Having spent more than 20 years in the medical profession practicing pediatric and adolescent medicine and counseling teens and parents, Dr. Meg Meeker has learned a thing or two about the impact fathers can have on their daughters—whether for good or for bad.
In her latest book, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know” (published by Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS’ sister company), Meeker explains the important role fathers play in the lives of their daughters and how they can best utilize that role to instill strong moral values and healthy self-images in their daughters.
Meeker recently answered some questions posed to her by HUMAN EVENTS. Below are her responses.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
Dr. Meg Meeker: Over the past twenty years, while caring for young girls and teens in my medical practice as well as raising three daughters, I have witnessed the escalation of many problems girls face that weren’t here twenty and thirty years ago. So I scoured the medical research and listened to thousands of girls and came up with solutions that work.
How did your 20 years in the medical field prepare you to write the book?
Dr. Meeker: Two ways. First, my medical training taught me how to identify good research. So much is written about these problems that separating good research from bad can be difficult for someone who isn’t familiar with it. Second, listening to kids and their parents helped me identify recurring themes: Girls struggling with eating disorders and parents feeling helpless. Girls having sex at fourteen and getting STDs and wondering what to do. Watching my patients and listening to them, as well as reading psychiatry texts, helped me to understand the teen mind as well as the parent mind. Combining research and my own experiences helped me to find solutions to bring parents and girls back together.
How did you go about doing the research?
Dr. Meeker: I read articles from medical journals, specifically psychiatry journals and child development and psychology journals. I tended to stay away from social science journals because I felt that some of the data was less reliable. I sought the latest information and statistics from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. I also read books by well-known psychiatrists, including Dr. Armand Nicholi, who endorsed the book and called me to say he loved it! He is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, editor of the New Harvard Guide to Modern Psychiatry, and a C. S. Lewis scholar.
What is the most interesting information you came across in your research?
Dr. Meeker: I loved reading about the ability men have to influence the thought processes of their daughters. We women have been trained (I went to an all-women’s college, Mount Holyoke) that we are the bottom line for boosting our daughters’ self-esteem and guiding their minds to healthy maturity. It was such a relief to learn that women really can’t do it all—and that we truly do need men to raise better daughters.
How can a father best instill strong moral values in his daughter?
Dr. Meeker: By far and away, the single most important thing he can do is to love them. Men talk less than women, so daughters watch their fathers very carefully. They watch to see if he lies or tells the truth, stays faithful to their mother, works hard and speaks out against wrong behavior in the workplace as well as at home. Ninety percent of the influence a father has over his daughter’s moral values comes from his behavior. If I can help a father be a better man, then I can also help his daughter, because her father’s behavior is so instrumental in shaping her character. This is why I write books for adults — helping dad is the best thing I can do for his daughter.
Will a daughter’s relationship with her father really affect her future relationships?
Dr. Meeker: Absolutely. Unfortunately, most research identifies what’s wrong in a girl’s life when she doesn’t have a good father, rather than what’s right when she does. So to encourage men, I tried to show them what can go well in their lives. We know that girls wait longer to initiate sex, are less likely to suffer from depression, and are less likely to take drugs, drink alcohol, and have eating disorders if their fathers are involved in their lives. Any and all of these affect a girl’s future because they keep her from maturing and from excelling both academically and emotionally.
Why are fathers the most important men in their daughters’ lives?
Dr. Meeker: Fathers are their daughters’ first experience of male love, compassion, kindness, anger, and cruelty. These early experiences are imprinted on a girl’s brain and heart. For the rest of her life, every experience she has with a male is filtered through her experiences with her father. So if she trusts her father at an early age, she is more likely to trust men. If she has been hurt by her father, she will shy away from men.
How do a father’s religious beliefs affect his daughter?
Dr. Meeker: A daughter sees the maleness of God and Christ through her experience of maleness in her father. If her dad has not been trustworthy, she will have difficulty trusting God. So if a daughters sees a father who loves God, who turns to Him in times of need, she is more likely to do the same. Also, faith has been shown repeatedly to be a “protective” factor for girls. Research shows that girls who have faith in God stay away from sex, drugs, and alcohol, and are less likely to get pregnant. I identify faith as a belief in the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition in my book because more than 70 percent of kids in America identify themselves this way.
How does a father protect his daughter without becoming overprotective?
Dr. Meeker: If today’s fathers err, it usually isn’t on the side of being overprotective. Many fathers believe (because of parental peer pressure) that being involved in their daughters’ lives will cause girls to rebel, to distance themselves, to learn how to deceive their parents. But exactly the opposite is true. At each stage of their daughters’ lives, fathers must ask themselves: Is this age-appropriate for her? Am I giving her too much freedom, or too little? Am I hovering because I’m worried about what may happen to me if I give her free rein, or what may happen to her?
Fathers may become overprotective if they project their own insecurities onto their daughters. For example, if a father is very fearful (the main cause of overprotectiveness) about traveling abroad, he probably won’t let his daughter travel because he is convinced something will happen to her, even if her travel plans are reasonable and safe. If a father is willing to see what will happen to his daughter as he lets go, and try not to relive his own situation at the same age, he can keep from being overprotective.
In your book you mention that girls can come to view their fathers as their heroes. How does that happen?
Dr. Meeker: Girls very naturally assign the role of hero to their fathers, usually without the father knowing it. A girl believes that her father is the strongest, smartest, and most capable man on earth. All he has to do is live a life of integrity, truthfulness, and moral clarity and he will be her hero forever. Girls don’t need their fathers to rescue people or make a lot of money or live in a big house. They define heroism as a dad who has stronger character than their friends’ dads. If a girl’s dad stays married to her critically ill mother, he is his daughter’s hero. If he leaves her, he fails as a hero. This is what girls are looking for. Is that essential? Yes and no. She gives him the role of hero, so if he fails, she is disappointed. However, if he fails and recognizes that he disappointed his daughter, he redeems himself.
So is it true? Will girls marry men like their fathers?
Dr. Meeker: Girls gravitate toward what they know, not necessarily what they want. The familiar is powerful and often subconsciously causes girls to do all sorts of things they’d rather not. Many women swear that they will not marry abusive men if their fathers were abusive to them or to their mothers. But they marry them in spite of their best intentions, because they know what life with abuse feels like — and in a way it’s less frightening than the unknown life of happiness.
On the flip side, fathers with integrity raise daughters who seek husbands who are equally good. Most certainly, young women who have been raised by strong fathers look for great men and are far more likely to have solid marriages.