Wed | Sep 18, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Girls need their fathers

Published:Monday | August 19, 2019 | 12:13 AM
Michael Abrahams
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We all know that boys thrive when appropriate male role models are in their space to guide them. For a boy, having a strong and stable father to set good a example is priceless. I have two sons, and although I have my flaws and shortcomings as a dad, I am very aware of my influence on them.

I recall an incident, several years ago, when I was leaving a pharmacy with the elder of my two sons. As we approached the door to exit, a woman was about to enter. My son opened the door and was about to leave when I gently pulled him back and told him to allow the lady to walk in. It became a teachable moment, and I explained the principle of being courteous and opening doors for ladies. About a month later, my son and I visited the same pharmacy again, but this time my wife was with us. As we were leaving, my son opened the door, held it, looked at his mother and said, “Ladies first, Mom”

The value of the relationship between father and son is important and well understood. But what about the bond between father and daughter? It is one that is not spoken about enough, and its value is woefully underrated.

Some psychologists believe that the relationship between a girl and her father is more important than that between her and her mother. Whether this is so or not, it is undeniable that strong relationships with fathers help girls immensely. The data are out there. Girls who grow up with, and have close relationships with, their fathers are less prone to initiate sexual activity at an early age, engage in risky sexual behaviour, become pregnant as teenagers, and end up in abusive relationships. They also are more likely to perform better in school, be more confident, and have a lower risk of developing depression and anxiety.

The first man a little girl bonds with is her daddy, if he is present. This is the man who will be the template for what men should be like. She watches him and observes not only how he interacts with her, but also with her mother. She sees and absorbs the dynamics of these relationships, which will influence how she sees herself and how she feels about relationships with members of the opposite sex.

During my years of practice as a gynaecologist, I have seen the negative effects of paternal absence or dysfunction on adult women. Some of the women I have looked after have told me heart-warming stories about their fathers, who were awesome men with whom they bonded and who they loved dearly. Unfortunately, I have also heard too many stories of fathers who were absent or abusive, leaving their daughters vulnerable, wounded and scarred. A woman recently told me that her father was dead. However, during the course of the conversation, I realised that her father is actually alive, but because of his neglectful behaviour, she deemed him dead.

As I manage women clients in my office, I see the research findings being validated. Women who became sexually active at a very early age and have a history of promiscuity in their youth often had fathers who were absent from homes or their lives. I have also observed that women who stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships also tend to have similar father-daughter relationship histories.

When a girl grows up without a stable father or male role model, she may be unsure of just what to expect in a male partner. If she is exposed to constant abusive behaviour, that may be all she knows, and, in her unconscious, be drawn to such scenarios.

When a father is absent from a girl’s life and is not there to hug her, affirm her, and tell her that he loves her, a void is often created that she seeks to fill. Unfortunately, the vulnerability and lack of self-worth that commonly plague women with absent fathers often facilitates the voids being filled by men who will take advantage of, exploit, manipulate and abuse them.

My daughter is my eldest child, and I have been close to her from birth. She does not have to wonder if I love her. She knows it. I tell her and I show it by my actions. I am grateful that she feels comfortable discussing any topic with me, including telling me about the young men she likes and those who take an interest in her, as well as asking me for my opinions and advice. I just hope she heeds my words and does not end up with a 'waste man'.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.