Today is Father's Day. Many dads and daughters rejoice in having this social family time together. Those who live far away from one another sometimes telephone just to tell the other, "I love you."
For them, each day's end will bring a warm, safe feeling deep inside that has existed since childhood. It is distinctive of that very special father-daughter relationship from that home of long ago, an experiencing of a love that came freely without conditions.
Others are not so blessed. For some less fortunate, thoughts of fathers will awaken an old stabbing heartache. For one reason or another, dad is missing from their lives. There is no special relationship for them any more or, worse, perhaps there never was one. Talks with dad on special days or holidays are non-existent; Father's Day is no exception.
Father abandonment, whether physical or emotional, can wreak havoc in a woman's life. It can leave her with a wide range of emotional problems. If the woman suffers from low self-esteem, the roads she travels in life can bring her to all sorts of self-destructive behaviors along the way.
Inability to function well within a marital relationship is very often a big problem. In adulthood, her feelings toward her father, and maybe other males (especially a husband), can cause her to gravitate toward males who make her feel like her father did. In these situations, women always believe that "this time, I am going to win."
But of course she can't win, because the cards are stacked against her from the beginning. Her ways are those of an empty, passive shell with no thoughts or opinions of her own, for fear of abandonment. After years of confusion and suffering, somewhere around middle adulthood a smoldering rage inside her begins to present itself in various ways, affecting her physical and mental health.
Rich are the women who have been loved by their fathers. Sad are the eyes and wounded is the spirit of the little girl who knows only rejection from her daddy. Devastated and lost is the girl with a brother who has followed in her father's footsteps -- unfortunately this is the case, more often than not.
She is denied that precious relationship, as it was never allowed to take root. Sometimes the brother just does not acknowledge that she exists, other times he is overtly and blatantly cruel and degrading. His negative feelings against her are intense, but rarely when asked why do his reasons have any real validity behind them.
Fathers, you are almost always the first male figure your daughter will have to whom she can relate. You hold a big mirror in your hand. In whatever way you see her, shown by word and deed, she will see herself in that mirror, in your eyes.
This reflection tells her who she is and what value she has as a person and as a female. What comes from the mirror will affect each woman in varying degrees for the rest of her life. You have in your hands the awesome responsibility of helping her eventually to become a happy, healthy, fulfilled grown woman. How you teach her to feel about herself will greatly determine what kind of life she will chooe when she leaves your doorstep.
Too many girls, and sometimes boys, live with emotional abandonment, constant criticism and an atmosphere of feeling rejected, ugly, unloved and unwanted.
These are people who pick lovers who use and abuse them (I do not believe I have ever counseled a battered woman who had enjoyed a healthy relationship with her father). These are the women who marry again and again.
These are the women who have trouble in adulthood with authority figures, who fill the offices of doctors, psychiatrists and counselors to overflowing. Because their lives have become overwhelming chaos, their immune systems eventually become so overstressed the appearances of illnesses ranging from mild to very serious overcome the overtaxed body.
So many of these women are truly "broken people." Adding to their problems, as in most cases, is the factor that what they needed and were denied in childhood becomes an obsession to obtain in adulthood. The deeper the loss and the hurt, the more frantic we seek for that which we did not have in childhood. This kind of behavior in and of itself is very self-destructive and self-defeating.
How will this sad cycle be brought to an end? One evening during a seminar on this topic, one woman was quoted as saying: "Every night of my life for the past 30 years, I have cried myself to sleep in my pillow because I do not have my father's approval. Starting today, I am not, ever, going to do that again."
Fathers, daddys, male parents of daughters -- I plead with you: Tonight before you go to sleep ask yourself, "What's happening tonight on my daughter's pillow?"
Diane L. Wyllie-Neil of North Tonawanda is a retired counselor who specialized in disorders including self-esteem issues and women in crisis.