Everyone suffers when men fail to protect the innocence they create
My father is the greatest man I know. He’s kind, gentle, supportive, protective, and a whole host of other adjectives, none of which do him any justice. He is the only man who has ever loved me endlessly — no matter what I did, how I looked, or how much it took of him — and he did so wanting nothing in return, the epitome of unconditional love.
He prayed for sons but the universe knew that he needed daughters. Beautiful, bright-eyed girls to praise as their kinks stood straight in the air. Some people would say I got lucky, I don’t disagree. My father loved us without limit, working an overnight labor job so that he could be home with us during the day. A shining example of sacrifice and selflessness, my Dad demonstrated his devotion to his daughters one day at a time. If only every little girl could be so lucky.
One of the first things I learned from my father was that I was beautiful, a very important lesson for a young girl. From my toothless elementary school smile to my college grunge days, not a moment went by that my father didn’t take to remind me just how beautiful I was. No pimple too big, no hair too short, no frown too upside down for my father. And it wasn’t just the physical, it was the beauty you couldn’t see that he saw so well. My intelligence, my generosity, my creativity, he was impressed by it all.
I was proud because he was, and if such a great man thought so highly of me, well then the opinions of other men simply didn’t carry weight. To a girl, a father is her first love and my father was mine. He laid the foundation for my self-esteem and set the standard for how the men I allowed into my life were required to treat me. That’s not to say I haven’t dated some complete duds, but I did so knowing full well they didn’t measure up. A dad provides his daughters with an adequate standard against which to measure potential suitors. If there is no example of healthy masculinity in the home of a young girl, her examples come from media, music, and other money-driven mediums. And what do they teach young girls masculinity should look like? Who do they say she should aspire to be?
Countless studies suggest that fatherlessness has an extremely negative impact on a woman’s self-esteem. Fatherless Daughter Syndrome is not a myth. FDS is an emotional disorder caused by a lack of a formative father/daughter bond. The disorder leads to repeated dysfunctional relationship patterns, unhealthy attachment, poor coping mechanisms, and deficits in the areas of trust and self-worth. Where a father would naturally establish himself as the primary source of validation in a young girl’s life, his absence leaves room for men offering a similar but less than innocent kind of validation, one with a price tag. The preferred payment may be physical or financial, social, or sexual, but a man without genuine intentions will always demand payment for his affection. This exemplifies for a young girl that affection is something to be earned, and her body is the bargaining tool.
Beyond affirming her intelligence, her identity, her beauty, external and internal, a father teaches a young girl what it looks like when a man has a healthy love for a woman. Everything I know about what a man in love looks like, I learned by watching my father love my mother. I’ve yet to come across a man who’s a bigger fan of his wife than my dad. He tells the story of casually bumping into her on campus as if it weren’t four decades ago, swearing that she was the woman he traveled all the way from Nigeria to marry. Through sickness and health, through poverty (and more poverty), he’s maintained that she was the blessing God chose for him. Here’s how that blessed me.
According to research, children use their opposite-sex parent as the template for their romantic partners, both literally and figuratively. Not only do young girls commonly grow up to seek men who share physical similarities with their fathers, but they seek men who share behavioral similarities as well. A girl whose father provides her mother with affection, respect, and affirmation of her femininity will look for these behaviors in her potential partners. In contrast, a young girl whose father is absent or fails to positively affirm her mother, modeling criticism, neglect, and abuse instead, will seek similarly neglectful partners. People who are irresponsible, self-centered, and often predatory.
Now, women with healthy paternal models do this too, but research says they’re less likely to turn these individual experiences into long term dating habits, resulting in extended cycles of self-sabotage. Not simply because they “know better,” but because we’re hard-wired to compare every love to our first example of it, our first love being our most influential. If that first love isn’t pure, as healthy father-daughter love is, if instead it’s based on “Give and Take”, as all intimate partnerships are, a young girl will measure her worth by her ability to win a man’s affection, not by his ability to earn hers.
What happens when fathers don’t love their daughters? They wander out into the world unprotected. They grow up seeking the validation of men whose only assessment of them centers on their assets, whether they be physical, financial, or emotional. They grow up exhausting their energy chasing an unconditional love that cannot be replicated through giving and take, embarking on a neverending pursuit of a love that feels like a father’s. One has to ask if their Dads are aware of the damage they’ve caused.
Everyone suffers when men fail to protect the innocence they create. No, the job doesn’t just get done in a man’s absence. Mothers don’t morph into men, filling the void left when fathers decide to abandon their daughters. As with any job, and parenting is a job, the work remains whether we show up or not. I know what you’re thinking and the answer is, Yes. Moms can model unconditional love for their daughters, and they absolutely should.
There’s evidence to support that the mother-daughter bond is genetically the strongest of all parent-child bonds. The science suggests that (Surprise!) we become our mothers, good or bad. Researchers discovered distinct similarities in brain chemistry between mothers and daughters at a much higher rate than any other inter-generational pairing. There’s no denying the importance of this particular partnership.
The father-daughter bond serves a separate, but equally important purpose. Therapist Gary Brown, Ph.D. explains, “It would be difficult to overstate the powerful influence that fathers have in the shaping of their daughters’ views about their own self-image, values, sexuality, relationships, and the right to determine the course of their own lives.” Research says he’s right. Studies say active fathers contribute to higher self-esteem in young girls, lower rates of depression and anxiety, and a lower likelihood of childhood poverty. Research also suggests that affectionate fathers affect a child’s cognitive and social development, offering them a prolonged state of security and protection, both physical and emotional.
There is a pureness to father-daughter affection that simply cannot be replicated outside of the parent to child pairing. Which explains why the father-daughter bond is also the most fragile, essentially, it builds us or breaks us. Young girls need to experience unconditional love, especially in a world where they’re constantly conditioned to believe that love comes with a cost, that love is supposed to hurt, that to love someone is to labor for them. Girls need to know a love that doesn’t have a limit on it, they need to experience a love that isn’t earned.
Fatherless daughters become strong women not by choice, but by necessity. They tough through the trauma of roughing out the real-world lessons daddy didn’t prepare them for, all while trying to prove his departure did no real damage. Parroting the phrase, “I didn’t have my father and I turned out just fine,” as justification for the unjustifiable. Understandably so. It is society that puts the burden of repairing the damage we endure from our parents on us. But make no mistake, men should not be made to feel like their duty to their daughters can be fulfilled by other means, because it can’t. Whether those daughters heal from the damage or not. There is no opting out of fatherhood. That void is forever valid. Absent fathers should be reminded of that daily. Life won’t let their daughters forget it.