Here’s an excellent video courtesy of YouTube and the BBC (BBC, 2010). It’s a 10-minute interview with researcher Dr. Lynda Boothroyd of Durham University in the United Kingdom. It’s short, so Boothroyd and her colleague just touch some of the high points about the positive effects of fathers on the lives of their daughters.
Many of those I’ve discussed before, but the video adds a few I haven’t known about. For example, I’ve mentioned the fact that considerable research confirms the fact that girls without a father present in their lives tend to reach puberty earlier than do those with a dad. That’s been recorded by a number of researchers looking at a variety of societies.
And early puberty tends to mean earlier sexual activity, earlier pregnancy and childbearing. Those too have been noted by researchers studying various societies. Indeed, we don’t need to look further than economically-disadvantaged African-American groups in this country to see the effects of fatherlessness on boys and girls. There too, fatherlessness is highly correlated with earlier menarche and childbearing.
And Boothroyd explains the evolutionary underpinning for these phenomena. Throughout the development of human beings, girls who lost a father were forced to seek another male who could provide her protection. As a practical matter, that meant accelerated maturity that allowed her to replace her father with a mate.
So it’s no surprise that, biologically, the same phenomena remain; girls without fathers are still maturing earlier, and having sex and children earlier than their peers with fathers.
What Dr. Boothroyd doesn’t say clearly (probably because she takes it for granted) is that fathers exert a protective influence on their daughters. That is, without a dad, girls tend to find themselves negotiating the often tricky world of dating, sex and partnering both earlier and unguided.
(Not long ago I posted a piece that included testimonials by young men and women who grew up with only a mother as their parent; I was struck by one woman who said that her mother “didn’t have a clue about men,” and thus had nothing of benefit to offer her daughter on the subject.)
Boothroyd even extends the influence of fathers to the idea that women with active, loving fathers choose men as husbands who resemble their father either physically, behaviorally or both.
The film shows an interesting experiment in which strangers are asked to match photos of the father and the husband of women who had warm relationships with their fathers. The strangers were able to do so to a remarkable degree. In fact, one father-husband set was matched by all the volunteers, so similar did the two men appear.
That experiment is far more suggestive than dispositive. It’s too small a sample, all the volunteers are women, the photos were laid out, not by strangers but by the experimenters, etc. So it may serve as a stimulus for future experiments, but by itself it doesn’t tell us much.
Still, Boothroyd points out what may be the single most important fact about fathers and mothers – paternal and maternal behavior tend to be complementary. As countless researchers have remarked before, mothers and fathers tend to parent differently and both are needed by children to grow up into complete adults.
Boothroyd says that fathers tend to encourage independence and exploration in small children while still setting clear boundaries. Fathers tend to teach children how to abide by the rules of the grown-up world.
What I would say is that mothers tend to be the ones to instill self-esteem via unconditional love while fathers teach children that self-esteem, while necessary, isn’t sufficient. Fathers add the all-important component that love, respect, friendship, loyalty, etc., of others must be earned; those things do not come to anyone as of right. That is, the rest of humanity is not your mother.
For almost four decades now the message “fathers aren’t important; fathers aren’t necessary; fathers are bad for children” has been stated and restated throughout our culture. We know that to be wrong. We can see just how wrong in whole segments of American society and yet the message, like Evil in countless bad movies, proves hard to kill.
So it’s good to see researchers like Lynda Boothroyd resolutely bringing the known facts about fathers to a public steeped in anti-father rhetoric.
Thanks to Don for the heads-up.