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Published February 27, 2012, 11:30 PM

Salonen: Fathers have lasting impact on daughters

I’ve tucked away a memory I hope every girl, every woman, shares in some form. It took place in our living room, on hardwood floors, when I was around 4. A record spun on a record-player nearby, the needle and arm rising and falling with the grooves of the round, black disk.

I’ve tucked away a memory I hope every girl, every woman, shares in some form.

It took place in our living room, on hardwood floors, when I was around 4. A record spun on a record-player nearby, the needle and arm rising and falling with the grooves of the round, black disk.

And as Ella Fitzgerald sang her heart out, my father pulled me out onto the “dance floor” for my first dance.

I didn’t know how to dance to that kind of music but he was intent on bringing me into his world for a while. He coaxed me to the middle of the room, instructed me to place my small, barefooted feet on his socked, large ones, and held my hands.

While Ella belted out tunes, his feet moved to the beat, and mine with them. Sometimes my toes would lose their grip and I would slide off, giggling, only to start the awkward placement anew.

It was my first dance with a guy.

What I remember, more than the specific song or any other detail, was my feeling of smallness next to his bigger self, along with knowing I was being guided and protected.

I would come back to that image and the reality behind it many times throughout my life. In fact, it’s something I still need at times.

And I’ve been pulling out that image a lot this week while writing an article on fathers and daughters.

Not everyone has had a good experience with their father, so I know not everyone can offer the kind of stories we’re sharing today. But all girls, no matter their age, yearn to feel that kind of loving protection.

A couple years ago I came across an intriguing statistic. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Development revealed that, due to a particularity of pheromones and how they interact, the more exposure a daughter has to her biological father, the longer her sexual maturation is delayed.

As the mother of two daughters coming into teen-hood, I did an automatic double-take.

The study involved 173 girls from the time they were pre-kindergarten to seventh grade and their families.

Though supportive relationships with both parents in general influenced the development delay, the quality of the fathers’ involvement with their daughters proved most crucial in the timing of puberty.

Girls growing up in homes without fathers or dysfunctional father-relationships experienced relatively early development.

Researchers found the role of fathers in their daughters’ development notable, since the quality of mothering is generally more closely associated with how children turn out.

Interesting, at the very least, but mostly this just affirmed my already-held beliefs about the importance of dads in the lives of their daughters.

I hope today’s article on fathers and daughters will revive readers’ own good memories of times spent with their fathers. I also hope it encourages fathers to be involved in their daughters’ lives, even when they’re teens and it feels more awkward. A father’s role in his daughter’s life could reflect the quality of the husband she chooses someday.

Dads of little girls, there’s no better time to get involved in your daughter’s life. And dads of older girls and women, it’s not too late.

That first dance is still only a dance floor away.


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