SUZANNE FIELDS married her father in 1941, when she was 5 years old. She wore her best party dress and a corsage of pink roses from her "husband." Her older brother Stanley doubled as best man and rabbi. Her mother served as matron of honor.
"Any grade-B psychologist could spin all sorts of speculation today about that ceremony," the 47-year-old Washington writer said over lunch yesterday.
"They might say I was resolving my Electra complex by officially turning to Daddy, or that I was getting trapped in it, 'till death do us part.' But for us it was only a lighthearted way of entertaining ourselves, making dramatic what seemed to be a natural love affair between my daddy and me."
Fathers and daughters. While psychologists have long studied the relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters, until recently little has been said of the special bond between daddys and their little girls. But the ties--as Fields discovered when working on her new book, "Like Father, Like Daughter"--are obviously strong.
In Washington, they are particularly visible. Nancy Kassebaum and her father Alf Landon. Cissy Baker and her father Howard. Maureen Reagan and her father Ronald--Washington's newest father-daughter team.
With the president obviously worried about his "gender gap" problem with women voters, who does he turn to? His eldest daughter, who will serve at Reagan's request as a consultant on women's issues to the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
"I don't pretend to know about their private life and relationship," Fields said, "but what is evident is that he respects her, or he wouldn't have appointed her to this position. And he obviously raised a daughter strong enough to disagree with him--even if he is president of the United States. That alone says a great deal about him as a father."
While Maureen Reagan yesterday said her relationship with her father was "very good," she exclaimed, "Oh heavens, no!" when asked if she was "a daddy's girl."
"You've got to realize that I had a very assertive mother, too," Maureen Reagan said in a telephone interview from California. "I was always a kind of independent cuss. I thought I was very close with all my family members."
About their much-publicized disagreement over the Equal Rights Amendment, she said, "There's nothing wrong with disagreement about how to get to an end as long as you're going in the same direction. The end goal is the advancement of women . . . I'm willing to listen to him if he's willing to listen to me."
As evidence that "he does listen to me," Maureen Reagan, 42, noted that the idea for her appointment arose "about a month or so after dinner at the White House. The president couldn't figure out why women didn't like him in the polls . . . I started talking to women I know . . . The job took a month to hammer out."
While she said she is "never going to stop trying" to change the president's mind about the importance of the ERA, in her new capacity she will focus on "pointing out what has already been accomplished" and "keeping the pressure on" for more appointments and legislation favorable to women.
Fields' own fascination with her father, Samuel (Bo) Bregman, stemmed partly from the mystery of his job as a D.C. bookmaker. "I don't mean he published books," she said. "He was the other type of bookie. Almost everything he did was against the law."
Her father "went straight" as a builder when Fields was a teen-ager--"he said he did it for me"--and their strong relationship continued throughout her adolescence here at Calvin Coolidge High (where she met her future husband, Ted), her young adulthood as a doctoral student in English literature at Catholic University and her adult career as editor of the mental health journal Innovations.
Three years ago she began to meet her father for lunch, with a tape recorder between the salt and pepper shakers. "Every woman I talked to got so excited about the idea of studying fathers and daughters," she said, "that I decided to branch out."
"Like most of life's complex issues," said Fields, a writer specializing in psychological topics, "the father-daughter relationship cannot be explained in a single theory of human behavior. Did Anna Freud become a psychoanalyst like her father because or in spite of his theories? We can only speculate, but certainly there had to be mutual respect because she presented papers for him at major psychoanalytical conferences and went on to become a famous child psychoanalyst herself.
"The father-daughter relationship is an expression of the unique formulation of each family, inevitably influenced by the patterns of male-female relationships in the larger world, changing as the cultural context changes, differing for different generations of women and men."
In 1980, Fields put ads in Psychology Today and Ms. magazine asking for comments on the relationship. About 400 daughters and 200 fathers responded. They completed a "four-page essay questionnaire," and Fields talked with about 100 fathers and 100 daughters in individual interviews. The resulting book, exploring "how father shapes the woman his daughter becomes," is not, she noted, a statistically precise profile of American father-daughter relationships. "It is simply my synthesis," she said, "of hundreds of conversations with people who wanted to talk with me about the subject."
The most important finding, she said, was that "the two values most strongly influenced by a father are a women's femininity--her sense of herself as a woman; and her competency--her sense of herself as an accomplisher.
"A girl's first perception of the opposite sex comes through her father. He forever colors the eye through which a woman sees men and is her first guide to dealing with the opposite half of the human race. He shapes her expectations of male behavior. Most importantly, he has a powerful effect on his daughter's sense of self."
The mother's role is also crucial in a daughter's development, said Fields, who lives with her husband (a dentist), two daughters and a son in Northwest Washington. Absence of either parent can skew a child's view of the world.
"Ideally, the love affair between father and daughter exists in an intact family," she said, "where there's a close relationship between the father and mother. When the father plays to the little girl at the expense of the mother or where there's no mother present, she may have trouble outgrowing that role and may be more likely to be prone to jealousy in later life."
Fathers often "hide" from their daughters, she said, "because they fear intimacy or are unable to express their feelings. I think men, in general, have more difficulty expressing emotion than women. It may be particularly difficult, then, for men to know how to love a little girl tenderly because the tend to associate that kind of love with sexuality. As a result they may avoid her altogether."
America's 12 million children being raised without a father, she said, "may experience some problems. There have been many studies about the impact of fatherless families on boys, and recently there have been studies showing that girls who grow up without fathers suffer more from depression, drug addiction and alcoholism."
Adolescence is a "critical time" in father-daughter relationships, she said, since the girl's budding sexuality causes some fathers to chill formerly warm relationships. "Many women told me," she said, "that they took out their anger at adolescent abandonment by their father--real or imagined--in adult relationships with men."
During her own adolescence, Fields' father helped her through some particularly sensitive growing pains. "I remember being very nervous about a rush party for a sorority," she recalled. "He drove me there, and we sat in the car before I went in.
"He said, 'I know you've nervous about getting blackballed, but let me tell you that whatever those girls think of you, that's not who you are. I think you're a wonderful person, no matter what, and I want you to know that.' "
This, said Fields, is the message every daughter needs from her father: "That he's standing there behind her. That he cares about her, loves her and thinks she's a good, important person."