01.12.13 Love

How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Father

How to Improve Your Relationship with Your Father

BY Dr. Peggy Drexler

Letting your father into your life doesn’t mean allowing him to control it. The connection is stronger than you think. You won’t break it by marking your territory. Ironically, many women who have the strongest relationships with their fathers also have the hardest time finding their own place and voice. It’s a fine line between unconditional support and overwhelming direction. He wants the best for you, but you have to define what “best” means to you.

Rules of a new relationship:

• Just because he raised you, don’t assume you know him.

• Bonds are built on trust. Trust comes from understanding. And understanding takes work. Don’t be afraid to blow up the old assumptions about what you mean to your father and your father means to you.

• Accept- no, embrace- the chance to build the relationship with the first man in your life.

Do you really know your father?

Or do you know the man that fathers are supposed to be? Maybe you know the man you wish he would be.

If you’re like most women, you probably don’t know as much about him as you think you do — and not as much as the opportunity to tap into a mentor and cheerleader and friend as you should. Confusion is natural. And widespread.

You won’t marry Dad; why personal reality beats persistent myth:

Maybe the man you pick will be just like dad; maybe not like him at all. Don’t worry about it — it’s not your unconscious talking, it’s your heart.

Understand that for good or bad, Dad is not the only role model for what you want in a man. He’s just an influence — although an important one — that will help you make your own choices.

A daughter’s relationship with her father was once a “dress rehearsal” for her relationship with men. Women, experts said, typically wanted, consciously or not, to marry men like their fathers.

In theory, a father was the determining influence on a girl’s relational and sexual development. Psychologists even linked a woman’s ability to be highly orgasmic to her father’s encouragement of her “feminine” traits and identity. In fact, women have always been more independent in their choices than assumption (or hope) would have it.

Something to share with your father:

Take this quick quiz to see if you and dad have made a new-age connection. It’s easy. You don’t even have to write down any answers. Just think about the questions. You’ll know what the answers tell you. The question is — what will you do about it?

For starters, you can share it with dad. Where you don’t know the answers, ask. Where you do know the answers, learn more. It can be a great conversation starter. And those conversations can take you to some wonderful places.

Where was he born?

Where all has he lived?

What the favorite job he ever had?

Does he like the job he has?

What was his relationship with his parents?

How close is he to brothers, sisters or other family members?

What would he be doing for a living if he wasn’t doing what he’s doing now?

What are his five favorite movies?

If he is a sports fan, what are his favorite teams?

What is the favorite present you ever bought him?

What is his favorite sports team?

What is your favorite memory with him?

How would he answer that same question?

What is your worst memory with him?

Have you ever talked about it?

What is the funniest thing you ever saw or did together?

What is the saddest?

How are you alike?

How are you different?

What have your similarities and differences meant to your life?

What has he meant to you growing up?

Have you ever told him?

What do you think about him that might surprise him most?

When is the last time you talked — more than an hour, and just the two of you?

What would he say if you said: let’s go for a walk?

What would he say if you said: “Tell me something you’ve never told me about yourself'”?

What would you say if he asked you the same question?

What could he mean to your life that he doesn’t mean now?

How would you change that?

In choosing a mate, what parts would be like your father; what parts would be different?

What kind of man does he want for you?

What do you do if he says something — particularly about your life — and you are in total disagreement?

What happens if that situation is reversed?

If he makes you mad — do you tell him?

Understand: this might take work. You are dealing with hundreds of years of history — and for most of it, the conversations between dad and daughter have been carefully scripted and clearly boundaried. This list can help you take the initiative — recognizing that like all relationships, this one unfolds in steps.

Please let me know if this worked for you and/or you and your dad in the comments section below or via Twitter @DrPeggyDrexler.

Suggested Resources view all

Truth & Wisdom

Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family

Letting your father into your life doesn’t mean allowing him to control it. The connection is stronger than you think. You won’t break it by marking your territory. Ironically, many women who have ...

Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, author, speaker, and a regular featured contributor to a range of publications and Web sites – from The Huffington Post to Psychology Today to HelloGiggles. She is an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Peggy has spent her career studying the magic and mysteries of families. Her recent book: Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers And The Changing American Family, explores the powerful – and sometimes surprising – connection between dads and a new generation of independent, accomplished women. Peggy’s bestselling book, the highly acclaimed Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men, is a seminal work in the social sciences. It offers an illuminating look at how single mothers by choice, chance and circumstance and two-mother lesbian families are raising happy, healthy and masculine young men. The book was nominated for the Books for a Better Life award and the Lamda Literary award. Peggy can be found on  Facebook, Twitter @DrPeggyDrexler and on her Website.


  • Kylie

    I have dinner with my Father once a week. Just the two of us unless my Sister is in town as she lives away. We make a conscious effort to make sure we get together for those couple of hours and have done so for at least the last 13 years. If one or the other of us can’t afford or doesn’t have the time for dinner for some reason we at the very least make sure we catch up for an hour to have coffee.

  • Duckling

    This article is feels somewhat naive and out of touch with the reality that there is a lot of absentee fathers out there. I would hazard to guess that there is a larger majority than we would like to know of people that have not grown up with our fathers.

    How about an article on how you do not need to define yourself by your father or parents to that matter and how people have coped, managed, and survived without these key figures in our lives.

    • Laura Lou

      I would seek to find out why they are absentee, be love yourself, and you will get love back. Obviously life is so much more complicated than that, but its a very powerful strategy. Everyone needs love. Everyone. You can opt for coping without they key figure or forgive and give love in the face of feeling pain or rejection. I am not saying its the final and absolute answer, but I have seen how powerful it can be.

  • Laura Lou

    I call my Dad and we chat for hours. When I moved away from the city he lived in I realised unless I made a conscious effort to call him, instead of just chatting to mum all the time, that I would lose having him in my life. So I started calling him and chatting about stuff he likes……OMG! He can talk and talk and talk if I let him. So amazing, I just love those moments where we chat for hours together.

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