How much does the role of a father REALLY play on the development of an eating disorder in a girl?
A few years back I read a study done on two separate sets of boys. Group One was being raised by a single mother. Group Two had both parents raising them and present in the home, but in this group the father was absent due to work and travel commitments. The study found that the boys in Group 2 ended up under performing at school, abusing alcohol and drugs and were far less socially and psychologically developed than the group of boys with a single mother. Why? Well according to the study the boys in the second group felt more rejection from the father that was present, but absent. The boys without a father had no expectations of a father and therefore were less angry and hostile people.
Over the past few years many studies have been published finding that the role of a father in a child’s life is much more powerful than that of a mother. Surprising, that since the beginning of civilization child care has been assigned to women and hunting to men. It seems as if Adam and Eve made more mistakes than one eh? But, who can blame them? Naturally one would assume that the sensitivity of a woman would make her a better care taker and a man’s ability to chop down a tree would make him a better provider. However, if we take a step back and look at what makes a well rounded, responsible human being it is undoubtedly discipline and strength. Masculine traits.
These kind of studies make me reflect on the character of my own father and how his strengths and weaknesses affected my own development and eating disorder . My dad’s strengths were that he is incredibly intelligent and challenged me. As a child, he constantly bought me books above my reading level, took me to museums and gallery’s and challenged my opinions with entertaining and witty debate. He was very aware of global events and had images of starving children in Africa from TIME magazine framed and put in the dining room of our home, in his chicken scratch writing he inscribed, “For all of us to see.” My dad was a confident, charismatic man. He taught me how to invite the homeless to have a 3 hour lunch with us, to never pass a blind person without helping them across the street and to never pass a beggar without giving them a couple of bucks. My dad is a good man.
However, somehow I ended up creating so much trouble on the school bus in Junior High that I was suspended from riding the bus for 3 months. I started drinking alcohol when I was 14. Skipping classes when I was 16, jumping out of moving vehicles as practical jokes and much more theatrics that I’ll save for my book, but you get the idea. I remember having an insatiable need to please others. To make them laugh. Somehow making people laugh turned into an eating disorder. Ironically, jumping between anorexia and compulsive overeating can be exhausting and left little room for laughter.
So what happened to me? My father was present, but what was I missing? According to the following studies being present is one thing, but young girls need a lot more than just presence from their fathers:
One study shows that adolescent daughters’ self-esteem is best predicted by fathers’ physical affection. – Western Connecticut State University.
Recent research from UC Riverside shows that when fathers do housework with their children, their kids turn out to be better adjusted and more socially aware. – University of California Riverside
Since men in our society are “encouraged to achieve but not to feel” fathering is often a difficult task for men, especially with their daughters because the relationship requires “more intimacy then most men can handle” – Vanderbilt University
Overall, fathers of daughters with eating disorders emerged as a complex mixture of frequently distant, sometimes punitive, but also overprotective parents. – Eating Disorder Review
I have my own theories on things my father did and did not do that led to my eating disorder. However, I sway greatly to the side that eating disorders are genetic, much like alcoholism and drug abuse. Yes, environment and parenting can trigger the disease, but I don’t blame my dad for this disease. I think my dad (and most dad’s for that matter) do their best when it comes to parenting. I think we can all agree with Oprah’s statement that, “Parenting is like owning an ocean.” For that reason, Oprah said that she chose not to be a parent. Bravo on the self awareness Oprah, bravo. But, I ask is anyone ever ready to own a ocean? I don’t think so. But, if you gave me an ocean, I would definitely do my best to protect and care for it, I couldn’t promise that everything would turn out safe, sound and healthy, but I promise I would do my best to love it and care for it. I think that’s all we can ask of parents; just love and care.