Never in history have the gender scales felt so balanced. Women land more than half of America’s corporate management positions, control trillions of dollars in wealth, account for trillions more in spending and are choosing, in increasing numbers, to become single mothers. So what do we do with the “daddy’s little girl” stereotype? Dr. Peggy Drexler—a scholar and research psychologist whose first book, Raising Boys Without Men, challenged the necessity of the nuclear family dynamic in the shaping of exceptional boys—has penned Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family ($25, Rodale). Her findings are surprising and rather hopeful.
What surprising realizations did you make as you researched Our Fathers, Ourselves? DR. PEGGY DREXLER: First was how little research I found on the subject of daughters and fathers. Second was that despite the huge shift in social roles, the elasticity of gender roles, the innovative ways to have children and create families and ever-increasing opportunities for women, the father-daughter bond still holds an enormous sway over women, no matter their age.
Is there increased expectation for fathers to be emotionally engaged? PD: For fathers, breaking away from assumptions about what and who they are in the parental mix means the joy and satisfaction of more—and continuing— participation in shaping their daughters’ lives. For daughters, it’s the opportunity to tap in, much more directly, to a reservoir of experience, perspective and support.
Are men rising to this challenge? PD: There will be adjustments for fathers; they remember life lessons roughly packaged. Can girls—will girls—respond to that kind of tough love? Or is a father’s place with girls so powerful that it will cause some girls to wilt and retreat? Fathers who are intent on toughening up their little girls for a world of diminished guarantees should walk carefully.
How can parents of either gender keep their daughters healthy and happy and encourage normal dynamics with the opposite sex? PD: It’s very important for boys and girls to have opposite-sex role models in their lives that are stable, a consistent presence they can rely on, love, learn from, have fun with and from whom they can gain an understanding and appreciation of what it feels like to be with a person of the same gender as you.
Are you hopeful that families will grow in a healthier direction? PD: Yes; it’s happening all around us.