Fathers who spend more time talking to their work colleagues than with their teenage daughters are losing the vital influence they have.
How often does a father sit down and really talk to his teen daughter, one-on-one? I asked 400 fathers that question recently, as part of my research for my book Fathers and Daughters, and the answers should make us all stop and think.
“This month while on holidays.’’
“Good question. It’s been a while now. Thinking about it, most, if not all of our conversations seem to be built around an issue, a problem, a life lesson, a positive reinforcement etc.’’
“A month ago, while teaching her to drive.’’
“Good question—probably a few months ago. She is absorbed by her study or other activities.’’
“I can’t remember.’’
“A solid 10 minutes? Wow, is that still possible?’’
“Last week we had a good conversation over table tennis for about 15 minutes.’’
“In the car on the way home from the pool last night.’’
“I love driving my girls to school and picking them up because it gives us more time to be together.’’
“Often, but my wife talks about the hard stuff.’’
Daughters, too, were challenged by the same question. I asked 1300 girls, aged 10 to 17, how often they spend 10 minutes in one-on-one conversations with their dad.
“Once or twice a year.’’
“Hardly ever. I haven’t talked to him fully except when I’m in the car with him.’’
“In the car because you know I have to.’’
“Once a month? I can’t even remember the last time.’’
“Almost never, but we sit and do maths together.’’
“Sparingly. The most I would sit down and talk to him is for help with my homework, but assuming this doesn’t count I would say upward of once a month.’’
“Sometimes I wish I could talk to him for at least 10 minutes or more, but he always seems busy.’’
“I used to do it with my father all the time when I lived with him, when I was upset and things were tough for me. But since I live with my mum now, we don’t really do [it] that often anymore.’’
A couple of things stand out. Firstly, a long drive can encourage conversation, and both dads and daughters said that. Secondly, those fathers and daughters who did activities together—were involved in the same sport, went camping, undertook a charity project or even actively followed the same music—enjoyed a warm and chatty bond.
Despite so many fathers and daughters struggling to communicate with each other—particularly as puberty loomed—the girls provided a long list of traits they admire in their fathers. This includes those girls who admit they rarely sit and talk with their father, one-on-one.
Girls love that their father is organised, successful, hardworking, rational and calm. Those five adjectives surfaced hundreds of times. They love that he can reduce a drama by offering alternatives, and that he is content if she is trying her best. They love his clinical approach to issues.
Annie says if she gets a C-grade in maths, her father will inquire whether she thinks she needs a tutor. “Mum would just be upset,’’ she says.
Chelsea says she understands what her father is saying. “Dad gets straight to the point,’’ she says.
Maddy says, “If he doesn’t think something is good for you, he suggests another path.’’
Fathers underestimate that power; a point made to me by leading cancer surgeon Dr Bruce Robinson, who sometimes has the unenviable task of telling a father he is facing a certain death. They all ask the same question: “Why didn’t I spend more time with my kids?’’
Dr Bruce’s take-out is that fathers don’t know how important they are in raising wise, warm and intelligent women.
“To be honest, it breaks my heart,’’ he says. “They think somehow they’re the icing on the cake and mum’s the sort of lynchpin of it all. They do not realise how profoundly important they are.’’