In our African American community, the lack of active and engaging black fathers in the lives of their children is well documented. The physical absence is one thing, the economic impact another; and, the emotional and psychological absenteeism is dramatically problematic. Not only is this true for sons—where most of the attention is given—but it is equally significant for daughters as well. In short, “Daughters need their fathers, too.”
Working Through the Problem
This statement was made to me over seventeen years ago by my pastoral psychotherapist, during the time when my daughter’s physical development as a sexual being, as well as her growth in becoming an attractive young woman. This specific aspect of her development at times did overwhelm me with feelings of anxiety and ambivalence.
When my wife asked our daughter if she had a boyfriend (she was high school junior), she made it openly known to her mother directly, and to me indirectly, that I was her boyfriend (she was smiling), and a very important man in her life, I felt anxious and in denial of these feelings. Unconsciously, I pondered as a male first, and father second, what does this mean?
Now, some 17 years later, I have grown to recognize that daughters need the emotional presence of their fathers; they need his affection as well as his anger; his compassion as well as his firmness; his joyfulness as well as his expressed sadness; and, his excitement as well as his expressed fears. Fathers that are able to be open to their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths, in the presence of and in relationship with their daughters as she is developing and maturating into womanhood, the daughter has a high probability of taking in her father’s masculine self—to enrich her whole sense of self development.
As she continues to develop, from birth to adulthood, her life as a woman could become more fulfilling with a deeper sense of self-confidence and a stronger sense of herself. If this relationship bond between a daughter and her father is missed, the probability of the daughter going on a hunt for a relationship(s) to enhance this undeveloped relational side of herself in every male relationship that she encounters during her life.
A Relationship Resolution to the Problem
“Daughters need their fathers,” and I wish to further suggest that the daughters who had an emotionally available relationship with their fathers during childhood, has a strong potential for developing a positive self-esteem. An emotionally present father, who was able to openly express his feelings of affection and anger, compassion and judgment, his fears and his hopes, as well as his joy and his sadness,is a very powerful injection into his daughter’s life and her development.
Daughters, whose self-esteem is positive (balanced), seem to enter into significant relationships, with men in particular and others in general, from a relational place of confidence. These daughters appear to be comfortable emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and socially with themselves as women, sisters, partners, wives and most important, mothers. Having had and continuing to have an affirming relationship with their fathers is, I suggest, an essential relationship for her life.
Fathers, therefore, are being called to develop, to heal, and to maintain an emotionally balanced relationship with their daughters. When father accept that they are important participants in their daughter’s whole development—the mental, physical, spiritual, and relational, from birth and well into adulthood—then, this positive self-esteem to which I am referring has greater possibilities for transforming the relationship and the lives between a daughter and her father.
Fathers must also be attentive to their own health care needs—the emotional, relational, spiritual, and the physical—so that as he is growing in becoming his best possible self, his daughter, too, will grow in becoming her best possible self. Recently, I was swimming at a local “Y”. I was sharing a lane with a young woman who was visibly a strong swimmer. At the end of one of our laps, I asked: “did you swim on your high school or college team?” She replied with enthusiasm “that my dad was my coach from the time that I age 4 until I was in the 8th grade,” she said smiling.
So, what can I draw from this experience with this young adult woman? First, her father, by her testimony, was engaged in her life early. Second, as a father coaching his daughter, he was able to provide a physical and emotional presence. When she won, he could openly express his joy and celebrate with her. When she lost, he could console her with empathy. During practice, he could express his anger as a means of constructive motivation. Finally, she was able to internalize her father’s masculine self to affirm her masculine self.
In sum, I would like to invite daughters and fathers to consider exploring ways to work through their relationship wounds, by reaching out to each other mutually, for the purpose of getting the healing process going. A few ways to begin this arduous and perilous process are through a written letter, a personal visit, or a telephone call and simply say, ‘hello’, I’ve been thinking about you.’ For already on this path and have not fully achieved the desired outcome, being patient is essential, in that healing of any relationship takes time. The time invested is worth it and the strengthening of the daughter’s, and, the father’s too, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-awareness can become the ultimate healing and spiritual rebirth.
J. Bernard Kynes, Sr., M.Div., LMFT