Cambridge Reporter

Tuesday, July 27, 1999

Father/daughter relationship studied

by Jason Misner
Cambridge Reporter

CAMBRIDGE - Maybe father does know best - or at least more than some might perceive.

Results from a unique study published in this month's edition of The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality concludes the better the relationship daughters have with their fathers, the more comfortable they will be with their own sexuality.

The study, done by St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, was completed three years ago but it took some time before the findings could be verified and then subsequently published. It is believed to be the first study of its kind in Canada.

Dr. Peter Naus, now a retired psychology professor at St. Jerome's University, supervised the study done by a graduate in honours psychology named Tanya Scheffler.

Dr. Naus and a colleague of his had completed a few studies examining the bond between a father and his son. Ms. Scheffler, he said, wanted to find out the effects of a father's tie with his daughter.

The student handed out a questionnaire to 57 female students, between ages 19-24, on the university's campus. Among the 100 questions presented, women were asked what their father thought of them, to measure their self-esteem, to measure their fear of intimate (emotional) relationships, and to measure the comfort level with their own sexual interaction.

"(Ms. Scheffler) found that the greater the woman tends to feel affirmed (or accepted) by her father, the greater the self-esteem, the less afraid of close relationships they are and the more comfortable they feel with their sexual interaction," Dr. Naus said.

The study itself and the wording of questions make it difficult to measure accurately any negative results from females feeling less affirmed by their father.

"It was measured on a continuum of feeling less or more affirmed," Dr. Naus explained. "But by implication, one could say the less affirmed one felt by their father, the less likely they will feel comfortable with their sexual interaction."

Despite calling the study "very preliminary," Dr. Naus was encouraged that a study of this nature was finally undertaken. He recalled only one such study in the United States and another in Sweden.

"There has been a lot of research on children and their mothers. But up until fairly recently, there was very little research on fathers and the relationships with their children; that was very surprising (to me)."

For the the Men's Divorce Centre in Toronto, it was more than surprising - it was validating. "The study shows that limiting or eliminating contact between fathers and daughters after divorce can have catastrophic effects on the development of young women," said Greg Kershaw, media relations director.

Mr. Kershaw said all too often the minority of fathers who abuse their children are the ones who get the most attention. He feels that makes the number bigger than what it really is, tainting what good fathers are doing.

"It seems really good fathers had very little effect but really bad fathers had a huge effect on their daughters lives."

What he is excited about is the fact the findings indicate there is no superior parent.

"The courts want to push a better parent, and that is usually the woman. But there is no better parent. They both bring something different to the table.

"The best parents are two parents."

Heidi Nabert couldn't agree more.

Ms. Nabert is president of the National Shared Parenting Association, a group designed to ensure children have equal-access to both parents. But she has experienced first-hand the troubles of living without a father for "35 agonizing years" because of a divorce.

"I was promiscuous," Ms. Nabert, a Toronto resident, admitted. "I never felt confident that a boy would like me for who I was without offering myself. I spent many years feeling inadequate; of not feeling feminine at all."

She said she had seen her father twice after his divorce but that was it. That's what she thinks led to her divorce and she didn't have children because she didn't want them possibly going through the same thing.

She is "happily" remarried and conceded only five years ago she started feeling comfortable with herself.

"It's the foundation for self-esteem," said the executive director of Toronto-based Fathers Resources International, about a father's role in his daughter's life. "It provides resources to fathers groups worldwide." In fact, he thinks it just confirms what many already know.

Danny Guspie explained "(fathers) are helping develop their (daughter's) sense of self. They are trying to confirm questions in one's mind."

The divorce rate in Canada, which Mr. Guspie calls a "major catastrophe," has a marked effect on not just daughters, but children's lives in general. Since the rate of divorce sits at close to 50 per cent, Mr. Guspie fears that many fathers won't get a fair chance to appropriately parent their daughter because of an imbalanced court system. He feels the courts classify the mother as the "nurturer" and the father simply as the "provider."

If daughters don't have a close bind with their father, Mr. Guspie said there is an increase in promiscuity, juvenile delinquency and suicide.

Copyright © 1999, Cambridge Reporter