S.E. Livingston: On the importance of dads and daughtersWhen Ellen was 6, she and Ernie went to the father/daughter dance sponsored by KDNW.
By: S.E. Livingston, Duluth Budgeteer News
When Ellen was 6, she and Ernie went to the father/daughter dance sponsored by KDNW.
Ellen is not a typical girly girl. She’s not interested in sparkly shoes or ruffles on dresses. She appreciates pretty clothes but would just as soon hang them in her closet and go back to her book as actually go to the bother of putting them on.
In an effort to make her feel special, I got out my hot rollers. I spent half an hour rolling her hair and then applying various chemicals and tools to it to get it to look shiny and curvy. Then I guided her to a mirror and announced, “Ta-da!”
Her reaction totally surprised me. She took one long look in the mirror, frowned and said, “What do you think I am ... a Barbie or something?”
She did look like a Barbie doll — the blonde Skipper version. I thought that’s what we were going for! Everything I had ever learned was that it is good to look like a Barbie doll.
Apparently Ellen hadn’t read the memo, because she wanted me to undo all the work I had done. She wanted me to wet her hair down and put in a pretty barrette.
This simply wouldn’t do. No, you don’t just comb your hair, put on a cotton dress and head out to the ball — this has got to be a production! It takes work to look beautiful.
Somehow, as a mother, I guess I hadn’t properly conveyed this message to her. Maybe she just didn’t care. Maybe she had her own idea of what beauty is and pegged my idea as personal opinion. She didn’t understand the cultural standard for a girl’s appearance.
I blame her father. He’s taught her to question everything, including what makes someone beautiful.
This weekend Joe Kelly, the founder of New Moon Magazine and author of “Dads and Daughters,” is in town for an education conference. In preparation to hear his keynote address, I picked up his book. In it, he examines issues surrounding how to parent successful, well-adjusted girls in an era fraught with demeaning messages. I have a new appreciation for the value of an involved father in a young woman’s life.
In his book, Kelly’s first maxim is that parents (he is addressing fathers, but I found the advice enlightening) must build relationships with their daughters. A daughter’s relationship with both her parents is important, but how she learns to love and communicate with her father is a strong indication of how she will relate to men in the future. That’s a lot of responsibility for a father to bear, but, as Kelly details time and time again in his book, it is the absolute truth.
Kelly’s book focuses on several issues, such as how to combat the messages a girl receives about her adolescent body. He gives ideas on how to counteract media’s influence. One chapter uncovers the psychology behind addiction. Then he examines a father’s role in school, work, money, power and the future.
When I shut the book I had a renewed energy to be more accepting and full of grace with my kids. I looked with new eyes at the relationship my daughters have with their father and how they are learning from him lessons and skills I am unable to teach them. Ernie never played with Barbies, so he never picked up that message that she was the perfect-looking woman. He transmitted that to Ellen.
This week was Barbie’s 50th birthday.
Turns out that my Ellen had good intuition on her aversion to Barbie. Barbie was created by the wife of the CEO of the Mattel toy company. Her daughter wanted an adult-looking doll and the mother couldn’t find one until she took a trip to Europe. There she discovered the German Bild Lilli doll, an adult-looking doll. Rejoicing, she took it home, called it Barbie and Mattel began production and sales.
Unfortunately, what this mother didn’t know was that Lilli was designed as an adult toy — essentially a gag gift based on the character of a prostitute.
Sometimes we mothers struggle to get it right.
Contact monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News to use
Joe Kelly, author of “Dads and Daughters” and six other parenting books, is the keynote speaker at “Beyond the Books,” the 2009 Twin Ports Home Educators’ Conference, to be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at Harbor City International School, 332 W. Michigan St. Single tickets are $20, family ones are $25.