Fathers Don’t Paint Daughters “By Numbers” – Or Do They?
Dr. Peggy Drexler’s got the most recent fatherhood-tagged post on ol’ HuffPo – and she brings up a complicated topic: whether fathers are able to affect daughters just by being around (and then scaling upward the better they are). Her argument is that – yes, fathers shape daughters’ lives, but that just saying it “lacks dimension.”
I think giving things dimensions sometimes cheapens nature’s finer designs.
Drexler’s got some great points – and some not great ones. She wins when she says that fathers and daughters have complex relationships, and that in her studies, she’s encountered daughters having a tough time out-achieving their fathers. She loses when she uses The Simpsons as an example. To be fair, I’ll also count myself as losing when I brought the fictional cartoon family up in an article about stupid TV dads.
What I think Drexler dances around is the point she set out to refute – that sometimes, it is that easy – that having a good father equals a good kid. No, it’s not a perfect jar-bound terrarium, but it’s a very accurate system. The National Fatherhood Initiative has tons of specific facts that show that even if your dad wasn’t incredible, just the fact that he was there made your life better.
I’d be a fool if I didn’t give some props to the Women’s Movement, and say that yes, the daughter can (and will, damnit) grow up and be whatever it is she wants to be in life – whether it’s an underwater welder, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a housewife. I mean, I don’t believe anyone can be whatever they want to be, but that’s a whole ‘nother argument.
The NFI’s facts speak volumes, and they say exactly what Drexler mentioned – in her words: “Good father, the spaces are filled in correctly. Bad father, they are filled in destructively. Absent father, they are filled in by others.” The NFI points to plenty of facts that show that just having a father around keeps you in school and out of jail. And if he’s “good,” then a kid’s got more of a chance of being thin, educated and successful than a fatherless one.
I think – and I’ve got no education to back this up – that it all goes back to nature (and nurture!). It’s quite possible that all of our facts, figures and statistics mean nothing – and what means the most is that parents, both of them, really do “paint-by-numbers.” Absent parents don’t paint at all, average parents paint a little, good parents paint a lot. Drexler seems to think that it’s too easy to accept that parents play that much of an influence. But it’s true – if you’ve got a great set of parents, they get in your head and force you to make the right decisions – even against your own teenage angst. While Drexler says that young girls are “active and able participants” in the lessons they learn, I’d argue that they’re not. A child is taught by their parents how seriously to take their lessons, and how to make decisions. In Drexler’s belief that it’s too easy to believe that parents control their kids, she doesn’t realize how difficult and complex it truly is to control a child – and discounts what “good” fathers do. Now, the variable is, of course, the child – and Drexler’s got that right. But even variables can be swayed – and good fathers make sure they instill tools in their children with which they’ll make all of their decisions. In that respect, call it what you will – “painting-by-numbers” or “controlling” – the kid is affected.
Drexler nails it when she says that the bond is “primal.” And though the topic of fathers is both simple and complex, I think it’s not a bad idea to boil it all down to painting-by-numbers.