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Embracing Your Father
How to Build the Relationship You've Always Wanted with Your Dad
By Linda Nielsen
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2004Linda Nielsen
All rights reserved.
Expand Your Vision Don't Be Blinded by Negative Beliefs
Do you believe that fathers
Have less natural intuition for raising kids than mothers do?
Get as much or more pleasure from their jobs than from their kids?
Have much less impact on their daughters than mothers?
Sacrifice less than mothers for their children?
Are more critical and judgmental than mothers?
If you answered yes to many of these, your beliefs are blinding you to certain realities about fathers—including your own. Certain beliefs about men as parents make it harder for fathers and daughters to have as close a relationship as they might have otherwise. Our beliefs can be like blindfolds that prevent us from seeing our fathers clearly or from accepting more of what they have to offer us as parents. Our beliefs also influence what we remember and how we interpret our memories of our fathers. So the challenge is to figure out which of our beliefs and perceptions may be limiting or damaging our relationship. Let's start by looking at your family's beliefs. Then we'll see how your beliefs have influenced your perceptions of your father.
Your Family's Beliefs
In the chapters that follow we're going to look at hundreds of beliefs that may have limited your relationship with your father. For now, let's just consider the 10 beliefs in this quiz to think back to what your family believed as you were growing up.
If every person in your family scored 20, you and your father probably have a communicative, comfortable, emotionally intimate relationship. Your family had the kinds of beliefs that generally create the best relationships between fathers and daughters. As you can see from the "Eye Openers" below, your family's beliefs also reflected the truth as best we know it from research and nationwide statistics. On the other hand, if your family's individual scores are lower than 10, you probably have a fairly uncomfortable, distant, or superficial relationship with your dad. You might get along fairly well, but you really don't know one another very well or spend much time together. This is mainly because your family put the greatest emphasis on your relationship with your mother and had some rather unflattering beliefs about men as parents.
So what? Why does it matter what your family believed about fathers as you were growing up? It matters because your family's beliefs have shaped how you and your family interacted with one another year after year. In turn, those interactions have shaped the kind of relationship you have with your dad. Think of yourselves like actors in a play. Your family's beliefs are the scripts. Your family's particular script tells each of you how you're supposed to act and what to expect from each other as you age. You each act out your roles in father-daughter, mother-daughter, and husband-wife pairings. I am not saying that there's no freedom in families to deviate from our scripts. I am saying, though, that long before you were born, your father's beliefs and your mother's beliefs about how fathers were supposed to act and what father-daughter relationships were supposed to be were creating the scripts that you and your father eventually would act out. Even as a very young child you were learning how you and your father were supposed to interact and what kind of relationship you and he were supposed to have.
Let me give you an example of one very common belief that limits most father-daughter relationships. The belief goes something like this: Because the mother and daughter are both female, they "should" share more with each other and talk more comfortably about what's going on in their lives—especially personal things having to do with feelings and relationships. Because dad is a male, he isn't going to be very interested in, insightful about, or sensitive to those aspects of his daughter's life having to do with emotional stuff. Having picked up this belief from her parents at an early age, the daughter goes to her mother whenever she wants to talk about feelings, problems with friends, or matters of the heart such as love and dating. By the time she's a teenager, the daughter is convinced that "dad isn't interested in talking to me about emotional stuff. He's not sensitive or smart about that kind of thing. Talking like that would make both of us uncomfortable. We talk about the easy stuff like cars, grades, and sports." I can't tell you how many daughters have said this to me. Yet, when I ask them, "How often have you tried to talk to your dad about anything personal or emotional?" almost none of them have given their dad the opportunity to share this side of himself. In other words, the family's initial belief caused everyone to interact in ways that limited the father-daughter relationship.
Of course, not all families have the same beliefs about what father-daughter relationships should be. For instance, some families believe that fathers and daughters should talk just as openly and comfortably as mothers and daughters about personal, emotional, or sensitive topics. Unfortunately, though, many of our beliefs limit the kind of relationship a father and daughter can create together. So use the quiz on page 5 to find the connections between your family's beliefs and the kind of relationship you and your father have developed over the years.
If you scored higher than 20 on this quiz, you have given your father as much chance as you have given your mother to create an emotionally intimate, open, and comfortable relationship with you. But if you scored lower than 10, the way you treat your father probably has limited him to a fairly superficial, distant, or uncomfortable relationship with you. Now compare your score on this quiz with your score on the "Family Beliefs" quiz. Odds are the scores are similar. That is, the more positive beliefs you and your parents had about fathers and daughters while you were growing up, the more likely you are to have treated your father in ways that allowed him to develop an emotionally open and comfortable relationship with you.
Your Memories: Beware!
The beliefs you've grown up with also have shaped the way you perceive your father and what you do or do not remember about him. Your perception includes the way you interpret what he says and does, what you assume his motives are, and what meaning you give to his behavior. Your perceptions also influence and are influenced by your memories. And like your perceptions, your memories are based on what information your brain chooses to store or to ignore—and what meaning it gives to that information when you try to recall it later on.
The Greek philosopher Seneca wrote: "Your eyes will not see when your heart wishes them to be blind." In other words, our beliefs have the potential to blind us to reality by altering our perceptions about other people. Whether we're talking about fathers or used car dealers, our initial beliefs about other groups of people have a tremendous impact on what we notice and remember about them, how we interpret what they do, and how we behave around them. If our initial beliefs and expectations about a particular group are positive (grandmothers, little babies, or puppies), then our relationship with anyone in that group is off to a good start even before we meet them. We expect and predict good things from our relationships with them. But if our beliefs about a particular group are negative (stepmothers, used car dealers, or snakes), then our relationships start out with a handicap. We expect and predict bad things. We interpret what "they" do with a wary, negative, or suspicious eye. ("Watch out for snakes!" or "Beware of stepmothers
Excerpted from Embracing Your Father by Linda Nielsen. Copyright © 2004 by Linda Nielsen. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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