"Father hunger is a deep, persistent desire for emotional connection with the father that is experienced by all children." - Margo Maine, Ph.D.
Any female can tell you that her father has had a huge impact on her life, either by presence or by absence. For those lucky enough to have a positive relationship with their dads, where they feel loved and respected, life is good. These girls go on to have healthy relationships with men later in life and have more self-confidence than girls who have a negative relationship with their fathers. And it's pretty easy to understand what can happen to girls whose fathers were verbally, physically, or sexually abusive. But what about the girls who grew up with a father who was physically present, but emotionally absent. These men tend to by highly educated with well paying, powerful jobs that take a lot of time. They probably attend their daughters' games, recitals, and practices but may spend more time on their Blackberries than watching their child. There is an appearance of involvement without the emotional connection. Their daughters probably achieve great things, but feel like it doesn't matter, like they are invisible. It's not that these dads don't care about their daughters. In all likelihood these fathers would be heartbroken if they knew their daughters felt this way. It is simply that they don't know how to interact with their daughters. So why does this happen?
There are some seriously damaging myths about fatherhood in our society. Dads should be the breadwinner, they should be the decision makers, and they don't get emotional. Probably the most harmful to both dads and their children is that fathers aren't important as parents. This view is starting to change but it is still difficult for men to step up as fathers when they become the butt of jokes for doing it. Simple things, like the difficulty of finding a diaper bag that doesn't seem too feminine, contribute to this difficulty. Now, some of you may be thinking, who cares about the diaper bag and the reality is no one does really, but it is a subtle message from society that it is the woman's job to raise the child. And dads feel alienated, which leads to emotional withdrawal and eventually emotional absence. This is not okay - Fathers are important! Research has shown that girls with solid relationships with their fathers have a reduced chance of developing an eating disorder, less depression and anxiety, and are less likely to become involved in abusive relationships. This is too important to allow the distance to grow.
Unfortunately, many men have difficulty connecting with their children on an emotional level because their dads didn't know how. It's no ones fault, we just aren't very good at teaching men about connecting with others. So, I'm guessing the men reading this might be thinking, "Great so I'm screwing up my daughter but I don't know how to do it differently." First, just the fact that you took the time to read this says you want to do it differently. And the reality is that a few simple steps (see blog on simple vs. easy) can make a huge difference in your daughter's life. So here's some ideas:
1) If you're a new father, get involved with the care and feeding of your baby. Learn which diapers fit the best, which food your child prefers, and which stuffed animal is the favorite. This will start to build the emotional bond early in life. Think of this information as a map - the more you know the more detailed the map the better you'll see your child.
2) If you have school aged children, attend parent teacher conferences, get in the rotation to take your child to school or pick her up. Use that time to talk to her and listen to what happened during her day. Learn the names of her teachers, friends, principal, friends parents, and the lunch lady for that matter. Does it take energy, absolutely. Is it worth it? You better believe it.
3) Have special father-daughter days or activities. Pick a favorite restaurant, park, or movie and go together. Tell mom to back off - this is your special time with your daughter (and mom should have her own anyway).
4) Know the names of your child's doctor, babysitter, and school and have these numbers programmed into your phone.
5) And this is the most important - take five minutes out of each and every day to tell your daughter how much you love her and how special she is to you. She craves that recognition and you will love the look on her face when she gets it.
As a father, you have the ability to change your daughter's life for the better. It will take work on your part, but it will be the best job you ever had.
"Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter." - Joseph Addison
Further Reading: Father Hunger: Father, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness by Margo Maine, Ph.D.