Much has been written about mothers and sons; mothers and daughters; fathers and sons. The topic of fathers and daughters has received less press for a number of reasons. The relationship between fathers and daughters has been deemed less important than the others because, sadly enough, daughters have, throughout history, not been as important. They couldn’t inherit wealth or titles. They couldn’t own property. They couldn’t vote, for gosh sake. So how they grew up or what character traits they exhibited just didn’t matter. It was the son who was the “chip off the old block” or the “apple not falling far from the tree.” So, yes, we have analyzed the father-son relationship. Sophocles, Tolstoy, Freud and all those bearded prophets of the Old Testament have had their say.
Now Freud, bless his little misogynist heart, knew that there was something going on with women that he didn’t understand. Remember, he famously said, “What does a women want?” He wanted to make the relationship with the father the critical piece of the child’s development. He didn’t really want to know about the intensity of the mother-child relationship and how impactful it was on children of both sexes. So he more or less skipped over all that messy stuff and called women’s issues “the dark continent.” So much for Freud! We have to give him a nod because he was the pioneer who started all of this fascination with the psyche and the inner world.
Freud realized that mothers were important but only from the (male) child’s point of view. He discovered what artists and scholars have known for centuries, that is, that little boys fell in love with their mothers. Then whoops! Somebody figured out that mothers were not as innocent as we had hoped. Jocasta, mother of Oedipus in the Greek Tragedy by Sophocles, was the first but certainly not the last to feel sexual desire for her son. So we spent a lot of time and ink and pondering on the relationship between mothers and sons.
But then in the 70’s we began to understand that the mother-daughter relationship was vital to our understanding of the development of girls and women. (Women were starting to become important!) It provided a wealth of material that affected for good or ill the growth of female children. We discovered that women (like me) could spend much of a lifetime trying to extricate themselves from the bonds of what passes for love between mother and daughter. I will have more to say about this crucial and temperamental relationship later.
But the father-daughter bond has not received the attention that has been accorded other parent-child relationships. That is, as I said, in part because girls and their inheritance in any form were just not as important. But there is another reason that is even trickier and that is, the sexualized component that inevitably exists between fathers and daughters. Logic tells us that it is present but how do we talk about it? More importantly how do fathers deal with it?
Fortunately for all of us the most important component of the father-daughter dance is love. It is the key to all that is best in any parent-child relationship. So let’s start with love but let’s assume some important parameters. It must be love without a price. It must be unconditional and unselfish love. It must be love without a hidden agenda just as it is for mothers and daughters and all other parent/child combinations.
So next week we’ll talk more about the steps that make the father-daughter dance a nurturing and growth-promoting experience for girls and their fathers!