> Family > Heart of Matter

Forever Dad

June 13, 2013 | by Debbie Gutfreund

Even though my parents divorced, my father always played a crucial role in my life.

A new study by Baylor University researchers places engaging in shared activities at the top of the list of crucial ingredients in the father-daughter relationship. Unlike the mother-daughter relationship which is based primarily on dialogue, fathers and daughters benefit from finding a hobby or sport that they can share.

Wake Forest professor Linda Nielson has written about and researched the father-daughter relationship for more than 40 years. Her book, “Between Fathers and Daughters: Enriching and Rebuilding Your Adult Relationship” is a great guideline for both fathers and daughters. Besides encouraging fathers and daughters to find an activity they can share, she has found three areas where the father-daughter relationship has a more significant impact than the mother-daughter relationship.

The first area involves academics, career and ultimately independence. The stronger the relationship between a father and daughter, the more likely she is to succeed in school and in her profession.

The second area is a choice of spouse; fathers who build their daughters up and give them confidence enable their daughters to choose spouses who will support and respect them.

And the third area where daughters benefit from a close relationship with their fathers is health. Daughters who have good communication with their dads have less emotional challenges and take care of themselves better than daughters who aren’t close with their fathers.

After a divorce, these three areas become even more crucial as the daughter struggles to regain her sense of security in the wake of the family break- up. Terry Gaspard, author of the study “Forever Dads: Shattering the Myth of the Self Centered Dad,” interviewed several adult young women and their fathers who continued to be involved, competent parents following a divorce. The interviews highlighted the following characteristics of what Terry coins “forever dads”: they consider fatherhood an honor and a lifetime commitment; they believe they play a crucial role in the lives of their kids, they put their kids’ needs first and they enjoy spending time with their children.

When I read this list I thought about my own father. He definitely qualifies as a “forever dad.” Back when joint custody was not the norm, my father was a single dad to me, his eight-year-old daughter, and my nine-year-old brother. Back then, I took it for granted when my father picked us up every Tuesday and Thursday after school following his own hectic, stressful schedule in his Manhattan office. He was there. On time without fail. He helped us with our homework. He taught us how to use a computer. On Sundays, he gave us tennis lessons, made bbqs and took us to the movies.

But what I remember most was my father’s spaghetti. Dad didn’t know how to cook much of anything when my parents divorced, so we went out to eat a lot at first. But as our homework load increased and our excitement over new restaurants waned, my dad began to make spaghetti. I know spaghetti isn’t the hardest dish to make, but this was the best spaghetti I had ever tasted, then and since. Just the right amount of sauce and butter and salt. All set up in the black and white bowls that Dad had gone out to buy himself, and it sat before us like the devotion-drenched meal that it was, complete with tall glasses of Coke on the carefully laid out placemats.

Because of you I am not afraid to run, to climb, and to fly.

We ate that spaghetti every Tuesday and Thursday night, and I can’t remember ever getting tired of it.

As Father’s Day arrives this year, I want to thank you Dad. For the mornings that you woke up an hour before your commuter train to bring us to our bus stops complete with peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. For the hours you spent doing homework with us and taking us to movies I only realize now that you probably didn’t particularly want to see. For coaching our little league teams and knowing the names of our teachers and our friends. For teaching us how to play tennis, scuba dive, mountain bike and water ski. For bringing us all over the world – to Bermuda, France, Spain, Switzerland. To Hawaii, Italy and Israel. To all these places where you could have gone yourself but chose to bring us with you instead.

For teaching me how to drive in your new Lexus without batting an eyelash. For bringing me to college and showing up on every parent’s weekend. For never being too busy to take my calls or listen to my teenage woes. For walking me down the aisle next to mom and giving me your blessings on my wedding day. For welcoming my husband into your life like your own son. For teaching your grandchildren how to read, how to drive a boat, how to see the world through another generation’s eyes.

And here is what I also want you to know. Because of you I have the courage to follow my dreams. Because of you I found the strength to build my own family. Because of you I am not afraid to run, to climb, and to fly. I look up to you. I rely on you. I need you still to tell me how to improve my backhand and how to move forward in my career. I need you to tell me that I’m beautiful. That I’m loved. But most of all, I still sometimes need your spaghetti. Even if the sauce is different and the black and white bowls are chipped and gone. I need you. I love you. You are and have always been a “forever dad.”


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