Q&A With Author Peggy Drexler on Dads & Daughters
Author and psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler is the acclaimed author of Raising Boys Without Men; now, she’s back with a new book about the father-daughter relationship. Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family explores how dads shape and change a girl’s experience of herself, and impact her success in life and work when she becomes a woman.
I love Peggy’s work, so I sat down to ask her a few questions about her new book. Peggy is an assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University.
RS: Why did you decide to write this book? How did your own experience as a daughter inspire you?
Dr. Peggy Drexler: Today, women are educating themselves and making their way in the world of work, often modeling themselves more on their fathers than on their mothers, and looking to their fathers for guidance in their careers. I was eager to learn how a daughter’s connection with the first man in her life changes when she looks up to him not only as daddy but also as a role model. There is certainly a connection between losing my father, who died suddenly when I was 3 ½, and my book. The world of fathers and daughters had always been somewhat of a mystery to me, while at the same time an area of great interest.
RS: What are the unique contributions that fathers make to girls’ lives, for better and for worse?
Dr. Peggy Drexler: Fathers show more perseverance with their daughters than mothers do, and have been found to encourage their children with words and their company to finish a task and bear the frustration the goes along with learning anything new.
There is also evidence that a father’s nurturing of his daughter’s capabilities may impart different benefits than her mother’s. Daughters who have shared closeness with their fathers over their lives tend to be more successful in school and later in their work.
RS: After some 75 interviews, what surprised you the most?
Dr. Peggy Drexler: Despite the huge shift in women’s and men’s social roles and the elasticity of gender roles, innovative ways to have children and create families, and ever-increasing opportunities for women, the father-daughter bond—whether strong and nurturing or broken or nonexistent—still holds an enormous sway over women, no matter their age. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that, no matter how much their fathers may have disappointed or even hurt them, all the women felt a measure of loyalty and gratitude to their fathers, and expressed their eagerness to stay connected to the men who were among the first loves in their lives.
RS: Based on your interviews, did you discover a particular “dad profile” or “dad personality” you think is best for a daughter to have? Or: What are the best things a dad can give his daughter?
Dr. Peggy Drexler:
The daughters of dads who got it right said their fathers’ tendency to involve them in conversation and seek their opinions made them feel appreciated for their minds long before their bodies began to attract attention.
One woman spoke reverently of her father’s patience in answering her endless questions; another remembered her father’s remarkable self-control when she left the bathtub water running and flooded the dining room on the floor below: instead of screaming at her, he went outside and chopped wood until he’d calmed down. Others praised their fathers’ insistence on the importance of getting an education and improving their minds. Overall, the dads who got it right instilled in their daughters a sense that they mattered and were worth listening to.
RS: What did your interviewees most regret about their relationships with their fathers?
Dr. Peggy Drexler: Daughters did not like it when their fathers hobbled their independence. Also women said that they were at a loss as to how to interact comfortably with men because their childhood interactions with their dads had been distant, formal or fraught with tension. Others said they were clumsy or inept at bantering with men at work and attributed their discomfort to their uneasiness with their own fathers.
RS: Lots of dads read my website for guidance on raising girls. What would you tell them is crucial to remember, do or try as they raise their daughters?
Dr. Peggy Drexler: Fathers don’t have to be perfect to be good dads, but fathers can imbue their daughters with autonomy, sense of self, self confidence, motivation, appreciation of their bodies, delight in their minds and a capacity to love and be loved — all by understanding that a daughter needs to be seen and heard.
- Encourage daughters to think for themselves and take risks.
- Help your daughter to feel seen and significant by listening to her.
- Respect your daughter’s growing autonomy by entrusting her with responsibility.
- Teach her to derive satisfactions from her accomplishments.
- Make your daughter a part of your life and you hers – take her to work, coach her teams.
- Care about her feelings and try to look at a situation through her eyes.
- Inspire your daughter to persevere and succeed. Believe in her resilience and have faith in her intelligence, talent and judgment, which will buttress her innate strength.
- Teach your daughter everything you would your son.