psychology and Women's Studies at Wake Forest University, says it is never too late. She has constructed and taught a unique course “Fathers and Daughters” nearly 20 years. This one of kind class (along with a companion book Embracing Your Father: How to Create the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad, McGraw Hill, 2004) has helped many young women repair this very important family relationship.

She recently told Vision "Unfortunately, the sad fact is that most fathers and daughters do not know each other nearly as well or spend nearly as much time together as mothers and daughters do… you're told, as a Dad--once puberty hits you aren't supposed to spend as much time with your daughter. Once she is a teenager, you are supposed to back off and let Mom have the main relationship. If that's the message you're sent and you're told that's what a 'good father' does, then that's what you're going to do."

While many men are simply following society’s directions, encouraged by many dynamics, stereotypes of our post patriarchal world and culture, his distance may not be his responsibility alone. The daughter plays a role in her relationship with her dad as well. In any case, it is never too late to bring change to the relationship. Whether the change is one of ‘we are closer now’ or one where you have simply gained a more adult/mature/rational perspective of your dad’s world, the results will affect you and grant you greater sense of belonging and happiness.

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