By Manvi Pant
The dynamics of parenting have changed over the years, but what’s intact is the clichéd view of looking at child-rearing as a mother’s prerogative. This outdated notion has raised several questions, such as: how important is fatherhood? Do men contribute more to the parenting pyramid than just money?
Professor of child psychiatry at Yale, Dr Kyle Pruett sets the record straight: “Fathers don’t mother and mothers don’t father.” His emphasis on paternal engagement suggests that fathers can be distinctive caregivers not only to their sons but also to their daughters. Psychologists like Marie Hartwell-Walker also insist that fathers have an unparalleled role in their daughter’s lives.
So, what difference do fathers really make? An important element that weighs in this is the way fathers interact with their daughters. Their style of communication is usually more candid, honest and less modulated as compared to a mother’s.
Fathers also tend to inculcate self-dependency by allowing more room to make mistakes. Former US President Barack Obama is a prime example of that (lead image). When asked about raising two girls Malia and Sasha, he asserted that making mistakes is a part of the process of development and that kids should be given enough ownership to manage their lives on their own.
Way back in 1993, award-winning author Victoria Secunda, in her book Women and Their Fathers: The Sexual and Romantic Impact of the First Man in Your Life, concluded that women who do not feel affirmed by their fathers fail to trust the men in their lives and hence always remain on guard. Her conclusion seems to hold relevance even today, as several recent studies confirm the same.
Girls look at their fathers and the image they register sets the default for the men they allow in their life, which is why grief counsellor Caitlin Marvaso believes that girls raised in fatherless households have less insight on respect and boundaries. They are also more likely to get involved in relationships without being too emotionally invested in them.
University of Delaware professor Rob Palkovitz cites paternal absence as being a major reason for teen pregnancy in girls in the US.
Girls look up to their fathers for everything – from their career choices to their self-esteem, relationships and mental wellbeing. Girls who develop a strong bond with their fathers from a young age experience less anxiety and stress. They feel more secure and often grow up to become confident and solution-oriented individuals.
Further, when fathers lead from behind, instead of positioning themselves in the front, it helps build trust. One example is actor-director Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s relationship with his three daughters. He once shared that the eldest, 17, says she can trust him and lean on him for everything. The now retired professional wrestler also participated in the childbirth of his youngest daughter and called it “a life-changing moment” in an emotional post.
If we are talking about best celebrity dads in India, then superstar-politician Rajinikanth’s name cannot be far behind. The Tamil legend, who started his career as a bus conductor, shares a beautiful bond with his daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya, both of whom are successful professionals now. Soundarya once said her father had taught them to never forget their roots, and to live a humble life.
So, what is the future of fatherhood? In 2009, American author Kay Hymowitz made the picture very clear when she predicted, “In a decade from now, a majority of fathers would be spending less time on the field and more on cooking pancakes and changing diapers.”
Well, the COVID lockdown may have ensured that but there’s more to come. Fathers may not become the ‘new mothers’ but going forward, paternal presence will definitely hold a deeper meaning.
And if more fathers are able to have healthy relationships with daughters, the world will see a league of women who are tougher, more self-assured, financially independent, mentally strong and have a greater sense of clarity.
First published in eShe’s June 2020 issue
Syndicated to Money Control