Fathers and Daughters
Why the hostility, the resentment, the hurt?
Posted Nov 14, 2015
“I was a Daddy’s girl until I was about twelve. He used to call me his princess. We were really close and I knew I was his favourite. But now we hardly speak and he just spends all his time having a go at me, criticising me!”
I hear this several times a year from tearful daughters, angry daughters, daughters confused about the way things have changed, daughters longing to be loved.
Father and daughter relationships are delicate and sometimes they get stuck. Something seems to happen when a daughter gets to her twelfth or thirteenth birthday, something that neither of them quite understands.
I feel sad for both of them. On the one hand, the poor daughter can’t understand what she’s supposed to have done wrong. She’s been getting on with the difficult task of growing up, coping with friends and boys and periods and coursework and sport and Facebook and a body that keeps changing…. It’s a full-time job and she’s been doing her best but feels as if she’s somehow become a disappointment to her father, criticised by him for her clothes (too sexy), her friends (too many), her interests (too few), her ambitions (too vague).
“With puberty, the future not only approaches: it takes residence in her body….” writes Simone De Beauvoir (1949, p351); “….the lie to which an adolescent girl is condemned is that she must pretend to be an object, and a fascinating one, when she senses herself as an uncertain, dissociated being, well aware of her blemishes” (p380).
Daughters aren’t the only ones who struggle. Fathers have to bear their own disillusionment with a daughter who once seemed perfect but who now turns out to have limitations, who makes mistakes, who can be thoughtless and even cruel at times. Fathers have to bear it when, quite appropriately, she starts arguing back, leaving fathers feeling that they’re no longer important, that their advice is apparently now stupid and wrong, that being protective is definitely not needed and that a cuddle would be quite out of the question. The rejection hurts.
I think it’s important for fathers to take their punishment: it’s not as personal as it feels. Daughters don’t stop needing their fathers but all that little girl stuff just starts to feel too self-conscious. They need their fathers differently. They need them to be there and solid but also listening and trusting and keeping things normal. They need them to understand that things are changing, that things have to change and they need their fathers be happy about this. Above all, they need them to realise that it’s not all about them!
De Beauvoir, S. (1949) The Second Sex. London: Penguin Books.