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By Madonna King
When Dr Bruce Robinson, a leading cancer surgeon, tells a father his medical condition is terminal and he is facing certain death, they ask about the medical questions you would expect. But then, he says, they almost always ask the same question: “Why didn’t I spend more time with my kids?’’
Dr Robinson’s take out is that fathers don’t realise the enormous power they have in raising children, particularly strong, wise and warm daughters.
It is known that fathers can raise their daughters’ academic performance. They can influence who they choose as a partner, by the way he deals with other women.
A father sets the bar. A father can also empower his daughter to believe in herself and to prosecute a case with conviction and confidence.
He can teach her to look for alternatives and to approach tasks with clinical reason. He can teach her the value of being calm and mindful. And of course practical things, like changing a light bulb or a car tyre or how to spot a storm.
Now of course that doesn’t mean that mothers or others in a girl’s life cannot provide those lessons also, but these have been shown, repeatedly, to be lessons a father can deliver to his daughter.
Fathers and Daughters comes from seeking the counsel of 1300 girls, aged 10 to 17, and 400 fathers, along with dozens of schools principals, well-being officers, parenting experts and teen psychologists. And it is clear that girls, even when they present as being prickly during adolescence, need the support of their father, or a male role model.
They often find it difficult to articulate, but the list of traits they admire in their fathers runs to pages. Five adjectives were nominated by the girls hundreds of times; they loved that their fathers were rational, hardworking, successful, organised and calm.
Many of them loved their father’s ability to cool the temperature of a drama they faced. Annie, 14, describes it this way: if she receives a C-grade on her Maths exam, her father will inquire whether she thinks she needs a tutor. “Mum would just get upset,’’ she says.
Julia says this: “If he doesn’t think something is good for you, he suggests another path’’. So many girls mirrored that comment.
The girls know their mother is often around more, and she is easier to talk to about emotional issues; Dad, according to a vast majority of girls, struggles with communication, and that becomes really obvious when she reaches puberty.
“He used to play with me all the time, but now we’ve just grown apart,’’ Evie says. “I think because ever since I was young my Dad kind of associated being emotional to being weak, and I just can’t shake myself of that mindset,’’ another says.
“To be honest, I really miss my Dad and the relationship we used to have,’’ says a third.
Here are 10 tips for fathers to connect with their daughters:
Love her unconditionally. She will only know that if you tell her.
Value her opinion. You can build her self-confidence, or crush it. Listen to her and consider it a privilege that she’s testing out her views on you.
You have a responsibility to be there, irrespective of whether you live with her or not. Do not – despite any encouragement – take a step back.
Pick a project to do together – eg a park run, a charity project, a love of ACDC music. The project doesn’t matter; doing it together does.
Don’t fix her problems; that’s not your job. But listen to her, and offer alternatives so she can see her way out of a problem. Also teach her to change a car tyre and a light bulb!
Don’t parent by gender. She is not weaker than your son. Be ambitious for her.
You are your daughter’s prime role model for men. What she sees, she will later expect. Don’t waste that power.
Take her on weekly or fortnightly dates. A coffee on the way to school, or a milkshake on Saturday morning. But make it a date with just the two of you.
Know that you offer lessons and skills a mother can’t (and vice versa). You can substantially influence your daughter to being a better person.
Talk. Men and women communicate in different ways, so it’s important to understand that and find a way through it.
Madonna King is one of Australia’s most accomplished journalists, having worked at senior levels of News Limited and the ABC, where she presented the Mornings program in Brisbane for six years. Madonna writes for Fairfax and has a regular radio spot on Brisbane’s 4BC. She has written eight books, including Being 14, Hockey, Ian Frazer and Bali 9, all defined by her skilful reporting and her ability to get people to talk in depth. Madonna is also a parent of two teenage girls. To purchase Fathers and Daughters click here.