Fathers and Daughters

The relationship with the father is idealised among most of the women in all three generations and combines tenderness for the father and, in cases where it is possible, also admiration for his knowledge or position. This tenderness and admiration is strongest in the oldest and the youngest generations. The most pronounced element of idealisation is seen in the oldest generation of working-class and farmer daughters, where the father represents something that the daughters themselves cannot become, but in which they may take vicariously part through him. Belonging to the sphere of the mother’s jurisdiction may also help keep the father as a good object in this generation. The father represents money, generosity, relaxedness and connection to a bigger world. But, at the same time, he may also be seen as vulnerable and in need of the daughter’s help and support. As Lucey et al. (2016) argue in a paper on working-class fathers and daughters, daughters may unconsciously identify with the fathers’ provider role and try to take some burdens off their shoulders. For the middle-class girls in this generation the father is a more distant figure, but is still often surrounded by the excitement of being the stranger in the family.

In the middle generation the psychologically complicated relationship with the mother gives the father a stronger psychological position as liberator for the daughter, representing a calm space outside of what is perceived as the mother’s control and chaos. The psychological need for the father combined with his relative distance from the family may be the reason that the relationship with him in this generation does not have the same warmth as in the older and the younger generations. He is remembered as calm, rational and often strict, sometimes as someone who also suffered from the mother’s regime and moodiness, but not as exciting as in the older generation. He seems to be needed more as an object of identification than as an object of love, and he is not remembered as someone who confirmed their sense of femininity. It is rather as ‘a boy in the making’ that they can hope to get his attention. This may lead to a narcissistic humiliation in the daughter where she feels her femininity as absent or devalued (see also Harris 2008). The only woman in this generation who says she felt pretty as a young girl is also the only one who remembers that her father gave her compliments on her looks. The general cultural tension between the generations in the 1960s probably also contributed to less idealisation of the father. He is the best there is in the family to identify with for the girl, but this does not mean that he is an ideal.

In the youngest generation, the tenderness towards the father is back. Fathers are seen as emotional and sweet, or more fun and playful than the sensible and serious mothers. Maybe their fathers, the men of the middle generation who wanted to become more emotionally present fathers, actually succeeded better in this in the eyes of their loving daughters than in the eyes of their tired wives? The identificatory love for the father is obvious and may, in combination with secure attachments to mothers and a culture that encourages female agency and desire, have helped the daughters to become psychological ‘subjects of desire’ (Benjamin 1995). However, for the middle-class girls this position is not as gendered as for the working-class girls, for whom the father more often confirms their sense of femininity. With more secure borders to the mother, the father is less needed as a liberator or a sign of separation. The father’s role as the one who represents the bigger world to the daughters has become less prominent since the mother can also fill that role now, and even more so in cases where the mother has more education than the father. Girls with academic fathers admire and identify proudly with their fathers’ competence, and degender these qualities in themselves (much as the middle generation did), whereas girls whose fathers have less education defend them. Also here we are reminded of Lucey et al.’s (2016) analysis that daughters of working-class fathers often sense the father’s vulnerability and feel guilt or even turn away from taking higher education in order both to stay close to him and not to surpass him as their mothers might have done. This compassion with fragile masculinity was also seen in the oldest generation, whereas the middle generation of women were in need of constructing their fathers as strong. Could it be that the identificatory love for the father gives a different dynamic in women’s and men’s craving for gender difference? Whereas men want to preserve gender difference because it is important to their own sense of masculinity, women want to protect the men’s feeling of masculinity because they sense their fragility. However, the longitudinal data with the youngest generation also indicates that the protection of the father has more realistic proportions as the daughters become adult women and see him more clearly as the person he is, not as a fantasised object, whether idealised or sentimentalised.

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