Family Relationships: Does a Daughter Need her Father?

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Consequences occur when family problem relationships are not mended.

With more weddings occurring in June and August than any other month of the year, family relationships are examined as thousands of fathers will be facing one of the most emotional times in their lives: the day they give their daughter "away." This summer, thousands of daughters will be choosing just the right song for the father-daughter wedding dance, confident their fathers will walk them down the aisle on this their most important day.

Many other daughters, however, will approach their wedding day wondering whether Dad will even attend the wedding.

If a daughter's relationship with her father is very distant, it may seem that by the time she is married it has become too late to do anything about it. Not so, says Dr. Linda Nielsen. A psychologist and a professor of Adolescent Psychology and Women's Studies at Wake Forest University, her most unique contribution is a Fathers and Daughters course that has been the only one of its kind in the U.S. for nearly 20 years and has helped many young women repair this very important family relationship.

"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," she said in a recent interview with Vision's, Gina Stepp. "But you're told, as a Dad--once puberty hits you aren't supposed to spend as much time with your daughter. Once she's a teenager, you're 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." Nielsen believes that because many men are simply following this script, abetted by other factors and stereotypes of society and culture, his distance may not be his fault alone. In any case, she says, while your father is still alive, it is never too late to try to change the relationship--even if you may have tried before, and failed.

But is the father-daughter relationship really important enough to warrant all the effort it may take? Nielsen believes it is crucial--and points out that most press about father-daughter relationships is, unfortunately, abuse-related, even though only a small percentage of incest victims are molested by biological fathers.

For instance, a news story in the Bedford Today reports that an 87 year old man was convicted and sent to prison for having molested his daughters dating back to the 1940's. The old man, hard of hearing and senile, was not pardoned by the judge and instead was reminded that a crime like this is not forgotten. He had transgressed against a critical relationship, a true betrayal after trust. His eldest daughter, who suffered the most serious abuse, was said in court to have "adored" her father when she was younger, but it was she who went to police in 2005 after having treatment for psychological problems and attempted suicide.

In Vision's collected research into family and relationships it is quite evident that, while these situations do occur and should indeed be reported, the other side of the issue is usually completely ignored, precisely because the "good" stories aren't considered newsworthy. The downside of this is that even good father-daughter relationships suffer because of the stereotypes created by the overemphasis of negative over positive examples. This is tragic, because the father-daughter bond is vitally important. Beginning from childhood, a father's active presence in his daughter's life affects her personality, her confidence, her health and her future.

Vision presents convincing evidence for this and other aspects of this important family relationship, which is examined in more detail in a feature article entitled Like Father, Like . . . Daughter at Vision Media.

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Edwin Stepp
Vision Media
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