In the early 1900’s, Sonora Louise Smart’s mother died in childbirth. Unlike many of the time, Louise’s father, William, raised six children on his own. Years later Louise promoted Father’s Day, a holiday that acknowledges the important role of fathers.
Margo Maine, Ph.D., writes about the significance of fathers in her book Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters and Food. The book explores fathers’ roles in their daughters’ emotional development and stresses the benefit of fathers and daughters maintaining a strong connection.
Robin Risler, Psy.D., a psychologist with a private practice in Philadelphia, affirms the importance of fathers. “I believe that fathers are critical to the emotional development of young women, because they are often their earliest role models of masculinity, which helps them to define by contrast the nuances of their feminine identities,” she says. “Fathers who offer affirmative messages to their daughters provide them with a positive sense of what it means to be a woman today.”
In her book, Maine identifies 10 myths which, when debunked, will help fathers be proactive participants in helping their daughters steer clear of eating disorders. The myths are:
1. Eating Disorders and body image are women’s issues. Men account for approximately 5% to 10% of patients with eating disorders.
2. Men can’t understand. Men can understand women’s experiences of body dissatisfaction by listening to their wives and daughters.
3. Eating disorders are caused by problems in the mother-daughter relationship. Although the mother may be the primary “feeder,” eating disorders are caused by multiple factors.
4. Distant, uninvolved fathers are the cause of eating disorders. Yes. it is important that fathers stay connected and involved, but fathers cannot cause eating disorders.
5. Fathers play an inconsequential role in the development of their children. Fathers are essential in providing for many needs.
6. Father’s role is to provide economically. Sticking with the roles of provider for men and nurturer for women is restrictive and limiting.
7. Parenting isn’t important to men. This is not true. Most fathers are active and involved.
8. Fathers don’t feel. Although men may not be as outward with feelings as women they experience emotions deeply.
9. Girls learn about femininity from their mothers. A girl develops her ideas about feminine behavior by watching her father interact with women. She observes the traits he values, and learns what it means to be feminine.
10. Adolescent girls need mothers, not father. Girls need both parents. From fathers they need the acceptance of their changing roles and bodies and their positive attention.