It was more than 25 years ago that John Gray penned his wildly-successful Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which gave popular understanding to what was happening in homes around the world. Now, Gray says nothing has changed in that time, and those same stark differences remain in how men and women communicate.
I sought his expertise in writing Fathers and Daughters (Hachette 2018), in a bid to understand why daughters often struggled to open up and talk honestly with their fathers – and several factors stood out. Girls (and I asked 1300 of them, aged 10-17) often sought their father out with a problem because they wanted to consider options to solve it, and they admired his rational, clinical approach to the task. That involved everything from homework to current affairs discussions to how to make money.
“If it’s a school problem, I’ll tell Dad because he won’t tell other dads,’’ one told me. “Mum will talk to other mums.’’
“He has a really sensible logic so he is always calm,’’ another said.
And this teen: “He gives me great tips on how to handle situations.’’
Those views were mirrored hundreds of times. But the vast majority of girls said they avoided approaching their fathers on issues involving emotion, or affairs of the heart.
“I go to Mum about everyday stuff but Dad about politics and what’s happening,’’ one said.
Or this: “I find it easy to talk to him about worldly subjects but not so much personal issues.’’
Several answers were given dozens and dozens of times. Some girls believed their fathers didn’t want them to grow up, and steered clear of tricky conversations. Others said their fathers struggled with emotional chats. Many believed that their fathers were not good at communicating, so it was easier not to broach a subject.
A majority said their father didn’t open up as much as their mothers. Or that they didn’t reveal their own problems and that made it difficult to admit they were struggling. Too many girls said their fathers hid their vulnerabilities, and didn’t meet their daughters halfway.
“I feel like by opening up to him a bit more our relationship would be able to grow. Though I find it awkward talking to him about deep things like emotions and feelings,’’ one said.
“Most of the time I don’t feel like I’m being met halfway so I don’t put in the effort,’’ another said.
But there is no doubt girls want and need their father to communicate more with them. They need to hear him say ‘sorry’, to explain his own vulnerabilities, and to show her that feeling emotional does not equate with weakness.
These two responses are from 12-year-old girls.
“Why is it easier to talk to Mum than Dad?’’
“I wish he could spend time with me and just ask me whether I’m alright.’’
The problem here is that fathers and daughters miss out, when they don’t talk. And neither can afford to wait until 25 years to find a way through that.
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.