HOW I WISH Suzanne Fields' book had been around 15 years ago when my two daughters were entering adolescence, the second crucial stage of their lives with the family. (Suzanne Fields says the first came when they learned to walk.)
It would have been helpful to have read Like Father, Like Daughter because in the Johnson-Nixon years all the old rules were washing away in the tides of counterculture. I might have used the advice here to turn the erosion into an opportunity for deeper bonds with two of the most important people I'll ever know. Fields says daughters really want fathers who define limits and enforce them. I was only fair at it.
But to deal first with the hazards of reading Like Father, Like Daughter: Apparently Fields conducted a survey of some sort. We get no facts on sample size, selection process, age distribution, socio-economic data. Still from these first-name-anly daughters in the American outback Fields draws vivid narratives, mostly in direct quotation, to validate her views of troubles in the father-daughter relationship. The yarns are too many, too slick. They undermine the author's authority with a glibness that borders on creative writing.
Next, there's the insistent presence of Fields' father, the jolly bookie, whose repeated appearances are to take bows for social versatility. And her problem with name- dropping: Fields has her doctorate and her own ideas are pretty good. She doesn't need a congress of contemporary intellectuals to make them stick. How useful is it to know that Dustin Hoffman wants to be a mother?
But what's right about Like Father, Like Daughter is so sagacious it will pass for wisdom. It seems to tell us what we always knew but didn't have the words to express.
"Her father's imprint marks a woman's identity for all time--her sense of self, her work, her love relationships, her understanding of the sexual differences. His effect varies at different stages of her life, but the important qualities of psychological development are strongly influenced by the first man in a woman's life.
"These qualities include trust, autonomy, ambition, initiative, and an expanding capacity for intimacy. A father's absence, coldness, or cruelty is no less crucial as an adverse effect, fostering mistrust of others, dependency, self-doubt, and a sense of inferiority in the marketplace, and a contracting capacity for intimacy, love, and, ultimately, happiness in marriage."
Margaret Mead called motherhood a biological necessity and fatherhood a "social invention." Fields turns this slam into absurdity.
Human beings are social creatures and society is sexual. To be able to speak of love to a man, a woman must hear from a man, her father, at an early age that she is worthy of love. A father is a daughter's ambassador to the world of work, commerce, power; a mother is the primary teacher of feelings. Unless a father or a surrogate helps a daughter develop competencies as she encounters the forces of authority and the world of things, a woman may lose "what should have been hers by inheritance," says Fields.
"Women with autocratic fathers, men who criticized their every move and imposed harsh limits on their developing independence, complain of problems in the workplace, an inability to deal with any kind of authority without expressing overwhelming anger. The childhood response of these women forged a debilitating personality trait for the adult."
The more Fields probes, the deeper she finds the tie between the father that was and the woman that has emerged from childhood.
Since primitive times, when life was jungle and females were property for seizure or trade, a father has been his daughter's protector against outside physical harm. Childhood fear of abandonment, unless qualified by a father's constancy, may cripple a daughter emotionally: One man cannot be trusted; it takes many men to be safe.
But it's how fathers and daughters relate as sexual opposites, says Suzanne Fields, that affects the women they become. "In the beginning, father and daughter have a mini-love affair with one another. Daddy is the admiring suitor, taking pleasure in the way his daughter wears her hair or new dress." He shows his pleasure as he holds her, plays with her, kisses her. But this love affair must switch to "respect and encouragement for her competencies" and an arms-length admiration for the daughter's femininity and sensuality. With the arrival of adolescence and adulthood "Daddy's Little Girl must in the best of all adult lives become Father's Special Friend, a woman supported by his appreciation and respect."
Fathers and daughters walk through "a minefield of possibilities." At one end is incest, which she says occurs in 10 percent of our families and cripples women for life. At the other end are girls with names like Bobbie and Jo who play terrific softball as kids, move into the executive suite as adults, but fail as wives. Their fathers reared them as if they were boys.
Fields thinks Freud was a colossal male chauvinist. He laid penis envy on little girls but lacked the courage to examine men's sexual dreams about their daughters. What she sees is an "active flow of sexual energy that passes in both directions between a father and a daughter." Because of his timidity Freud "missed an opportunity to examine closely the way a father and daughter sexualize their relationship, the titillation that propels two people toward love, respect, and admiration." Thus he also missed the emotional core of the father-daughter relationship--the lifelong bond of trust formed as a father and daughter learn to love one another tenderly while rejecting one another sexually.
Whileethe scientific procedures of Fields' work may be suspect, its major thesis is probably valid and surely a byproduct of the sexual circuitry in the father-daughter relationship: "Daddy hides, and we forever seek him, only occasionally flushing him out of his hiding places." Fields' daughters everywhere said they didn't really know their fathers and that "the only authentic closeness occurred just after a family tragedy."
It seems as though daughters "arrive in the world too late to know the man our mother fell in love with." By the time a daughter is old enough to want to know the man who bequeathed her his body, "he is shouldering the burdens of the world, or at least the burdens we have imposed." His innermost self is hidden from his daughter.
The game that daughters and fathers play "is nothing short of sexual hide and seek." Our culture mitigates against masculine display of emotion. Neither father nor daughter, because they are sexual opposites locked in an intimacy within which sexual activity is forbidden, can confide their sexual fantasies to one another. As a result of this restriction much that is only dimly conscious or admissive of vulnerability gets exchanged between father and daughter.
And so there are barriers between the bonds that tie father and daughter. Some women go through life trying to read their fathers' minds, intuit their emotions, and fulfill their unspoken wishes. The man who will not say what he wants cannot be pleased. But the world nevertheless is filled with women who are still trying to win their fathers' approval--and growing gray doing it.
Determined fathers of daughters who read Like Father, Like Daughter will squirm a lot. I did. We've never been given a report card before.
Women who read it will argue. Not over the central point of the invisible inner man, but, I suspect, over the kind of Super Dad Fields offers as an ideal. It's a traditional, almost nostalgic image of father that she holds up for celebration, not the father who becomes more feminine in a modern erasure of sexual roles. She wants Daddy to be playful, protective, proud of his little girlr's co. She wants Dad to be dependable, a good provider, and tough in the stretch. She wants both to reveal their feelings, but she believes "fathers who yearn to be honored on Mother's Day . . . bode ill, not only for daughters of such fathers, but for women who grow up and marry such men to father their children."
She is opposed to the "new father of ridicule" or "premature emasculation." Instead she seeks a father who assumes "greater responsibility for the psychological . . . welfare of his children because he wants to" and who applies "the firm and engaging assertiveness to family matters that he applies to his tasks on his job."
Alas, she does not tell us how to make more such men.