Tips for improving your father-daughter relationship

  • Article by: WILLIAM HAGEMAN , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2013 - 1:34 PM

Don’t stick to the usual script. These tips for strengthening your father-daughter relationship will help in the long term.

Hey, dad, want to get closer to your daughter? Find something to do together.

A new study by Baylor University researchers puts participation in shared activities at the top of the list of pivotal moments in the father-daughter relationship.

The study included 43 fathers and 43 daughters who were asked to identify a crucial moment of change in their relationship. The most frequently mentioned turning point, for both fathers and daughters, was participating in a shared activity. Second was the marriage of the daughter.


“One that popped out the most was sports,” said study coauthor Mark T. Morman, a professor of communication in Baylor’s college of arts and sciences. “Dads can help coach or help them practice or just come to games.”

Morman said, though, that it doesn’t matter what the activity is. Just doing something together strengthens that bond.

“One father told me about going to choir so he could be with his daughter,” Morman said. “Another father told me he got in a play with his daughter, and they were together every night for eight weeks. So it’s not really what they’re doing, just so they’re doing something together.”

The Baylor researchers refer to this father-daughter bond as “closeness in the doing,” as opposed to the mother-daughter bond, “closeness in the dialogue,” which is based on sharing and talking.

Dads and moms

Wake Forest University professor Linda Nielsen has researched and written about the father-daughter relationship for more than 40 years. Her book, “Between Fathers & Daughters: Enriching and Rebuilding Your Adult Relationship” (Cumberland House), is a good starting point for ideas.

She names three areas where the quality of the father-daughter relationship has a greater effect than a mother-daughter relationship.

The first encompasses academics, money and career — and independence.

“Even though we are a less sexist society, data show in most families the father has the job that makes the most money, is more challenging, the job that calls for greater negotiation with the world of work — and he’s the one teaching the girls these things,” Nielsen said.

In addition, “before the age of 5, it’s the father who is doing the more challenging play, doing more risk-taking, who’s less likely to help the daughter out when she’s in a little jam. The mother is babying the daughter; the father is teaching them to be more self-reliant, more ambitious and more successful, to be at the top of their game. That’s what fathers do better than mothers.”

And that, she said, translates into success in the academic arena, which means better-paying jobs and the development of leadership skills.

The second area where fathers play a more crucial role is in the daughter’s relationships with men: social, sexual, romantic and marriage. Nielsen said that a mother can tell a daughter that she looks pretty, but it doesn’t carry the weight as the same statement from a father.

“He builds up, gives you confidence to feel ‘I am lovable; men should find me lovable,’ ” Nielsen said. “If she believes that, she won’t take junk from other men. If she doesn’t feel that from her father, she’ll pick junk in whom she dates and who she marries. She’ll always be looking for that support she didn’t get from her dad.”

The third way girls benefit from a good relationship with their father is health; daughters who have good relationships have fewer emotional and psychological problems, Nielsen said.

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