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The Father Factor:
Fatherhood Matters

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Your Princess and Kissing Those Darn Frogs

I just finished reading a book called “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue” by Wendy Shalit. Although the book was written in 1999, its wisdom is timeless. Indeed, it is quite remarkable to watch Shalit skillfully illustrate the troubling cultural messages being communicated to girls and young women about their bodies, sexuality and femininity. This book is still a must-read.

In any case, the book has caused me to think quite a bit about the role that fathers should play in protecting the innocence of their daughters and in helping them develop a healthy, resilient and positive self-image--a tall order indeed in a culture that increasingly seeks to sexualize our little girls. (We now have retailers that are making thong underwear for 11 year-olds and skinny jeans for toddlers.) My view has always been that a father’s role is to help his princess find her “prince” (i.e. her self worth) without “kissing all the frogs.” For sure, today the frogs are more plentiful and aggressive in their call…And the stakes are higher than ever and the consequences of poor decisions can be long lasting and quite dire.

A case in point is the recent situation that actor Lawrence Fishburne (Mystic River, The Matrix) faced with his 19 year-old daughter, Montana. She agreed to star in a pornographic video to help her become famous. She stated, "I view making this movie as an important first step in my career. I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape. I'm hoping the same magic will work for me.”

Clearly, Fishburne was not happy with this situation but Montana wouldn’t listen to him. In fact, to block the release of the video, Fishburne’s friends even offered the film producer what he apparently considered too “modest a sum” -- $1M for all of the copies. The producer distributed the film and it reportedly sold so well that he offered Montana a multi-picture deal.

Granted, Fishburne’s situation is somewhat unique but you have to wonder why a daughter whose dad is an accomplished actor would choose this route to fame. But, the script of Montana’s life is a familiar screenplay with a predictable narrative. It’s worth noting that Fishburne and his daughter’s mother divorced when Montana was very young. You have to wonder if he was "on location" when Montana was a little girl making the critical decision whether to embrace or reject the immodest “Kardashian type” messages and values celebrated daily in our culture. All dads should be mindful that if you “exit stage right” from your daughter’s life, you are bound to miss important “cues.”

Ironically, frogs can be quite alluring and very deceptive. But, outside of fairy tales, there is no “magic” in them. And, that’s why our daughters need involved fathers who have built strong enough relationships with them so that they will listen when he says “be careful what you wish and what you kiss.”

Father Absence and Puberty?

Time magazine just published an article about young girls entering puberty earlier and earlier. The article is based on a study that was just published in the journal, Pediatrics.

The age of menarche (first period) in white girls has dropped steadily since 1997. During that same period, the age for black girls stayed at the same very low age -- researchers think they may have "bottomed out" already.

While there is still a lot of mystery as to why this is happening, doctors are starting to posit some answers. Increases in childhood obesity and exposure to certain chemicals are two possibilities.

But research also suggests that another factor is at play here -- the father factor (See the name of our blog! Clever, eh?).

I remember once reading about the connection between father absence and the early onset of puberty, so I did a little research and came across a 2003 study called, “Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development" in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. Basically, it found that the more time a young girl spends in a father-absent home, the more like it is that she will experience "early reproductive development."

Researchers are also not entirely sure why this happens either, but they posit that if a young girl spends significant time with non-related males, that could trigger menarche. A colleague of mine here at NFI who grew up without her father and had very early menarche thinks that it was a "survival instinct" based on needing to mature much earlier to deal with the added physical and emotional challenges that single-parent households can bring.

It is interesting that where rates of father absence are highest (in the African American community), the age of first period is already at a low point, and where rates of father absence have been increasing, the age has been getting lower.

I am not suggesting that father absence is the only reason for this phenomenon, but it seems to be one of them. And since doctors are concerned about early menarche (longer duration of puberty may affect cancer rates and fertility), they should be concerned about what is happening with fathers.

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