February 4, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Super Bowl is fast approaching, and that means…
What? You could fill in the blank with a hundred different things. Far too much airtime devoted to pointless football trivia, what LeBron James tweeted to Cam Newton, an ever-more grandiose half-time show, or practically anything you could imagine. But one thing that Super Bowl weekend means that you almost certainly didn’t imagine is this: a long-time shared parenting advocate’s work would make up the basis for Super Bowl ads for a major product line.
Yes, amazing as it may seem, the National Parents Organization’s good friend Dr. Linda Nielsen was informed by Pantene, maker of hair care products for women, that her 2006 study of father-daughter relationships inspired their series of online ads for this year’s Super Bowl.
The series, that can be viewed here on YouTube, features three National Football League players – DeAngelo Williams of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys and Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints – doing their daughters’ hair. The scenes are funny and touching as very large men grapple lovingly with what is clearly a somewhat daunting task. Their love for their children fairly flows from the screen, a love that’s returned by the girls plus some.
A thousand thanks to Pantene for showing a sweet side to father-daughter relationships and for showing that the strongest, toughest men on the planet can become gentle and loving when their kids are involved. It’s a message too little heard in popular discourse about men and fathers. Thanks to Pantene for upping the volume.
What I find most remarkable is that someone at the ad agency who made the spots was concerned enough about the issue to delve into Nielsen’s work and build the ads on its foundation. Somehow I can’t see Don Draper doing that.
Nielsen’s piece is here. It’s a 15-year study of women in college comparing their relationships with their fathers and their mothers. Unsurprisingly, most reported closer relationships with their mothers and wanted more from their dads. Particularly when their parents were divorced, the women reported less involvement – and less meaningful involvement – with their fathers than with their mothers. The latter of course is a direct consequence of a system of divorce and child custody that routinely marginalizes fathers in the lives of their kids.
It also reflects college curricula that train mental health professionals. Nielsen explains:
Let’s begin with a disturbing reality: Most college textbooks tend to focus more on father-son and mother-daughter relationships than on fathers and daughters – and even then, to focus more on the father’s shortcomings than his strengths (Booth & Crouter, 1998; Dienhart, 1998; Griswold, 1998; Lamb, 1997; Pruett, 1999). Similarly, while a number of colleges offer courses on mother-daughter relationships, to my knowledge I am still the only professor in the country who offers a course exclusively devoted to father-daughter relationships.
Given this bias in the curriculum, it is not surprising that college educated professionals who work with families often pay less attention to fathers’ relationships with the children than to mothers’ relationships – especially when the children are daughters (Baker & McMurray, 1998; Beale, 1999; Carr, 1998; Fagan & Hawkins, 2003; Long, 1997; Phares, 1999; Walters, 1997). Excluding or ignoring fathers is even more likely when the parents are divorced (Amato & Booth, 1997; Brott, 1999; Nielsen, 1999; Warshak, 2002).
The good news Nielsen reports about father-daughter relationships is that married fathers spend almost as much time with their kids now as do mothers despite doing substantially more work for pay. Plus, those fathers and daughters report their relationships to be good, loving and less conflicted than mother-daughter relationships.
But where there’s good news, there’s usually also bad.
But the bad news is that too many dads seem to feel that they are not as important to their daughters as to their sons. Even today fathers still tend to spend more time with their sons than with their daughters (Lamb, 1997; Phares, 1999; Pleck, 1997; Updegraff et al, 2001).
When parents divorce or when they are unhappily married, the father-daughter relationship is more easily damaged than the father-son relationship. Because mothers and daughters tend to confide more in each other, daughters are more likely than sons to turn against dad and form an alliance with mom when things are not going well in the marriage.
Why does it matter?
It matters because fathers generally have as much or more impact than mothers on many aspects of their daughters’ lives. For example, the father has the greater impact on the daughters’ ability to trust, enjoy, and relate well to the males in her life (Erickson, 1998; Flouri, 2005; Kast, 1997; Leonard, 1998). And well-fathered daughters are usually more self-confident, more self- reliant, and more successful in school and in their careers than poorly fathered daughters (Lamb, 1997; Morgan & Wilcoxon, 1998; Perkins, 2001).
When the results of Nielsen’s study were tabulated, more “good news/bad news” appeared.
The good news is that nearly 60 percent of the daughters rated their relationship with their father as “good” or “excellent”. Data from questionnaires showed that these daughters felt loved and got along well with their fathers…
But as Table 2 demonstrates, the bad news is that 20 percent rated their relationship as “pretty bad” or “terrible”. And another 21 percent felt it was merely “alright”.
Interestingly, 20% of the young women surveyed had parents who’d divorced. To what extent did divorce correlate with those “pretty bad” and “terrible” ratings?
The feedback from the daughters with divorced parents reflected what other researchers have generally found. These daughters generally had more difficult, more emotionally distant relationships with their fathers than those whose parents were still married. Slightly more than 45 percent described the relationship as “poor” and 80 percent felt they had problems communicating comfortably – especially about matters related to the divorce. Only one third felt that they and their fathers knew each other “very well” or “fairly well.” Those who had spent the most time with their fathers after the divorce gave their relationships higher ratings than those who had rarely seen their fathers.
So again, divorce and child custody marginalize fathers in the lives of their kids. The young women Nielsen surveyed are yet more examples of the phenomenon.
Interesting too is that the students reported that they often engage in behavior that results in poorer father-daughter relationships, despite saying they wanted improved ones.
Unfortunately the vast majority of these young adult daughters were treating their fathers in ways that reduced the chances of their having a more personal, comfortable, meaningful relationship. On the “Equal Opportunity Daughter” quiz (Table 1) nearly half of the daughters scored below 17 on the 30 point scale. Only 10 percent scored above 25, meaning that they were doing an excellent job giving their fathers equal opportunities. As was true in 1990, in 2004 the daughters’ scores indicated that most were behaving in ways that inadvertently push their fathers away from the kind of comfortable, personal relationship that the daughters said they wanted.
Overall, these young women said they had good relationships with their fathers, as long as their parents weren’t divorced. But those relationships weren’t as close as those with their mothers. Amazingly, Pantene took that information and decided to try to improve father-daughter relationships. Thanks to Pantene for doing so, thanks to Linda Nielsen for the usual good work and thanks to DeAngelo Williams, Jason Witten and Benjamin Watson for showing other dads the way.
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