Friday, August 28, 2009

Fathers and Daughters

Loren Christie inspired me with her post “Golden Promises”, which was about the innocent promises that children make their parents. It made me think of a conversation I had with my Dad when I was about eight years old.

Dad worked long hours during the week, but he and I used to spend most of the weekend together. It would be several years before I was granted a little brother and sister, so he did all the things with me that dads typically like to do with their sons as well. Together we built things (much to my mother’s chagrin, as he taught me how to use a circular table saw when we built a deck together), painted, went to the hardware store, mowed the lawn (also against mom’s wishes, due to accidents she frequently saw in the ER where she worked as an RN), and cleaned the gutters on the roof (also not mom’s favorite place for me). When he bought his first Radio Shack computer, we read the manual together and learned BASIC programming. To this day I take pleasure in doing these sorts of chores (good thing, as Kevin is not a handyman), with Dad accompanying me in my thoughts. Today I am sure I would not want my kids handling power tools or going on the roof; but I am glad my parents allowed me to master these skills.

Dad also liked to challenge me in every way he could. When we went bike riding, he would often race ahead of me, so I could barely see around what curve he had gone. This is the sort of thing that would never have worked if we didn’t trust each other. He trusted that I would ride safely, and I trusted that he would never go so far ahead that he would lose me.

One day, riding side-by-side, I told him that I loved him.

“But do you like me?” he asked, half-joking, half-serious.

“Of course! Why wouldn’t I?”

“Well, sometimes when kids get older they don’t like their parents anymore.”

I was shocked.

“That’s terrible! I will always love you, and like you too.”

That was my golden promise, and one that I kept. Sure, there were times when we would get mad at each other, but the love, the friendship, and the mutual trust have always remained.

Me, my sister Joanna, and my Dad Mark Gerold during our recent visit in Tennessee.

The father-daughter relationship is so important to both a man’s integrity and a girl’s self-esteem. Studies show that girls who have a good relationship with their fathers do better in life and keep out of trouble such as drugs and pre-marital sex. Having the approval of their fathers, they do not have a high need to seek it from their peers. Having the love of a man in their life, they do not need to find it in the arms of a young man. Their experience with their own fathers will translate to their view of their Heavenly Father and whether they see the universe as malevolent or benevolent. Finally, they will tend to seek a mate with similar characteristics.

When a child grows up to be happy and well-adjusted, with healthy adult relationships, this helps the parent to progress in a positive way through the adult life stages discussed by psychologist Erik Erikson. In middle adulthood, ages 40-65, the basic conflict to be resolved is generativity vs. stagnation, with much depending on the important event of parenting. One needs to feel he has satisfied and supported the needs of the next generation. If his daughter is not happy, he stagnates. In the stage of maturity, ages 65 and on, the conflict is between integrity and despair. The satisfactory outcome is of a feeling of fulfillment in one’s life in generation.

The Bible has some words specifically addressing fathers and daughters. In the book of Sirach, fathers are charged with the protection of their daughter’s innocence and reputation:

Sirach 42 (NAB)
A daughter is a treasure that keeps her father wakeful, and worry over her drives away rest: Lest she pass her prime unmarried, or when she is married, lest she be disliked;
While unmarried, lest she be seduced, or, as a wife, lest she prove unfaithful; Lest she conceive in her father's home, or be sterile in that of her husband.
Keep a close watch on your daughter, lest she make you the sport of your enemies, A byword in the city, a reproach among the people, an object of derision in public gatherings. See that there is no lattice in her room, no place that overlooks the approaches to the house.
Let her not parade her charms before men, or spend her time with married women;
For just as moths come from garments, so harm to women comes from women:
Better a man's harshness than a woman's indulgence, and a frightened daughter than any disgrace.

And you dads thought it was all in your head. There is a very good reason you feel so protective of your daughters. God has commanded it to be so.

There is definitely something to be envied in the father’s relationship with his daughters. I can see that special indefinable quality between my husband and our daughters. I can’t put my finger on it, but it is very different from what I have with them, just as my relationship with our son has a tenderness that by nature is different from what he has with his dad. My job here is to step back and let what they share grow.

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1 comment:

Loren Christie said...

This story is really touching. It's great that you captured that conversation with your father. Thanks for mentioning my post.