Your Father

Demeaning and Demoralizing Divorced Dads
Fathers and Daughters: Eye Opening Facts
Father-Daughter Friendly Schools
The Father’s Day I Wish For
Gift Giving: Fathers and Daughters
Helping Daughters Embrace Their Relationships with Their Fathers
Remarried Fathers: Strengthening Your Father-Daughter Relationship
Sharing Your Life with Your Daughter
Storybooks for Fathers and Daughters
Uplifting Father-Daughter Stories
Your Daughter's Young Adult Years: Money, Sex & Career and their impact on your father-daughter relationship - Part 1
Your Daughter's Young Adult Years: Money, Sex & Career and their impact on your father-daughter relationship - Part 1I


Father-Daughter Friendly Schools

Dads, next time you're in your daughter's school, or next time you get a letter or other written information from her school, ask yourself these questions:

(1) How "father friendly" is this school?

(2) How welcomed and how important do my daughter's teachers and counselors make me feel?

(3) Do I ever get the sense that her teachers or counselors think her mother is more important or more necessary than I am?

(4) Does the school send the message that father-daughter relationships are just as important as father-son or mother-daughter relationships?

As a father, you can take an active role in helping your daughter's teachers and counselors strengthen father-daughter relationships by making fathers feel more welcomed and more important. Use my checklist to asses how well your daughter's school is doing in regard to father-daughter relationships - especially for divorced or never married fathers:

0=never 1=rarely 2= usually 3=almost always

__The school has pictures of fathers interacting with their daughters on the bulletin boards or in library displays

__The school mails all information about his daughter to the divorced father's home as well as to the divorced mother's home

__Library books focus in positive ways on fathers & daughters

__The school sometimes has special events only for fathers & daughters

__The school offers special materials or workshops just for fathers

__Counselors gather as much information from fathers as from mothers

__Counselors include dads in counseling as much as they include mothers

__Fathers are invited to come to class as guests or as tutors

__Teachers include both parents in conferences

__Teachers arrange conferences in ways that allow divorced fathers the choice to attend without their ex-wife

____Total Score of 30 -

The higher the school scores, the more "father friendly" it is - and the better job it's doing to support and value father-daughter relationships.

Remarried Fathers: Strengthening Your Father-Daughter Relationship

If you’re a divorced father who has remarried, odds are your relationship with your daughter has become more complicated, more stressful, and more distant. Sadly for the majority of fathers and daughters, when dad remarries:

  • the father-daughter relationship is more damaged than the father-son relationship
  • tensions between mom and dad’s wife create problems in the father-daughter relationship
  • the mom who was not employed during her marriage tends to be the most jealous and most uncooperative when dad remarries
  • college educated, white mothers tend to be less willing than non-white, less educated mothers to “share” their kids after divorce with the dad and his wife
  • the father-daughter relationship is better off when the mother has already remarried

Even though mom may never come right out and say negative things to her daughter about dad’s getting remarried, she can still create a negative impression of him and his new wife in other ways -- the expressions on her face, her tone of voice, the way she acts after she’s talked to dad or his wife on the phone, the “joking” remarks she makes about him or his wife. Daughters are keen observers of their mothers’ moods and feelings. Especially when dad has remarried but mom is still single, the daughter is likely to pick up messages like these from her mother:

  • If it weren’t for “her” (dad’s new wife), we’d all be happier
  • Your dad was nicer to us before “she” came into his life
  • Now that your dad is remarried, he doesn’t love you as much
  • I feel sad and lonely when you spend time with your dad and his wife
  • Your dad ought to spend more money on you and less on her and her kids

As a remarried dad, try strengthening your relationship with your daughter by reducing the jealousy, competition and pressure in these ways:

Don’t use the terms “stepmother” or “stepdaughter”. Instead say “my wife and my daughter” and ask your wife to say “my husband’s daughter”. If your wife and daughter eventually want to refer to each other as stepmother and stepdaughter, let that be their choice.

Never push (or continually talk about) your wife or your daughter to become good friends. Take the pressure off everyone by letting their relationship develop in whatever way they choose.

Never make your wife or your daughter feel that they have to like or love each other in order to make you happy or to prove how much they each love you. Yes, they do need to be cordial to one another. But they should not have to prove their love for you by genuinely liking or loving each other.

Spend time alone with your daughter without your wife always having to be with you.

Show your daughter in whatever ways you can that you are just as interested in her life and love her just as much now as you did before you remarried

Send e mails, gifts, letters, and phone calls to your daughter only from you, not always from “us” (meaning you and your wife)

Tell your daughter and your ex wife that neither you nor your wife expect or want her to be “like a second mother” to your daughter

Keep your conversations with your daughter mainly focused on what’s going on in her life – not what’s going on in your wife’s or other kids’ lives

Storybooks for Fathers and Daughters

Dads, what storybooks are you reading to your young daughters? Have you taken a closer look at the messages in those books – messages about father-daughter relationships. In your daughters’ favorite books, what kind of relationship do the dad and daughter have? Is dad nothing more than a playmate or a “fix it” repairman? Is dad the only breadwinner in the family while mom raises the kids? Is mom portrayed as the more nurturing, more knowledgeable, and more involved parent – especially in the daughter’s life? Is most of the father’s time being spent with his son instead of his daughter? Is the father spending any time alone with just his daughter – without mom or little brother ?

As a feminist psychologist, I invest many hours looking for children’s books that portray fathers being just as competent, as nurturing and as involved in their daughter’s lives as mothers – especially books that show fathers and daughters enjoying themselves with one another without other family members involved. These books are few and far between. Here are ten of my favorites:

Two Old Potatoes and Me – J. Coy, 2004, Knopf

Give Her the River – M. Browne, 2004, Simon & Schuster

A Twinkle in His Eye – Burton, 2000, Shooting Start Publishing

Animal Dads – N. Collard, 2002, Houghton Mifflin

The Dance – R. Evans, 1999, Simon & Schuster

Daddy Will Be There – L. Grambling, 1996, Greenwillow Books

Tiny’s Hat – A. Grifalconi, 1999, Harper Collins.

After Charlotte’s Mom Died – C. Spelman, 1999,

Night Shift Daddy – E. Spinelli, 2000, Hyperion

I Live With Daddy – J. Vigna, 1997, Albert Whitman & Co.

Send me an e-mail if you know of other children’s books that portray fathers as loving, competent, involved parents with their daughters. nielsen@wfu.edu

Fathers and Daughyters: Eye Opening Facts

We strengthen father-daughter relationships by making ourselves aware of the facts and freeing ourselves from the demeaning myths about men as parents. Recent national statistics and research from the most well respected experts in psychology and sociology, show that………. 

Fathers generally have as much or more impact as mothers in the following areas of their daughters’ lives: (1) achieving academic and career success—especially in math and science (2) creating a loving, trusting relationship with a man (3) dealing well with people in authority—especially men (4) Being self-confident and self-reliant (5) Being willing to try new things and to accept challenges (6) Maintaining good mental health (no clinical depression, eating disorders, or chronic anxiety) (7) Expressing anger comfortably and appropriately—especially with men

Because our society emphasizes the importance of mother-daughter relationships more than father-daughter relationships, most fathers and daughters do not ever get to know one another as well or spend as much time together throughout their lives as most mothers and daughters.

Most children’s books, TV programs, and movies send the message that fathers and daughters are not supposed to know each other as well or spend as much time together as mothers and daughters.

Daughters who are raised by single fathers are just as well adjusted and as happy as daughters raised by single mothers.

Fathers and daughters are usually closer when the mother works full time outside the home while the children are growing up.

Most fathers want to spend more time with their children, but can’t because of their jobs.

Realities: (1) Eighty percent of the fathers in our country earn most of the money for their families. (2) Counting the time spent commuting, working, doing house and yard work, and being with the kids, the average father has 5 hours less free time each week than the average employed mother. (3) On average, employed fathers work 10 more hours a week than employed mothers.

A father usually has a closer relationship with his daughter when the mother lets everyone in the family know how much she appreciates his ways of parenting—especially if his way of parenting isn’t exactly like hers.

A daughter has a better relationship with her father when her mother does not rely on her for advice or comfort on adult issues—especially issues involving the parents’ relationship with each other.

When parents are unhappily married or divorced, the daughter is more likely to side with her mother and against her father.

Some mothers feel uncomfortable or jealous with the idea that their daughter might share as much time or as much personal information with her father as she does with her mother.

The mother who had a distant or unloving relationship with her own father is usually more jealous and more unsupportive of her daughter’s having a close relationship with her father. 

Gift Giving: Fathers and Daughters

This is the month of gift giving for most fathers and daughters in our country. As father or as daughter, you’ll be bombarded by advertisements trying to convince you to buy their “perfect” gift or “terrific” greeting card. So here’s what I’m advertising: A father-daughter outing where just the two of you spend several hours together. Regardless of your age, give one another the gift of private time together.

How to spend that time? What to do? Rather than guessing or getting anxious about whether you’re going to get it “right” or not, simply things. Take time now to fill out this form and give it to each other.

The Perfect Day Together

What is the most perfect day you can imagine the two of you having together? Don’t think about the obstacles. Just let your imagination run free.

  • Where would the two of you be?
  • What would you do for the entire day?
  • What would each of you do to make the other feel loved?
  • What would each of you be feeling as the day started out?
  • What would each of you be feeling when the day ended?
  • How would your family feel and react to your having such a wonderful day together?
  • What would each of you say that you’ve never said before?
  • What would be the highlight of the day?
  • What would each of you do or bring as a nice surprise for one another?
  • What are the last words each of you would say at the end of the day? Some other activities for your hours together might include:
  • Show one another how to do something that you enjoy or do well - something as simple as trimming plants, grilling steaks, or playing a card game.
  • Go to a religious service together – just you two.
  • Go to a movie together—share a box of popcorn.
  • Go back to the neighborhood where he grew up and walk around together.
  • Visit the cemetery where a relative or close friend of his is buried.
  • Get a camera or camcorder and take pictures of places that mean a lot to you or him.

If you sometimes feel disappointed when you open your holiday gifts – or sometimes feel that the person must not have put much time or thought into it – try my suggestion instead. My bet is – as a father or as a daughter - you’ll feel a lot more satisfied with this gift to each other and a lot more bonded as well.

Uplifting Father-Daughter Stories

Dads, I thought you might like to share some uplifting stories about famous “real life” daughters who gave their fathers the credit for their becoming such successful, well known women. With so many negative portrayals of father-daughter relationships on TV and in movies, we need to share more of these positive father-daughter stories with our daughters and step-daughters.

If your daughter enjoys music, let her know that Joan Baez, Selina, and Judy Collins were all “apples that didn’t fall far from the tree”. Baez’s father emigrated from Mexico, earned a doctorate from Stanford in physics, and became a Quaker and pacifist who quit his job in the defense industry. Judy Collins’ father, an Irishman from a musical farming family, became legally blind at the age of four. But he overcame his handicaps to start a dance band and radio show – and to teach his daughter to sing and play piano. Selena, (the famous Mexican American singer who was tragically murdered by an angry fan club member) learned to sing and play guitar from her dad when she was five. He eventually became her bus driver and manager of her band.

Moving from music to sports, has your daughter heard of Nancy Kerrigan who won the silver Olympic medal in skating in 1994? Her dad worked several jobs to pay for Nancy’s training as she was growing up and he did all of the housekeeping too because his wife was almost totally blind.

Or if your daughter is interested in women’s rights, does she know that Susan B. Anthony’s father was a progressive Quaker who believed in equality for men and women. When the school refused to teach his daughters math because they were girls, he started schooling them himself at home. Is it any wonder Susan grew up to fight for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery? The same is true of Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote against slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her dad was a minister who publicly protested and preached against slavery while she was growing up.

If your daughter has never heard of any of these famous women, I’m sure she knows this name: Oprah. But does your daughter know that when Oprah was a teenager – very troubled, failing in school, and having had a child out of wedlock (who died) – she went to live with her father and stepmother. Oprah says it was her father who turned her life around. After she became rich and famous, she set up a scholarship fund at Tennessee State University in her father’s name to honor him.

Let’s do more positive story-telling as another way of strengthening father-daughter relationships.

Your Daughter's Young Adult Years: Money, Sex & Career and their impact on your father-daughter relationship - Part 1

As millions of daughters head off to college this fall or begin their young adult lives in the workforce, we might wonder: How do father-daughter relationships generally change from the time she leaves high school until she becomes a “real” adult? What usually puts the most stress on their relationship? And how can father and daughter strengthen their relationship or overcome these obstacles during her early adult years?

Changes & Tensions Both father and daughter need to change some of their attitudes and their behavior in order to create a more adult relationship with one another during her college-age years. Unfortunately what usually happens is that one person is readier for the change than the other. Either dad is treating his daughter too much like a little girl while she is striving and wanting to become an adult. Or dad is treating her like an adult while she is still behaving and wanting to be treated like a child. Your mutual struggle as father and daughter to create an adult to adult relationship usually reaches it peak over these three issues: his money, her sexual lifestyle, and her career plans. In my next two columns, I’ll discuss sex and careers. For now, let’s turn our attention to money.

Money Money usually causes so much tension between fathers and young adult daughters that I devote an entire chapter in my book to ways to resolve these problems. The tension stems from the fact that most fathers and daughters have different feelings and expectations about the role that money should play in their relationship at this point in her life. Use this quiz to assess yourselves:

Banking on Dad?

How do you and your father feel about these matters? In addressing the following statements, use 0 to mean “ absolutely not,” 1 to mean “maybe,” 2 to mean “probably,” and 3 to mean “definitely.” After I graduate from high school, my father should




Continue to pay all my educational and living expenses.



Loan me money instead of telling me to get a bank loan.



Pay for my graduate school education or part of it.



Pay for most (or all) of my wedding.



Set aside some money for me as an inheritance.



Let me live at home for free after I’ve finished school and have a job.



Help me to make a down payment on a house.



Pay for most (or all) of my first car.



Pay for my health and car insurance until I finish my education.



Offer to give me money when he sees that I’m financially stressed.



Total scores (30 possible)

There are four different combinations of scores that create problems in your relationship. (1) If daughter scores higher than 20, she’s still banking on dad to take care of her financially and to bale her out of financial scrapes like he did when she was a child. If dad’s score is just as high as daughter’s score, then the two of you agree that it’s okay for dad to be the piggy bank and instant cash machine. You two probably don’t disagree very often about financial issues. Still, your financial arrangement has a down side that you may not have realized yet – feelings of obligation and entitlement, as we’ll soon discuss. (2) If a daughter scores above 20 but dad scores more than 5 points lower than she does, there’s probably a lot of tension between you two. Dad wants daughter to be a financial grown-up, but she’s still behaving like a little girl. The greater the difference in your two scores, the greater the tension. (3) If a daughter score less than 10 but dad scores more than 20, she wants to be financially self-reliant, but he wants her to continue depending on him for money. Maybe dad feels she won’t need him for anything any more once she’s on her own financially. Or maybe he’s afraid that he won’t be able to influence her decisions any more now that she isn’t taking his money any more. (4) If both of you score somewhere between 15 and 25 points, you are still having trouble deciding what your financial relationship with each other ought to be—and that detracts from your relationship. In terms of what’s best for your father-daughter relationship, the best combination is when both of you score less than 10. This means both of you are glad that the daughter is becoming financially self-reliant.

Although daughter may turn to dad for advice when she’s in a financial jam, she won’t expect or ask him to give her money—and he won’t feel that the loving thing to do is to give money. But since many daughters and fathers aren’t in this group, financial issues often detract from your relationship.

Let’s start with this “golden rule”: “Those who have the gold make the rules.” Daughters and fathers have to understand that when she accepts the “gold” from her father, there are usually strings attached—strings that may be invisible at first but eventually become heavy ropes around both your necks. For instance, she may consider the money dad gives her to be a “gift”, but he might consider it to be a “loan”—money that he expects to be repaid when his daughter can afford it. Other times you both agree that it is a loan, but it’s not made clear when the money is supposed to be repaid. At some later date dad may feel taken advantage of because daughter hasn’t repaid a dime when she clearly has the money. Resentment can also occur if dad gives or loans money to another child, without making the same gift or loan to his daughter. But the biggest risks involve obligation and entitlement. Depending on how dependent the daughter is on her father’s money, she may feel obligated to do things she doesn’t want to do—little things like spending time with dad when she really doesn’t want to or big things like going into a career she has no interest in because dad footed the bill for her expensive college education. While a daughter may feel obligated, a dad may feel entitled—entitled to have a say in how his money is spent: what school his daughter should attend, what jobs she should apply for.

As fathers or as daughters, we need to recognize the way money affects our relationship and to communicate honestly with one another about our feelings, our beliefs, and our expectations.

Your Daughter's Young Adult Years: Money, Sex & Career and their impact on your father-daughter relationship - Part 1I

How do father-daughter relationships generally change from the time a daughter leaves high school until she becomes a “real” adult? What usually puts the most stress on their relationship? And how can father and daughter strengthen their relationship or overcome these obstacles during her early adult years?

Changes & Tensions -- - Both father and daughter need to change some of their attitudes and behavior in order to create a more adult relationship with one another during her college-age years. Unfortunately what usually happens is that one person is readier to change than the other. Either dad is treating his daughter too much like a little girl while she is striving and wanting to become an adult. Or dad is treating her like an adult while she is still behaving and wanting to be treated like a child. Your mutual struggle as father and daughter to create an adult to adult relationship usually reaches it peak over these three issues: his money, her sexual lifestyle, and her career plans. In September’s column, I talked about money. Now let’s turn our attention to sex.

Assumptions about Uptight Dad --- One reason the daughter’s sexual life creates tension for too many young women and their fathers is that she assumes her father is far more conservative and far more uptight than he actually is. When this happens, the daughter lies, deceives, and hides a lot of what’s going on in her life from her father. And that’s not good for their relationship. Feeling guilty, she goes to great lengths to pretend to be the virginal, non-sexual little girl that she believes her father wants her to be. Fearing that her father will love her less or respect her less if he discovers that she is not an innocent, virginal girl, she may end up refusing to share anything about her personal life with him – depriving herself and her father of the chance for him to be her advisor and ally in matters of the heart. I am not suggesting that daughters share the intimate details of their sexual lives with their fathers. But I am saying that by time daughters leave adolescence, they should not be pretending to be sexually innocent children in order to please “daddy”.

One way of easing the tension is for a father to let his young adult daughter know more about his sexual life when he was her age – and to let her know what his feelings are about people her age having sex. I’m not saying that fathers should share the details of their sexual lives with their daughters. But I am saying that fathers should let their daughters know that they were not – or are not - as sexually conservative as their daughters might be assuming. Although it is true that most fathers want their daughter to wait until their late teens before having sex, it is not true that most fathers want or expect their daughters to be virgins when they get married. This quiz is one way for fathers and daughters to get the conversation started about dad’s beliefs.

Your Father’s Generation: Not Such Uptight Guys! What do you believe are true about most men now between the ages of 45 and 60?


Most were virgins when they got married.


Most have been married only once.


Most waited until their twenties to have sex for the first time.


Most married a virgin.


Most disapprove of people having sex before marriage.


Most never drank or smoked cigarettes as teenagers.


Most never used any illegal drug.


Most oppose sex education in the schools.


Most want abortion made illegal again.


Most believe that interracial marriages should be outlawed again.


Total Score (10 possible trues)

What’s your score? The correct answer is zero. Not one of these statements is true. Most men who are now in their 40s and 50s were not sexually or socially conservative as young men —and neither were the women they dated and married. Only 10% of the men and 20% of the women were virgins when they married. Having sex before marriage, drinking, and smoking were the norm, not the exception. More than half of those married people got divorced and 20% of all parents never got married. Nearly a third of the women were already pregnant when they married. Most men had three or four lovers before marriage, and most women had more than one. Interracial and interfaith marriages increased dramatically during the 1960s and 70s. The legal right to terminate a pregnancy, to marry someone of another race, to keep your job if you’re gay, and to possess small amounts of recreational drugs without being sent to jail exist because dad’s generation created more liberal laws. In short, there’s not as much difference as a daughter might think there is between her father’s generation and her own.

On the other hand, some fathers are more sexually conservative than their daughters – and some daughters are more conservative than their fathers. When that’s the case, do not try to change one another’s sexual values. You’re each entitled to your own beliefs because you are both adults. For the sake of your relationship, accept each other’s right to live your sexual life in the way that you have deemed is best for you. Having to adopt exactly the same sexual values should not be a requirement for a loving, meaningful father-daughter relationship.

Sharing Your Life with Your Daughter

Sadly, fathers and daughters generally do not know one another as well or spend nearly as much time with one another throughout their lifetimes as mothers and daughters. Especially when it comes to the meaningful, personal aspects of our lives, fathers and daughters share less with one another.

So fathers, here’s the bottom line: You need to spend more time alone with your daughter, even when she’s a teenager and even after she is off living on her own. And when you are with her in private, use that time to share your life with her and to ask her meaningful, personal questions about her life. These lists of questions can get you started. Hundreds more are available in my book, as well as two chapters on communicating with your daughter:

Childhood and Family

1. Who is (or was) your favorite relative? Why?
2. How are you like and unlike each of your parents?
3. What are three of your favorite childhood memories?
4. What did you get too little of from your father? What did you get too much of?
5. What kind of relationship did you have with your father? With your mother?


1. What book, film, and piece of music has affected you the most? Why?
2. If you had a motto, what would it be?
3. If you could afford it, what would you buy or do?
4. What do you wish you had more of? Why?
5. What would bring you the greatest joy during the next few years?


1. What are four traits you look for in a friend?
2. Who have you known longest, and why has your friendship lasted so
3. Which friend do you miss most? Why?
4. What is the best advice a friend ever gave you?
5. How have your friendships changed over time?

Spiritual Beliefs

1. How have your religious beliefs changed over time?
2. What was your most spiritual experience?
3. What spiritual questions do you ask yourself most often?
4. What are your greatest worries about aging or dying?
5. How has another person’s death affected your own religious views or feelings about dying?

Feelings About Yourself

1. How successful do you consider yourself? Why?
2. What are your best and worst traits?
3. What are some of the best compliments you’ve ever gotten?
4. What are three of the best and three of the worst decisions you’ve ever made?
5. What three lessons did you learn the hard way?

Love & Romance

1. What romantic relationships had the greatest impact on you, and how?
2. What do you wish had been different about your romantic relationships?
3. How liberal or conservative do you consider yourself to be on sexual issues?
4. How have your ideas about love, sex, and marriage changed over time?
5. What do you wish you had known about sexual and romantic relationships as a young man?

Getting to know your daughter and allowing her to know you means asking the kinds of questions that so many of us wish we had asked before it was “too late”. Give your daughter the gift of getting to know you. Give yourself the gift of getting to know her.

Demeaning and Demoralizing Divorced Dads

It's not news that fathers face many obstacles in trying to maintain close relationships with their daughters and sons after divorce. The question is, what can we do about it?

You don't have to be a divorced parent or a professional who works with divorced families in order to take the first step in helping divorced fathers and their kids stay bonded. There are a number of myths and misconceptions in our society that work against fathers relationships with their kids after divorce. So your first step is to educate yourself about the statistical facts and realities and to share this informatoin with everyone you know:

Myth: Dads aren't capable of raising kids on their own. Reality: Kids raised by single fathers are just as well adjusted and just as happy as kids raised by single mothers.

Myth: It doesn't matter much to adult children how much time they spent with their dads after their parents' divorce. Reality: Many adult children wish their mother had allowed or been enthusiastic about their spending more time with their fathers after the parents’ divorce.

Myth: Almost all children are seriously and permanently damage by their parents' divorce. Reality: Very few children have serious, ongoing problems as a result of their parents' divorce.

Myth: As long as the mother is a good enough parent, the kids won't suffer from having too little contact with their father. Reality: The greater the damage to their relationship with their fathers, the more likely kids are to have problems throughout their lives that are the result of father absence.

Myth: Most fathers are carefree, swinging bachelors after their divorce. Reality: Fathers are more likely than mothers to be depressed and suicidal after divorce—mainly because they miss their kids.

Myth: Well educated parents are far more cooperative and more likely to do what's best for their kids after their divorce than less educated parents. Reality: College-educated, white parents are not necessarily more cooperative and the wives may be angrier than less educated women over financial matters.

Myth: Most divorced men are deadbeat dads who don't make their child support payments. Reality: The vast majority of divorced fathers are making their child support payments in full. The men who don't pay child support usually have never been married and are poorly educated or unemployed.

Myth: It's up to the father what kind of relationship he has with his kids after divorce. Reality: The more enthusiastic and supportive the mother is, the more likely the father is to maintain a close relationship with his children.

Myth: When dad remarries, he usually stops seeing his kids and quits paying child support. Reality: Getting remarried generally has little impact or no impact on how much time a father spends with his children or how much money he sends them.

Let's get these messages across so that children will have fewer negative beliefs about their fathers after divorce and so that we can offer more emotional support and understanding to divorced dads.

* The complete list of references for these research studies and statistics are in "Embracing Your Father:How to Build the Relationship You Always Wanted With Your Dad.".

The Father’s Day I Wish For

As a 55 year old daughter, what do I wish for Father’s Day? Foremost, I wish my father was still alive. I don’t have to wish we had loved each other. We did. I don’t have to wish we had been proud of each other. We were. I don’t have to wish we had resolved the conflicts that plagued us during my twenties. We had. I don’t have to wish he had been spared a painful or lingering death. He died quickly and unexpectedly one winter evening - toppling forward in his favorite reclining chair after eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream, my mother nearby knowing immediately that he had died – instantly, peacefully – just after saying “that was good, Fran”.

And yet I wish – I wish we had been comfortable and more open talking about the things that mattered most – the personal, significant parts of our lives like my divorce, his being a grandfather, his childhood, the deaths of his parents and his lifelong friend Paul, his aging, spirituality, regrets, fears, hopes and plans for the future – mine and his. And as Father’s Day approaches, again I am reminded that my father and I were most relaxed with each other when other people were around and when the TV was on. And it was always harder for me to choose a gift for him than for anyone else I loved. Why was that?

Now I know why. And so I wish - I wish I had realized that loving my father was not the same as knowing him – and that loving him was not the same as allowing him to know me. Had I really known my father, choosing gifts for him would have been easier. And had I known how to get to know him, spending quiet time alone with him would have been a relaxing treat. Loving one another was easier than getting to know one another – easier than exploring and sharing the real “stuff” of our lives.

Why? Why didn’t I make time to be alone with my father? Why didn’t I ask him meaningful questions or explore his life and mine with him? I wasn’t a kid. I was 40 when he died. Besides, I’m a psychologist, a professor, an author. I’m good at getting people to open up and engage in meaningful conversations. Sure, Dad could be sullen, difficult, withdrawn, moody. But I’ve gotten to know plenty of people with those traits better than I got to know my own father.

So what was I thinking all those years - that because he was a man or because he was my father, he wouldn’t want us to get to know one another better? That he would refuse to tell me anything important about his life? That he didn’t have anything wise or insightful to share with me? That he didn’t have the same desire I had to be self-disclosing and known by those we love? That even if I was sincere and persistent, he would laugh at me or reject my attempts to be more emotionally intimate?

And so I wish – I wish for a Father’s Day where I would spend hours alone with my father, asking the personal, meaningful questions that I have spent the years since his death trying to teach other daughters to ask their fathers. I wish I had fully embraced my father, rather than simply loving him.

Helping Daughters Embrace Their Relationships with Their Fathers

Most fathers and daughters do not know one another as well or spend nearly as much time together throughout their lifetimes as mothers and daughters. Since it is well established that fathers have as much or more impact on their daughters as mothers do, it seems that too many of us have adopted the attitude: Your Father, Why bother?

By teaching daughters specific ways to create more meaningful, more communicative relationships with their fathers, we give them a lifelong gift. We can begin by teaching daughters to treat their fathers as full-fledged, nurturing parents – and by teaching mothers to allow and encourage this kind of bonding between father and daughter without feeling jealous, competitive or left out.

Daughters’ Quiz: Am I Pushing My Father Away

Use 0 for “never,” 1 for “rarely,” 2 for “usually” and 3 for “almost always.”

_ I spend as much time alone with my father as I spend alone with my mother.

__ I talk directly to my dad instead of going through other people to communicate with him.

___ I go to my father for advice and for comfort about personal things.

___ I ask my father questions about his life the way I do with my mother.

___ I share important parts of my life as much with my father as with my mother.

__ I make as much effort to get to know my father as I do my mother.

__ I encourage my father to ask me questions about my life instead of acting as if he is prying or interfering.

___I am as open and honest with my dad as I am with my mom.

__ I invite my father to do things alone with me so that we have time to talk privately.

___I show my father how much I appreciate him as a parent.

___I let my father know that he has as much impact on me as my mother does.

___ Total score (30 possible)

The higher her score, the easier a daughter makes it for her father to create a meaningful, relaxed relationship with her. By encouraging daughters to relate to their fathers in these ways, we help them embrace their relationships to the fullest. Given the many negative images of fathers that bombard us in movies, tv shows, children’s books and magazines, daughters also need help “removing their blindfolds” about men as parents. By exposing daughters to “eye openers” like these, we help them be less judgmental and more understanding toward their fathers.

  • Daughters raised mainly by their fathers are just as well adjusted and happy as daughters raised mainly by their mothers.
  • Most dads wish they could spend more time with their kids and less time at work.
  • Fathers are just as stressed as mothers are trying to balance work and family.
  • Two million fathers stay home to raise their children while their wives work.
  • Counting the time spent commuting, working, doing house and yard work, and being with the kids, the average father has 5 hours less free time each week than the average mother.
  • The vast majority of divorced fathers pay all of their child support payments.

By exposing the myths and misconceptions about men as parents, we open doors between fathers and daughters. As these adult daughters put it: “Now I see that my father isn’t just a bald guy with his head stuck in a book. I have so much to learn from him” “I am finally getting to know my father as more than an extension of my mother."

©2008 Dr. Linda Nielsen

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It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father. Pope John XXIII

Dr. Nielsen has been teaching, counseling, conducting research and writing about adolescents and father-daughter relationships since 1970. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of the outstanding graduate's award in teacher education from the University of Tennessee in 1969, she taught and counseled high school students for several years. After earning a Master's Degree in Counseling and a Doctorate in Educational and Adolescent Psychology, she joined the faculty of Wake Forest University in 1974. Her grants and awards include the Outstanding Article Award in 1980 from the U.S. Center for Women Scholars and a postdoctoral fellowship from the American Association of University Women. For the past fifteen years she has focused primarily on father-daughter relationships with a special emphasis on divorced fathers and their daughters. Her work has been cited in the "Wall Street Journal" as well as in popular magzines such as "Cosmopolitan", and shared through television and radio interviews..

In 1991 she created her "Fathers & Daughters" course - the only college course in the country that focuses exclusively on father-daughter relationships. In addition to having written several dozen articles for journals such as the "Harvard Educational Review" and the "Journal of Divorce & Remarriage", Dr. Nielsen has written three books: How to Motivate Adolescents (Prentice Hall) and Adolescence: A Contemporary View (Harcourt Brace) which sold more than 60,000 copies and was adopted by hundreds of universities throughout the country and abroad between 1986-1996. Her third book, Embracing Your Father: Creating the Relationship You Want with Your Dad was published in April, 2004. www.wfu.edu/~nielsen or E-Mail

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