Elevate Difference

Fatherless Daughters: Turning the Pain of Loss into the Power of Forgiveness

I recently saw an Oprah show on hoarding. At a certain point during the program, the two women featured on the show said they could trace this psychological condition back to losing their father. Both women were married when they lost their fathers (one is now divorced and the other is separated from her husband) and both have children. I mention this because in our society we treat grief as a luxury we can’t afford to dwell on rather than a necessary part of life we can’t avoid, and this lack of compassion and understanding for grief and loss seems to resurface in myriad ways in people’s lives.

When I lost my father three years ago to complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, even though his death was not entirely unexpected, I found myself thrown into a maelstrom of emotions. As a freelance writer and editor, I couldn’t have imagined returning to work after the typical one or two weeks of mourning that most companies typically allot to their employees. I also found that our culture exerts a certain amount of pressure on one to get back to life as quickly as possible and not dwell in your grief for too long. While I tried to get back on track both personally and professionally, my unfinished grief seemed to haunt me, and I found myself feeling unmoored and ungrounded in the world. In my grief journey, I have continued to seek out books and resources to help me understand how to navigate through this uncharted territory.

Reading Fatherless Daughters is another step in this process. In this book, Pamela Thomas explores the impact that the loss of a father has on women of all ages. Whether through death, abandonment or divorce, the loss of a father has a profound influence on a woman’s life. For this book, Thomas interviewed women ranging in age from nineteen to ninety-four. Most of the participants lived in the U.S., but she also spoke to women living in Canada, Mexico, and Japan.

Thomas explores our commonly held attitudes about fatherhood and provides a historical and cultural perspective. She references various works on the subject, including Luigi Zoja’s book, The Father: Historical, Psychological and Cultural Perspectives. As Zoja points out, the concept of fatherhood came late in our evolutionary process, and our notions of masculinity and fatherhood have traditionally been at odds with one another. The idealized version of fatherhood from 1950s television shows, like Ozzie and Harriet, has often contrasted sharply with the reality of fathers who viewed their primary role of that as breadwinners.

While one might assume that losing one’s father to death is easier than losing a father to divorce or abandonment, this isn’t always the case. Every woman’s journey of grief and loss is unique, but there are some common themes such as the primary roles that a father represents in a woman’s life: protector, guide to the world at large, breadwinner, alternative parent, second opinion, and male role model. The loss of this important figure in one’s life can have a devastating impact on one life. Allen also devotes a section of the book to the stages of child development and how losing a father at a young age can have a lasting impact on one’s life. When a woman loses her father at an early age, she tends to experience more insecurity and doubt in her life often manifesting in relationship related issues such as fear of abandonment, anger, low self-esteem, problems with assertiveness, and issues with commitment.

While I found this book to be a well researched and informative read, I found I could only read a few chapters at a time. However you choose to read this book, the fact remains that we will all experience loss and grief in our lives. The compassion we extend to ourselves and others during this time seems to be key to finding our way to the other side of grief. This book can be a helpful guide for that regard.

Written by: Gita Tewari, November 25th 2009