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Published:January 30th, 2008 11:54 EST

Daddy's Pretty Princess

By Juliet Maruru

I had obviously started puberty " that time when I noticed interesting changes on my chest and I realized climbing up a tree would require a lot more negotiation because of some extra weight around the hips " when a very kind aunt sent me a book gift. The title of the book was On Becoming a Woman. I liked the book for the first few chapters. Then I came to the chapter on "How to have a great relationship with Dad.` My heart sank right down to my toes. I try to keep my heart in my chest when I come upon Dad topics. You see, my father is an absent dad. But I decided to check up on what makes dad-girl relationships work, and what I found was so interesting I had to share.

Joe Kelly, the executive director of Dads and Daughters (an organization aimed at promoting and enhancing good father-daughter relationships) and himself a father of twin adult daughters, says in his book Dads and Daughters, As the primary male role model in a girl`s life, fathers influence their daughters in profound ways, from how they see themselves to what they come to expect from men and the world at large. "

I look at my girl cousin who has a fabulous relationship with her dad. Her uncle was very involved in Sarah`s life from the beginning. She is never afraid to talk to her dad. Although she is quite girly, she has learned independence and self-respect in lessons that her uncle teaches forcefully but with the kindest tone. She knows how to change a car tire. In fact, she told me she has figured out how to get it done without breaking her finger nails. More than anything, she knows what she wants to get and give in her relationships with friends and men.

I guess there are a few things that she has learned from her father " things Dr. Jane R. Rosen-Grandon explains in her list.

Dad respects me: A daughter`s relationship with her father is usually her first male-female relationship. From Dad, little girls learn how to look at themselves as a female. They develop a sense of acceptance or non-acceptance; they feel valued or discounted. Self-respect is initially based upon respect received from others. So Dad is an important first.

It is safe to be affectionate with Dad. Daughters need to be able to relax, be affectionate, and know that they are safe with certain males. They need to be regarded as people, not sexual objects. When little girls develop modesty and learn that they have a right to privacy, they develop a healthy sense of boundaries. Dads can respect their daughters` boundaries by "shoulder hugs" and not making comments about physical characteristics.

Men and women can negotiate fairly. When fathers exercise absolute authority, rigidly set rules, and are overly critical, daughters quickly learn to rebel and men become the enemy. If a father is fair and listens to his daughter`s thoughts, she will gain self-confidence and pride in her own opinion.

Women can be assertive without being aggressive. When daughters learn to communicate with their fathers, and trust that their opinion will count, they can develop self-assuredness which will allow them to be assertive and stand up for themselves without being aggressive. It is important for dads to listen to their daughters and appreciate their views, even if they don`t agree so that daughters can learn to listen and trust their parents even when restrictions are imposed.

What to expect from a male-female relationship. Daughters learn about marriage from watching Mom and Dad. If parents treat each other well, this becomes the expectation. If Dad is a tyrant, then men are regarded as essentially bad. If Dad is alcoholic or abusive, men are considered to be people who are allowed to get out of control and be hurtful.

When I asked one friend what he thought about parenting, he was quick to say that he would love to raise a daughter. However, there is always the fear that when a father is affectionate to his daughter, he will be accused of molesting her sexually. Then there is the sexual component that comes in when a girl hits puberty. One psychology professor puts it this way:

One of the most wrenching and confusing times in the lives of many fathers and daughters is puberty. The sexual component of that is undeniable. And certainly there is the hormonal door-slamming and eye-rolling rebellion. That passes. "

As a mom, a woman can encourage a healthy relationship between her child and the father, by supporting his parenting efforts and being on the lookout for things that can enhance that relationship. The psychology professor continues to explain, Today, fathers and daughters have much to talk about, worlds to share. Girls have the opportunity to not only compete in sports, but to aspire to compete at the highest level in the corporate and scientific world. And Dads have the opportunity to share this with their daughters. "

A very strong reason for any mom to want her daughter to have a good relationship with her father is that we are drawn to men who are very much like our dads. Dr. Beverly Block, a psychotherapist, explains: If you were fortunate enough to have a father who enriched your life, if he made you feel like his beautiful princess and also valued you as an intelligent and independent individual, then it`s fairly certain that your relationships with the men in your life have been positive experiences. If, on the other hand, you lived with a father who discounted you and made you feel miserable, or you had an absentee father who was not a part of your life, then it`s likely that you have picked the same kind of men as an adult. "

It boils down to this: a little girl`s relationship with her dad can determine how she looks at herself in future. I may have missed out on my daddy-daughter relationship, but if I ever have a daughter, she need not miss out too. Knowing what I know, I feel that I am in a better position to choose a man who will be good for me and a good father for a daughter.