The Importance And Role Of Fathers – Jennifer Oaten
I thought I would share with you my Opinion Piece that was published in the West Australian Newspaper yesterday.
As we approach Fathers’ Day is it timely to consider father/daughter relationships in today’s world. Fathers or father figures play a significant role in the lives of young women. They can significantly impact a girl’s wellbeing, growth and journey through life. When we refer to ‘family’ today, it is a complex term. More fathers are absent today than ever before because of work commitments or split families, so we need to accept that not all girls have a positive male influence in their lives or a traditional father/daughter relationship. As educators we seek to foster ways in which our girls can benefit from good male role models if that cannot be a traditional father/daughter relationship.
With fathers, I firmly believe it is quality, not quantity, that is important in any parent-child relationship. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their daughters, benefits that no other person is likely to bring. They have a parenting style and relationship that is markedly different from that of a mother. I was lucky enough to be particularly close to my father and felt that he contributed significantly to who I am today.
My daughter recently painted my father, Winston (shown above) and it captured him so well it brought tears to my eyes – I was mesmerised how it depicted his warmth. The earthy colours she chose represented him perfectly; my father is a man of the land who loves his farm and the ocean.
Growing up, I experienced calves being born, caring for a pet kangaroo, planting vegetables, and understanding the importance of the weather. My father loved the ocean, so we spent many hours fishing, beach walking, and diving for abalone. Gently, my father was instilling in me a love and respect for natural environments, which led me to a career teaching Science. I still treasure this connection with the land.
Love your daughter unconditionally
- Every girl will make mistakes; the world is a challenging place. Show her compassion and communicate how proud you are regardless of the result or outcome.
- Be careful not to ridicule, shame, or demean her if she makes a poor choice.
- Help her to learn and grow by suggesting how she could handle the situation differently.
- Assure her that while you may be disappointed, you still love her very much, and while you may not agree with her behaviour or choices, you will always love her.
- Help your daughter to understand that the way she cares for and treats others is far more important than personal appearance.
- Love her just the way she is.
Value her opinion
- All young women need to have a voice, so listen carefully, give her your undivided attention and allow her to confide in you without fear of judgment, and to speak out and be heard.
- Resist the urge to interrupt, correct or impose your point of view.
- Hear her opinions, encourage her to think deeply, encourage her to rationalise her thoughts. This will ensure she feels heard and valued.
Model respectful relationships
- A father figure is a daughter’s prime role model for relationships, so the way he treats his wife, partner or significant other demonstrates to his daughter how she should expect to be treated by future partners.
- When you are kind and respectful toward your child’s mother, even if you are no longer romantically involved, you show your child this is how they deserve to be treated.
- Your daughter will understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and understand that there is no room for sarcasm, criticism, or power differential in relationships. If she sees respect, compassion, and equality in action, she will expect this for herself.
Inspire her to reach for the stars
- Girls need to believe anything is possible; whether it is to become an Olympian, a musician, an astronaut, a mathematician, a politician, a dancer, or an advocate for others.
- Share your mistakes, what you learned, how you approached things differently and the pathway you took to achieve your dreams. Sharing what you would do differently is extremely valuable advice. Girls need to hear from their fathers that they can explore so many pathways; they are not limited by gender or societal opinions of what careers they should pursue.
- Help your daughter to connect with mentors and other successful women in the fields she is interested in.
Encourage her to be brave
- Challenge your daughter to have a go. Encourage her to step out of her comfort zone and do all the things you would do with a son.
- Talk about how she can overcome challenges and offer alternatives for her to consider.
- Give her the confidence and self-belief to solve problems, whether it’s trying a more difficult maths course, competing in A-division sport, performing a music solo, applying for a job, or establishing new friendships.
- Shared physical challenges are also a great way to promote strength, fitness, and connection.
Show up to her events
- Sport, assemblies, dance, music performances, and parent interviews are all important events for the young woman in your life, so it is important to be really present, listening, contributing, and acknowledging her.
- You are only invited to these events for such a short time, and she needs you more during her secondary school days when identity and self-esteem are often challenged more than at any other time in her life. This is when many fathers think they should step back.
- Take her for breakfast, walks on the beach, and be there before the time has gone. The role of a father or father figure is a privileged and precious one. Embrace it and do the very best you can. Most importantly, she needs to know in her heart that the male in her life is a man of integrity who keeps his word and is there for her.