Have you ever wanted to blame someone besides your mother for your adult neuroses? Why not your father?
According to Peggy Drexler's op ed in today's Washington Post, the father-daughter relationship not only impacts women in their future relationships with men, women take their father's hypothetical approval or disapproval into account for all of their major decisions as adults as well. At our core, what we want is to be a nation of Daddy's girls. Cue the Father/Daughter dance music that makes all the wedding guests uncomfortable! (Suggestion: Butterfly Kisses)
We know that fathers play a key role in the development and choices of their daughters. But even for women whose fathers had been neglectful or abusive, I found a hunger for approval. They wanted a warm relationship with men who did not deserve any relationship at all.
Part of this need takes form early in life-when a father is a girl's portal to the world of men. I call fathers a girl's GPS-gender positioning system. It's how women begin to orient themselves in a confusing and (especially of late) fluid landscape of gender expectations.
Absent that GPS, many women find themselves adrift.
No word on whether or not any woman without a father has ever managed to grow up to be a success or consider themselves well-adjusted.
Drexler goes on to gently remind readers that while "nontraditional" families are gaining acceptance, female children raised in fatherless environments tend to fare more poorly than their peers with fathers around.
Nontraditional families are gaining acceptance everywhere, from TV sitcoms to our own neighborhoods. But even in such families that are successful in every other respect, I found that the absence of a father during a girl's formative years resonates into adulthood.
I love the dog-whistle appeal to conservatism in this passage; appealing to a return to the "traditional" has long been conservative code for "let's go back to how it was in the 1950's, but not the actual 1950's that actually happened, the imaginary 1950's from TV that we like to pretend happened because back then it was socially acceptable to be really mean to gays and blacks and dismissive of women and as an imaginary result, everyone was imaginary happy like the Cleavers."
The word "traditional" in reference to any sort of social structure, especially "marriage" or "family"- always makes me laugh and laugh. The idea of "family" has evolved so unfailingly and so rapidly over the course of recent history that anyone attempting to parse "tradition" out of that is grasping at straws. What does "traditional" even mean? "How it used to be?" Didn't families used to have like 15 kids so that they could have extra farmhands? Would we all benefit from returning to the barn raises and laundry Mondays and infant mortality of yesteryear in an attempt to connect with something we've lost? Does she mean "traditional" like how Native Americans used to raise their kids? In huts and the such? Traditional like speaking Sanskrit? Should I have already gone on my Spirit Quest? My virginity and I parted ways many years ago. Should someone be stoning me?
Not only will our families' lack of assimilation to the "one dad, one mom, and they never get divorced" screw the children up forever, Drexel goes on to imply that even if our father was around, no matter what we do in life and no matter where we go, we'll always be preoccupied with pleasing Daddy.
No matter how successful their careers, how happy their marriages, or how fulfilling their lives, women told me that their happiness passed through a filter of their fathers' reactions. Many told me that they tried to remove the filter and-much to their surprise-failed.
While I realize that the plural of anecdote is not data, when there are enough anecdotal exceptions to a generalization, that generalization should no longer be made. The claim that all women factor their father's judgment into everything seems like a reach, especially considering how often women do things that their parents would probably not care to know about. Examples: I didn't factor my father's opinion in what method of birth control is right for me. I'm assuming that he's not attuned to the hormonal fluctuations of my body. I know that my dad (and many of the fathers of my friends who have good relationships with their dads) cares, first and foremost, for his daughter's happiness. As I never worried that my misbehaving or not doing exactly what he would want me to do would cause my dad to not love me, I never find myself preoccupied with fear of somehow losing my father's love as an adult.
Furthermore, it's easy to speculate that the road you've traveled by has made all the difference, but the alternate endings at the end of alternate paths are completely unknowable to us. Maybe if my dad had been more of a prick, I'd be a Girl who has Gone Wild. Maybe if my father and I did not get along so well, I'd be awkward and shy with men now. If my father had not been around, I'd probably not know how to chop wood or dust for potato bugs or bait my own hook, but maybe I would. Maybe someone else would have taught me.
Those of us who had good relationships with their fathers should be grateful for that relationship, but an absent or dysfunctional father doesn't doom anyone to a life of therapy. Eventually we learn to make decisions without worrying that Dad's going to take the car keys away.