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Friday, June 19, 2009

Father-Daughter Relationships

I feel that the childhood relationships you had with the parent of the opposite sex has had the most influence on the adult you. How you feel about yourself as a woman goes back to how your Daddy treated his Little Girl.

Did he listen to what you had to say?
Did he respect your opinions and welcome your contributions to the conversation?
Did he ever ask you for input regarding family issues?
Did he treat women in general like second-class citizens?
Did he respect your mother and show her affection?
Was your mother his equal partner?
Did he participate in family functions or did his work come first?
Was he active in your school activities, or was he an absentee father?
Did he keep his promises, or did you often wait by the window for him after the last guest left your party and the ice cream had melted?
Was he aggressive or abusive to you or your mother?

Look at the relationships that you have had with other men. Do you gravitate to men like your father? Are they usually kind and loving men, or are they uncaring or abusive? Daughters need to know that the first man in their life loved them unconditionally, as every man in her life thereafter will be patterned after her first love --- good, bad, or indifferent.

I hope that you were fortunate enough to have a father who enriched your life. If he made you feel like his beautiful princess and also valued you as an intelligent and independent individual, then I'm fairly certain that your relationships with the men in your life have been positive experiences. If, on the other hand, you lived with a father who discounted you and made you feel miserable, or you had an absentee father who was not a part of your life, then it's likely that you have picked the same kind of men as an adult. One would think that living with an alcoholic, abusive, or inattentive, emotionally unavailable father would make you more aware and thus more cautious and selective. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the established patterns. Surprisingly enough, you tend to choose the same man as your father, regardless of his positive or negative affect on your life.

The psychology behind this phenomenon is really quite interesting: being treated in an abusive way as a child diminishes your self-worth and thus your expectations of yourself and the way others should treat you. You forget that you deserve choices in your life, and tend to accept whatever circumstances befall you. Moreover, as most abusive, aggressive men prefer women they can easily dominate, your diminished self-image makes you a target for abuse. A vicious cycle of reduced self-worth and abusive relationships ensues because abusive treatment only enforces the poor self-esteem. Women will marry or live with an abusive man like 'Dear Old Dad ' or seek our a man whom they can never trust to be there for them. Incredibly, when they finally find the courage to leave him, more often than not they will become involved with another man just like him!

I have counseled many young women who, as adults, still wanted to have a father/daughter relationship with their absentee father and continued to try to reconnect with a man who had left little more than tire tracks on the paths of their lives. One woman actually wanted her father to walk her down the aisle, and she was afraid to ask him. She was afraid that he would say no, or even worse that he would say yes, and not show up. Like daughters of alcoholic and abusive fathers, they still cling to the possibility of a normal relationship, but continue to seek out the same type of man.

Breaking the pattern is essential if you are ever to enjoy a healthy relationship with the opposite sex.

First you must acknowledge that you have the problem. Work on building your self-esteem and give up the role of victim. Now you must identify the traits that are predominant in the men that you choose.

Is the individual power hungry?
Does he need to be in control at all times?
Does he have an inflated ego?
Does he make promises only to break them?
Is he jealous?
Is he possessive? Is he aware of your needs?
Does he discount your opinions?
Does he want to change your hair, clothes, personality, etc.?
Does he need to be right most of the time?
Is he there for his family and friends when they need him?
Does he embarrass you in public or does he ignore you?
Does he discount your feelings?
Has he ever abused you --- psychologically, verbally, or physically?
Is he quick to say, "You made me do that," or "It won't happen again?"
Do you trust him with your heart?

Any of these can be red flags, and now you may be aware of others. If you love this individual and you both want to work on the relationship, I suggest couple's counseling. With a clear perspective and information from an impartial therapist, you may decide that you are willing to overlook some of his negative behavior. If you are certain that you cannot live with the imperfections of this individual --- even if some of the traits are seemingly benign ---- do not count on changing them after you have made a final commitment. Ask that 'little girl' inside of you," Did my Father change?" Find an opposite type and give him a chance. You will finally be on your way to establishing new patterns of behavior.

I'm Here For You,
by Dr. Beverly Block

Unsung Heroes

Today’s dads are no longer removed from their children’s upbringing – they actually seek happiness in fatherhood.

Are fathers, through no fault of their own, sometimes made to feel inferior next to mothers? The notion that mothers are natural caregivers, to the extent of being biologically-engineered for it, continues to prevail much to the chagrin of fathers.

Certainly the ability to give birth (and lactate!) is an unparalleled feat, but when fathers are demoted as secondary parents due to biological shortcomings, you have to wonder if all the flak they receive is justified.

Admittedly, from the time a baby is born, fathers are relegated to the sidelines, where they can only watch and fret. It is this paternal detachment, which supposedly continues throughout the developmental process of children, that is frequently used against fathers to question the degree of their involvement in families.

Dr Goh Chee Leong

These are not random rumblings of discontent either; in fact, early psychology theorists like Sigmund Freud and John Bowlby laid much of the groundwork for the dad-bashing that we have now become accustomed to.

In the United States, Father’s Day has increasingly become a no-holds-barred assault on fathers, with talk of the deadbeat dad – he who abandons his family and shirks all responsibility – dominating the headlines.

With so much resentment and negativity surrounding the issue, harsh remarks have been made about fathers and the role they play; last year, a prominent US magazine went so far as to ask if fathers, as a collective, have done enough to deserve a Father’s Day at all.

Ironically enough, Mother’s Day is often celebrated in less punishing terms, with past sins and wrongdoings more readily set aside. At the end of the day, mums emerge unscathed as saint-like creatures that can do no wrong.

“While mothers are often seen as nurturers who play a pivotal role in the healthy development of their children, the role of fathers is often reduced to mere breadwinner,” said Lee Wee Min, executive director of Focus on the Family Malaysia, with noticeable regret.

“In certain cultures, fathers are seldom encouraged to spend time with their children and are often perceived as cold disciplinarians,” he says.

Nevertheless, the decline of a classically patriarchal system, as well as emerging gender benders have contributed to a changed landscape for fatherhood over the years.

Where once a father was looked upon as the authoritative head of the family who had responsibilities and obligations to fulfil, the modern-day dad is far more approachable and involved in the lives of his children; he seeks actual happiness in fatherhood.

Counselling psychologist Johana Johari, who runs her own private practice in Kuala Lumpur, is firm in her beliefs about paternal involvement in Malaysian families.

“Our traditional definitions of how fathers should behave have certainly changed; we are increasingly exposed and educated as parents now. But our parenting styles must adapt to new belief systems so that we can break the vicious cycle of fathers doing unto their children what their fathers did unto them.”

Johana Johari

The 43-year-old principal of MY Confidential, a nationwide network of private counsellors in Malaysia, spoke at length about the roles of fathers that are often discounted. “Fathers are instrumental role models for their children, especially sons, who need a male adult to emulate. A daughter, on the other hand, learns how to communicate and establish healthy relationships with men as a result of the interactions with her father,” she explains.

“Fathers can do many things for their children that mothers cannot, and vice versa. Both parents are definitely essential in complementing each other.”

Director of HELP University College’s Centre for Psychology Dr Goh Chee Leong echoed her sentiments. “There is enough research in developmental psychology to suggest that fathers contribute significantly to the emotional wellbeing of a child and the development of their character, their ambitions, their sense of morals and their perception of responsibility,” he says.

“The bottom line is this: for a child to develop in a balanced and healthy manner, they need a home environment that is secure, happy, stimulating and loving. Fathers have an equal responsibility in shaping this environment. With more practice, there is no reason to believe that fathers have a lower capacity for love, care and nurturing,” he explains.

Even science has come to the defence of fathers recently; a study on the effects of hormonal changes during newfound fatherhood by Psychology Today, a respected US journal on clinical psychology, has shown that men may be a lot more similar to women after all, as fathers were found to have high levels of prolactin (a hormone associated with lactating mothers) towards the end of a partner’s pregnancy.

In a redefined understanding of masculinity and fatherhood, it was also established that fathers experience testosterone reduction and elevated levels of estrogen 30 days before birth, a condition that continues to last up to 12 weeks. The study offers pioneering evidence that to nurture is part of man’s nature after all.

So all is fine and well then?

Not quite, the roles of fathers in separated families or in the aftermath of a divorce are still sketchy at best.

US statistics claiming that more than half of divorced fathers lose contact with their kids within a few years are alarming, but Johana is quick to point out that in her line of work, parents usually make an effort to maintain normalcy and lessen the impact of divorce on their children.

“From my observations, it is the mother that usually plays an important role in determining the father’s involvement after divorce; but the bond cannot be completely erased regardless of whether the split is an amicable one or not. You can be an ex-husband, but never an ex-father,” she says succinctly.

Considering that there is a prevalent bias in society for maternal custody of children after divorce, Johana argues that credit should be given where credit is due. “I have worked with many single fathers who continue to fight for custody of their children without remarrying, but you don’t hear about these stories very often,” she says.

We may not have an existing movement to champion fathers’ rights in Malaysia, such as that of the controversial superhero protesters known as Fathers 4 Justice in Britain, but lest we forget, all fathers will be regarded as heroes in their own right this Father’s Day.

Dr Goh offers one last piece of advice: “What is important is that we focus on the kind of fathers we know we should be, rather than the type of fathers society thinks we are.”

Tuesday June 10, 2008