Fathers and Daughters: Why a Course for College Students?

By Nielsen, Linda | College Student Journal, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Fathers and Daughters: Why a Course for College Students?


Nielsen, Linda, College Student Journal


Most college women have much closer relationships with their mothers than their fathers. Indeed, many fathers and daughters know very little about one another side from the somewhat predictable, stereotypic roles they play in the family. Why? And why does it matter? Why should psychology or sociology courses provide students with more information about father-daughter relationships? And why do so many college counselors, professorts, and well-educated daughters and their parents pay too little attention to the father-daughter relationship? Alas, since so many schools do offer courses devoted exclusively to mothers and daughters, why aren't there any courses devoted exclusively to fathers and daughters? In answering these questions, the author presents a thorough review of the research and discusses seven years of data from the 254 students who have taken her course, "Fathers and Daughters".

Why offer college students a course about fathers and daughters? What good can it possibly do since most daughters will never live with their parents again after college? And how could young adult daughters possibly use such information in any practical way in their own lives?

As an adolescent psychologist and college professor for 26 years, several years ago I decided to create a seminar course for undergraduates entitled "Fathers and Daughters." The course is not required for any major or minor. Enrollment is strictly voluntary -- just an elective course in a demanding liberal arts curriculum that leaves students very little time for electives. Yet from the outset the Fathers and Daughters course filled up immediately -- as it has every semester for the past 7 years. In fact for the past few years there have been so many students wanting to enroll that at least two sections of this course could be offered every semester. And most of the students are not psychology or sociology majors. So what's all the fuss about? Why are so many students attracted to a course devoted entirely to fathers and daughters?

Attention to father-daughter relationships: Why so little?

Books & Internet

Perhaps many people are surprised when I tell them about the students' intense interest in this course because they assume that the most important relationship is between mothers and children -- above all, mothers and daughters. Indeed college courses, workshops, therapy groups, television shows, and books that focus exclusively on mothers and daughters are common in our country. For instance, there are roughly 1300 books about mothers and daughters listed by Amazon.com, the largest website for books published in the past 30 years -- and most are written for adult mothers and daughters. In contrast, there are only 900 books about fathers and daughters -- most of which are children's story books. Interestingly too, there are only 500 books listed on mothers and sons; but nearly 1300 on fathers and sons. This is also true on the internet where there are far more web site listings for mothers and daughters than for fathers and daughters. Clearly then many writers, publishers, readers, and interact fans believe the father-daughter relationship merits less attention than other family relationships.

Television and Movies

Most of our movies and television programs also push the father-daughter relationship off to the side or ignore it altogether. In contrast, much of our media focuses exclusively on mothers and daughters. If included at all, the father is often made to look like the bumbling idiot -- or the indifferent, self-centered, distant, insensitive, foolish, up tight, uncommunicative, stressed out, withdrawn, immature, self absorbed parent -- especially when it comes to interacting with his daughter and especially if he and the mother are divorced (Dow, B., 1996; Feldman, L., 1990; Gates, A., 2000; Heintz, K., 1998; Kluger, B., 2000; Lehman, P., 2000; Lupton, D. & Barclay, L., 1997; Mintz, S. …

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