The Father-Daughter Relationship: Familial Interactions That Impact a Daughter's Style of Life

By Perkins, Rose Merlino | College Student Journal, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Father-Daughter Relationship: Familial Interactions That Impact a Daughter's Style of Life


Perkins, Rose Merlino, College Student Journal


This research explored a father's impact within the family unit, specifically the role he may have played in shaping familial transactions that affect a daughter's self-appraisal and style of life. Ninety-six college women who attended a small private liberal arts college on the east coast responded to The Adjective Check List, ACL, (Gough, 1952) employed in this study to measure Assertiveness, Relational Needs, Cognitive Ego States and Negative Self-Image. In addition the women responded to the father-daughter questionnaire, a questionnaire designed by the author to identify specific father-daughter relationships. Multivariate analyses of variance contrasted father-daughter relationships by the women's self-perceptions on the ACL. Results showed that the women's responses to the Father-Daughter questionnaire identified six distinct father-daughter. relationships: a doting father; a distant father; a demanding/supportive father; a domineering father; a seductive father; an absent father. Furthermore, ACL measures showed a significant difference in the women's self-perceptions by their identified father-daughter relationships.

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Relational and intimacy issues often surface on a college campus where students struggle to understand themselves, separate from childhood dependencies and develop an intellectual and emotional depth to their identity. College women have been prominent in this search for self-understanding. Motivated by the feminist movement, women of the Twentieth Century sought personal understanding by openly addressing family relationships that may have shaped or inhibited mature growth in women, e.g., the mother-daughter relationship (Freud, 1988; Howe, 1990; Robbins, 1990). Although research concerning the mother-daughter relationship has been readily available, little has been written or researched concerning the relationship a woman has experienced with her father.

However, existing literature has suggested that woman may be deeply affected by the father they knew as a child. Sophie Freud (1988), in a text that highlighted the identity struggles faced by postmodern women, dedicated an entire chapter to the pain experienced by a woman when she feels abandoned by her father because she is no longer his "little princess," his admiring disciple or his little angel. The literature has suggested that most women, by simply growing up, experience the loss of their fathers' love; for even in the best of circumstances, men find it difficult to relate to their adult daughter in the same manner that they related when she was a little-girl (Freud, 1988; Secunda, 1992).

In a comprehensive text that discussed various father-daughter relationships, Secunda (1992) described a woman's. father as her "first love," regardless of her experience with her father. If theorists are correct, it may be assumed that the father-daughter relationship has the potential to shape interaction patterns that surface as women enter into adult college relationships. For example, if a college woman has learned patterns of relating through a father that have infantalized and weakened her, college life could be problematic; assertiveness issues often surface in the college classroom where male and female students struggle to find their own voices (Johnson, 1997; Lecompte, 1986; Lopez, Melendez, Sauer, Berger & Wyssmann, 1998).

Although there is an agreement in the literature that father-daughter relationships take many forms of interaction, a literature review of father-daughter research shows an emphasis on the abusive or absent father (Downs & Miller, 1998; Hetherington, 1972; Oates, Forrest & Peacock, 1985) and results focus on the impact these relationships have on a woman's adult intimacies. The psychological premise most commonly cited in research is that women with abusive or absent fathers have difficulty with men and often choose husbands who abuse or abandon them (Secunda, 1992).

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