Father’s Day is coming up and kids (young and older) all over the nation are wondering how best to honor their father or father figure. But what about those that have an absent dad? “Absent” can mean deceased, uninvolved in the child’s life or physically there, yet emotionally absent. In fact, this generation has been hailed, “The Fatherless Generation” by many sources.
American society tends to send different messages to girls and boys. Boys are encouraged to be more aggressive, to hold back tears and not to express their emotions. This message often yields men who have trouble connecting to females, especially their own daughters. Girls tend to find personal meaning and satisfaction in their connections with others. An absence of connection with Dad can really turn into something catastrophic in the girl’s* pre-teen and teenage years.
Think about it: who is the first male role model a girl has? It’s her father (or whichever main male presence is in her life). Not only does a girl learn how to be treated via her relationship with her father, but she also learns how a man is supposed to treat a woman (and vice-versa) by watching her parents (or how her mother lets men treat her). Unfortunately, an emotionally absent father can send the message that his daughter is unimportant to him, which can destroy his daughter’s self-esteem. And if Mom has several boyfriends over the years, it can teach the girl that she can never depend on a man to hang around for long.
It’s only natural that fathers begin to feel awkward when their daughters hit puberty. As this developmental milestone is still a taboo subject in our society, a dad is most likely to send the girl to her mother when she has an issue, even if it is not a “female problem.” Fathers tend to stop or cut down on physical affection around this time as well. There are many reasons for this, but this is the age when daughters need to feel cherished by their dads the most! If they feel no connection with the main male presence in their lives, girls often go “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Girls with a poor or no relationship with their fathers tend to lose their virginity earlier and are at greater risk of promiscuity, obesity and alcohol and drug abuse.
In the documentary Absent, filmmaker Justin Hunt “explores how the absence of a father inflicts a deep, lifelong wound on men and women in all walks of life, from Metallica’s James Hetfield and champion boxer Johnny Tapia to homeless people and prostitutes.” This film brings into focus the real butterfly effect that a father’s absence can create, even from birth/toddlerhood.
So what are single moms and awkward dads to do? Here are some suggestions in which small changes can make big differences:
- Don’t try to be a dad. It’ll never be enough. The best thing you can do is to bring a positive, trustworthy father figure into your daughter’s life. This doesn’t have to be a boyfriend of yours. He could be anyone that you trust who is interested in making a difference in your daughter’s life. It may take time to build trust between them, but it will be worth every second if the guy makes your girl feel important and valued.
- If you can’t find a father figure “at home,” send your daughter out to an activity or lessons of some kind with a strong male leader. Just getting and giving respect to a positive man in an authority position can help.
- If you still can’t find someone to be a positive male role model, find a therapist who works with kids/teens and is a man. The rapport established in the therapy room can transform a girl’s experience with a father’s absence into something very positive.
For “Absent” Dads:
- If you think it’s been too long since you were involved in your daughter’s life, think again. The desire to be loved and cherished by a father never goes away. If you and your ex- (or the girl’s mother) don’t get along, present her with this article and encourage her to watch Absent. This has nothing to do with you and her – it’s about your daughter’s well being.
- If you’re just doing what your father did, that doesn’t make it right. Many abused wives, husbands and children grow up thinking that everyone is abused; so getting hit or called names becomes “normal.” It’s not.
- If your daughter is going through puberty and you feel uncomfortable or awkward, find a way to deal with it. More than ever, your daughter needs to spend time with you. Remind yourself that you have no ill intent – in fact, you are working hard to do something positive for your daughter by giving her appropriate physical affection.
- If you have trouble showing your emotions, send your daughter an email or text during the day telling her that you’re thinking about her and hoping her day is going well. Leave little notes telling her how much you love her and are proud of her in places where she’s likely to find them.
Moms and Dads, remember that all your daughter wants is to feel important, loved and supported. She wants you to be proud of her, no matter how small the victory. Adults’ lives can be very complicated and busy, but taking 5 minutes out of your day to ask yourself, “How can I make my daughter feel loved today?” can mean the difference between your girl making good choices or bad ones.
*This article addresses girls’ needs. Some of the same things apply to boys, but many issues are different. Stay tuned to read Part 2 of Why Fathers are so Important.