Unconventional Wisdom | Science says: Girls close to dads have a head start

Posted: June 16, 2007

I have witnessed female eye-rolls when it comes to the problem of daddy's little girls.

"Oh, men and their daughters," fumed a woman I know. "They each think the other can do no wrong."

Well, yeah.

I am not super-indulgent to my 3-year-old girl. But I will admit to being the Melting Man on occasion - a Popsicle in the Gobi when my baby needs something.

Mom types and others decry the behavior, saying it leads to spoiled brats. But, just in time for Father's Day, I say back off, sisters.

And science is on my side.

Studies demonstrate that girls who are close to their fathers develop more successful lives and careers.

And a soon-to-be-released documentary shows that girls with loving, connective relationships with their dads become warm, assertive, confident, competitive and achievement-oriented.

Created by David Klimek, a Michigan psychologist, the documentary (called Aging Gracefully and due out on PBS in the fall) centers on people ages 90-110.

In the course of interviewing elderly women, Klimek learned that the healthier, more successful ones had especially nurturing fathers.

What's also fascinating about all this is the idea that the opposite-sex parent is often the more important one.

It's the opposite-sex parent who teaches us how to be in a relationship. Science tells us that same-sex parents view us with a jaundiced eye.

A man looking at his son remembers his own boyhood; a woman similarly recalls her days as a girl.

That overidentification messes things up, apparently. The father pushes his son to be more manly than he was, for example, to avoid the teasing that the father suffered.

Or the mother fears that the daughter will gain weight too soon, as she did.

Conversely, parents look at their opposite-sex kids with a cleaner lens.

Not that there aren't difficulties.

This culture seems to screw up boys early, research shows. Our young men learn by 5 or 6 that it is considered wimpy to show emotion or to identify with mom.

So the mother-son relationship is compromised at a young age by ingrained homophobia and a macho-tinged societal view. You simply cannot be a boy walking into kindergarten holding your mom's hand.

As a result, the boy pushes mom away and loses her as a role model for how to be in relationships.

On the other hand, our culture encourages men to guide their daughters' lives, without restriction. And the influence aids in all of the girls' future relationships.

It's unfair, but there it is.

So, by hanging out with their dads, girls get to integrate the masculine characteristics that their fathers bring to the table (assertiveness, competitiveness).

But boys cannot easily absorb their mothers' nurturing, softer essence.

So, sure, my kid is something of a daddy's little girl. She'll probably be better off. Science says so.


Contact columnist Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

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