A girl’s father and his attitudes about women create an indelible imprint upon her psyche about her own worth and also about what to expect from a man. If he is warm, loving, and attentive, then she’s apt to choose a man who is similar. If, on the other hand, her father is cold, distant, abusive, or possessive, this will also influence a daughter.
Once, when I was about fourteen and my boyfriend had broken up with me for a few months, I was feeling distraught and very depressed. My father gave me a hug and made me feel valuable and attractive despite my lack of a boyfriend. He said, "There are many other fishes in the sea. Right now you can’t see that. But believe me, you are blue chip stock. Don’t sell yourself short or spend much time pining over that guy. There will be lots of others in your future." I am very grateful to have had a father like that. But even the most loving fathers can instill in their daughters a sense of unease about relations with the opposite sex. My father let me know that I was valuable with or without validation from a boyfriend, but he did it without trying to scare me off from men. Not all fathers are able to do this. For example, a patient told me about a conversation she had had with her husband and two teenage daughters:
Recently we were having a family brunch at a local restaurant. The girls hadn’t received their allowance for a while and we were discussing their monetary needs. My older girl, who is fifteen, asked us what sort of allowance each of us had had in high school and college. My husband, John, said that at the time he was in college in the late ’60s, the boy still paid for everything on a date. So his parents supplied him with about $120 a month, to cover car upkeep, dating expenses, clothes, etc. But he told our daughters that when they started to date, he wanted them to pay their share of the expenses rather than letting the boy treat them. I asked my husband why he thought the girls should pay. He said, "Because when the guy pays for dinner and a movie or a show, then he may feel that the girl owes him something more." I asked him to elaborate. He said, "Well, at least a good-night kiss." I said, "Even if she doesn’t like him?" He didn’t want to go on, but made it clear to our daughters that boys feel that if a date pays for everything, there is an automatic power imbalance in the relationship and the girl "owes" something in return for his investment.
Obviously men in our culture can be quite ambivalent when it comes to their daughters and their relationships with men. My personal financial planner told me that in the course of her work she’s never yet met a man who felt that his son-in-law was capable of taking care of his daughter! Before we were married and before we had even decided if we were going to have children, I remember my husband saying something like, "If we ever have a daughter, I’m going to build a fence around the house when she turns thirteen." Remember, he didn’t even know if we were going to have children. Yet the very thought of having a daughter brought up his instinct to protect them from other men.