The best Father’s Day gift for you — if not your dad

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 9 Comments

I wish that thinking about my dad filled with me heart-bursting joy. Instead, he left me with bittersweet memories. But thanks to a really marvelous book, my feelings are now more loving, whole — and realistic.

The journey towards resolution began last fall when I got hold of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family.” Published in 2011, it’s a beautifully written, personal book by Peggy Drexler, who teaches psychology at Cornell University.

When Drexler was barely three, her dad died. At 15, her  mom’s second marriage ended. Drexler got interested in exploring father-daughter relationships after watching the special bond between her husband and their teen girl.

Between 2006 and 2010, she went on to interview 75 youngish American women of various races and ethnicities, including some from immigrant families. Six were selected for individual warts-and-all chapters that show how an imperfect father can still be a good dad. Her down-to-earth commentary throughout made me feel a little naughty, like I was chatting on a peer level with a shrink.

Six kinds of good dads, six kinds of dad-daughter bonds

One of Drexler’s most important messages is that fathers don’t have to be perfect to be good dads. And, that good dads fall into six basic categories, creating six types of positive father-daughter relationship:

— the dad who encourages risk-taking and independent thinking

— the dad who answers endless questions

— the dad who bestows a mantle of power

— the dad who always knows what his daughter is feeling

— the dad who inspires perseverance and success

— the dad who teaches his daughter everything he would have taught a son

As for bad dads…

If that list of good dads leaves you yearning, welcome to the club. Sadly, many of us — sometimes, it feels like most of us — live with disappointment over our daddies.

The book wraps up with some very, very practical suggestions on how to deal with Dad. I got a good cry out of this section which describes different types of difficult dads and offers a checklist of questions for exploring ways to deal with him.

For instance, there’s the physically unavailable dad doesn’t hug, touch or even show up in the same room. And the dad who isn’t interested in knowing who his daughter really is. There are also inaccessible fathers who can’t deal with feelings and the ones who are competitive with their daughters. Check, check, check — I relate to all of the above.

Hey, Daddy, hellooooo!

A few quotes from the book is in order. They describe both what my dad could be like, and how our relationship influenced my choices in men I dated.

What I learned from my father-daughter relationship also impacts how I treat others. That, if you ask me, is the worst part, internalizing the negative behavior:

When she was down, he was her savior, rescuing her from disaster and displaying his superior gifts. But when she succeeded, he undermined her confidence, intimating that success was hers only if he had something to do with it. The bottom line was that when it came to his daughter, it was all about him. 

But let’s not end this post on such a downer note! This book is also helping me to truly love and accept my daddy, who died when I was 19:

…Whether you are a daughter or the father of one, you are part of an ancient dynamic of primal, profound significance. And if the dynamic is less than you wish it were, you can choose to either perpetuate the disappointment or foment a solution. A relationship need not be idyllic to be worthwhile and deeply fulfilling: As a long-married woman, I feel amply qualified to speak on this point. If relentless sweetness and light are what you’re after, you won’t find it in a real relationship — not with anyone…

The question is, how much do you want to be closer, more engaged with, more connected to your dad? How much darkess are you willing to venture into before you emerge into the light of deeper understanding? Because, like it or not, there are unknown, dark places in all of us and in all relationships, and you have to feel your way though them before you can make things better.” 

Best wishes to you for a Happy Father’s Day — because WE ALL deserve to celebrate this day. xo.


Comments 9

  1. Thanks for making Father’s Day a little easier – and please feel free to parent yourself – its never too late to have a happy childhood. PS. Put the quote from this book on my blog – will also mention your take on it.

  2. ” A relationship need not be idyllic to be worthwhile and deeply fulfilling”
    -True enough! After a biological father who seemed to forget I existed and a step-father who who would walk barefoot so that my sister and I had what we needed, but would freeze us out if we upset him, it was so healing when I was able to embrace this realization (never read this book-but got this revelation from my Heavenly Father). I was able to appreciate that we all have faults and to acknowledge the love that was given (however imperfectly) and now my stepfather and I have a wonderful relationship with no ice!

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  4. Your description of different parenting styles reminds me of a fascinating book I read as part of my Psychology Degree. (I have a BS in Math and a BS in Psychology) It is called “Portraits of Temperament ( The book is a short version of a much longer book called “Please understand me”. When you read the book there is a temperament sorter ( personality test). It would be fun to take the test with your daughter, it will give you a lot of insight into the dynamics of parenting and learning.
    While I was a missionary in England, under Richard M. Eyre. I was part of conducting one of the biggest surveys of fathers and families. I also had a chance to get many people involved in “Family Home Evenings” One of my greatest successes, which I didn’t know till many years later, was helping a broken family to mend.
    My experience as a father is somewhat lacking. I joined the military shortly after bring divorced and was not able to be involved in my son’s up bringing. The closest thing I have have had to a child of mine own has been with a friends child, Jasmine.
    He father died before she was a year old. I help her with homework and have given the family a lot of financial support (more than I can afford often) WE end up going half on a lot of things including her/our(?) Labrador Retriever. She turned 13 this month so we remodeled her room. I bought her a set of her own tools (they have them in pink) and we put her bed, desk and vanity together (IKEA). I think that it is a good idea for her to learn not to be a “helpless female”. Hey, my sister put a water pump in her 280Z, did alot better than the boy next door. She got tired of waiting for “the men” to do it for her. She was out there with the repair manual and the dictionary. did a better job than boy next-door.
    I didn’t know Jasmines dad when he was in the service. But he was in the service so there is that commitment.(If one of us is MIA/KIA the rest will look out for their families)

  5. Betty,
    Richard M. Eyre is the same author (With his wife Linda) who wrote “Teaching Your Children Values” ( which was the first parenting book to make it to the position of #1 New York Times bestseller since Dr. Spock’s book (Baby and Child Care) The Eyre’s recent book “Empty Nesting Parenting: Adjusting Your Stewardship as Your Children Leave Home” has been widely recommended as reading for parents of college students.

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  7. Pingback: Accepting my dad for who he is | betty ming liu

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