Others studies show that infants and children who receive little physical contact with a loving adult fail to thrive; in fact, one of the best ways to care for a premature baby is to place it in skin-to-skin contact with the mother (called “kangaroo care”).
Finally, studies also say that a father's presence and involvement in his daughter's life is one of the great influences on whether she gets involved in drug and alcohol abuse, early sexual activity, or other risky behaviors. The more involved the father is in her life, the less involved the young woman is likely to be in these risky behaviors. And I believe that a great deal of that involvement includes proper touch.
GIrls need appropriate, loving touch from their fathers.
Many fathers feel uncomfortable with their daughters' developing bodies and—very appropriately--understand that they need to change their contact with their daughters. Unfortunately, when these well-meaning fathers withdraw their physical contact, they often do so to such an extent that they leave their daughters open to great temptations. They do not realize how crucially the physical aspect of their relationship impacts the young woman's future relationships with other men and particularly with her future husband.
A young woman's "love language" does not need to be physical touch for her to need it. Not that I put much faith in such quizzes or categories, but according to the love language survey, physical touch is not my primary love language. Yet personal experience tells me that I crave physical affection--and I believe that most other young women do as well. Unfortunately, the entire concept of physical touch between fathers and daughters gets muddied by the perversions of physical contact between fathers and daughters and by society's view of the father-daughter relationship.
Some factors make fathers hesitant to touch their daughters appropriately.
Sexual predation is on the rise and while fathers are not at the top of the list for sexual predators of young women, a great deal of suspicion falls on them. A few fathers truly deserve that suspicion, but a great many others are scared away from developing strong relationships with their daughters for fear of arousing such suspicion. They take a completely hands-off approach to their daughters in order to protect both themselves and their daughters.
This, in turn, separates the father and daughter. Interestingly enough, at the same age when fathers withdraw their physical communication from their daughters, the spoken communication begins to crumble. This may not happen in every case, but it occurs in many cases. The father is startled by the sudden fierce independence and rebellion of his daughter and the daughter feels that her father is out-of-touch and distant. Media constantly reinforces both perceptions and therefore both father and daughter feel trapped by their own helplessness to repair the relationship. The father leaves his daughter to the mother, afraid to be seen as a domineering jerk or a creepy predator if he tries to retrieve his former closeness to his little girl.
The culture often teaches young women that they don't need their fathers--but that is not true.
The daughter is brainwashed by media to believe that her father is domineering, out-of-touch, or clumsy when he continues to be involved. The culture demands that fathers should give their post-pubescent daughters great space, while her body and mind are awaking to a new consciousness of men.
In the absence of positive constant communication with her father, she craves male attention. From where shall she receive that attention? If her father withdraws or accepts the damaging social agenda of non-interference, the young woman will naturally seek attention from other males—of which few have the intention, maturity, or means to genuinely protect, sacrifice for, and cherish her as her own father would.
The young woman becomes defensive when it seems that her father's only communication is an awkward attempt to warn her away from the type of contact she so desires. I believe that one of a young woman's best safeguards of her self-esteem and purity is a strong relationship with her father and, more specifically, good communication involving both spoken word and physical touch.
This has been true in my life.
My own story illustrates and confirms this theory well. My very first type of affectionate physical contact with my father was as an infant, through the natural cuddling, holding, and swinging. Many studies have confirmed that positive touch in this stage is extremely crucial to the infant’s development.
My father also kissed me. Some parents are comfortable with kissing their children on the lips until they reach a certain age where it would seem inappropriate—early teens, for example. My father wanted very much to be close to his little girls, but he decided to avoid kissing us on the lips for two main reasons. First, he did not want to invite suspicion. Secondly, he asked himself, “What might kissing my daughters on the lips teach them about contact with men? Do I want them to be comfortable with this type of contact?” The decision was difficult, but my father at last resolved to kiss his children on the cheek, even when we were very young.
Dad worked long hours in the construction business, so he left early in the morning and came home late at night. He didn’t have much time to connect, but he did what he could. He made sure to kiss each of us goodbye before he left in the morning, even if we were asleep. I was a light sleeper, so I always woke up to give him a return peck on the cheek.
One morning, I awoke to see his truck pull out of the driveway and I realized that I had not remembered waking up to kiss him. He had forgotten to kiss me! I cried for a half hour. I couldn’t put words to my feelings then, and, up until that time, I had had no idea myself how much that daily kiss meant to me. Looking back, I realize that I desperately wanted my father’s love and approval. Even how my father kissed me communicated great things to me—quick and absent-minded communicated to me “Let’s get this over with,” and once threw me into a pubescent depression for a week, whereas an accompanying hug and even a short “I love you” made a bad day all better. Daddy’s morning kiss communicated that I was special to him, not because of anything I did, but simply because I was his daughter. That strong assurance of my father’s love for me, symbolized by the innocent kiss, became a tower of confidence as I matured into adulthood. Even now, I join my siblings in kissing Daddy goodbye as he heads off to work and in kissing him goodnight at the end of a long day. It’s more a ritual now; it’s a routine communication that assures me that my father still sees me as his precious little girl.
PHysical contact should change as the young woman matures.
Although some forms of physical contact don’t need to change as a young woman matures, other forms must change. A little girl might hold her father’s hand during a walk or she might sit on his lap, but a young woman cannot do so without attracting strange looks and stranger thoughts.
I remember well the day when my father told me matter-of-factly, “You know I love you, honey, but people are going to think we’re weird if you sit on my lap anymore. After all, you’re a young lady now!” The way he communicated this change did not make me feel as if he was pushing me away, but as if he was acknowledging my maturity. I accepted it as another mark that I was growing up.
Dad made sure to maintain other appropriate forms of physical contact—a kiss on the cheek, a momentary hug, a touch on the shoulder, a squeeze on the arm, or a pat on the head. Because Dad was careful to respect my body but also to show his affection for me with both touch and words, I was willing to learn from him about appropriate contact with other men. “Don’t let anyone touch you in a way I wouldn’t touch you,” he told me once, and it was one of the best rules he gave me.
Because I felt loved by him, it was easier to control my contact with other men; I did not feel so great a need to feel physically close to them. I certainly still craved male attention, but I already had a man on my side who loved me and protected me. Thus, my father’s physical closeness to me protected my purity.
A father's influence on his daughter's life cannot be overstated.
It would be impossible for me to trace all of the ways that my feelings about myself and the father-daughter relationship was dictated by my father’s communication with me, even simply through touch.
In one of my jobs, I work with women who often have a long history of poverty, substance abuse, or sexual promiscuity. The one thing that almost all of them have in common is the lack of a strong, loving father. Even the women who claim to dislike their fathers’ interference” in their lives also feel that non-interference signals, “I don’t care about you.” I don’t need statistics to tell me the importance of a father; I see the evidence every week.
So I appeal to all fathers, as a young woman and a daughter: Don’t leave a hole in our lives. Be active and present. Communicate constantly. Protect us. No matter how difficult it may be, please remember—we need you more than you or we could ever know. And if you don’t know how to speak it, say with a hug and a kiss. We’ll understand.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.