How important is the father's involvement in guiding and supporting daughters as they grow up?
Senora, a popular sanitary napkin brand in Bangladesh, launched an ad campaign fairly recently, where a father is shown visiting a female doctor. He explains that he has been raising his daughter alone, and asks for advice on how to support her during a delicate phase of her life- puberty.
The ad was a breakthrough, because it broke through a centuries-old stigma, pointing out that a girl’s reproductive health is as much a concern of her father’s as it is her mother’s. It also highlights the importance of a father’s hands-on participation in the upbringing of a child, irrespective of gender. It introduced a fresh perspective, shoving aside the stereotypical roles of the father as the breadwinner and the mother as the homemaker mostly showcased by the media.
Although it is generally accepted that a mother is the go-to person for a daughter as she grows up, the equal importance of a father’s role is undeniable. In contemporary Bangladesh, where women are equally active in the spheres of family and profession, men are starting to discover that their roles as sole breadwinners are becoming irrelevant. Fathers today are required – reasonably so - to give adequate effort and attention at home where their active role in bringing up their children is essential. When it comes to raising daughters, it is still assumed appropriate that only mothers are equipped to handle the particularly “delicate” situations. The aforementioned ad boldly subverts that outdated idea.
What role should a father play in the life of his daughter that will help her achieve her potential? The challenge is further compounded when a father is raising a daughter alone, or when both the parents are working and need to split responsibilities. Anis Zaman, 61, who raised his daughter as a single father after his wife passed away, faced the reality firsthand. He explains some of the challenges he had to face.
“Being a single dad comes with its own challenges, and takes courage, patience and compassion to get through the day,” he says. “As single parents, fathers more often than mothers, hold back when seeking out help regarding the upbringing of the child.”
Handling a child, be it son or daughter, in her teenage years, can be a daunting task for parents, especially when it’s a father having to deal with his daughter. Anis’ case was no different, but he persisted. “Even though I was the adult, it was terrifying to go into battle with my teenage daughter. Also, I struggled to find ways to communicate with her. However, I was always sure to keep the lines of communication open, letting my daughter know about anything at any time.”
“I think it’s tougher on us men because we aren’t raised to nurture and be empathetic. I had always been the disciplinarian in our household, the one who enforced rules,” Anis explains why the challenge seemed especially overwhelming. A girl growing up has to face challenges unique to them, and Anis happened to be the one who was there for his daughter through her journey. “Suddenly, life was about a lot more than just being the instructor and I didn’t know how to handle it. A grumpy daughter whose friends made fun of her body was something completely new to me and my daughter did not have her mom to rely on,” he reflects on the moments when he felt helpless, something perhaps every parent has to go through, although his burden was only his to bear. “There are definitely moments I look back on, where I believe I could have done better.”
It was his persistence to be the best parent he could be and his dedication to be by his daughter’s side, that helped her grow up to be a confident and independent woman, currently a lecturer at Bangladesh Open University.
Anis’ experience highlights the importance of a father to be by the side of his child, be it a son or a daughter, and a dedication at being the best you can be at perhaps the most important job of one’s life, is highly likely to yield positive results.
Ahmed Yusuf Zunayed, 30, is elated at being the father of his first-born, a daughter. He acknowledges the challenges that await him. So, how does he plan to prepare his little daughter to face the world?
“There are many women who are smartly dealing with the challenges. My job is to inspire my daughter to follow them and learn from them. I am going to do my best to provide her the best possible education and support, along with her mother, and I believe it will be a great source of courage for her.”
Zunayed, willing to be a father who is actively involved in raising his daughter, has fathers like Anis Zaman for inspiration.
A father who is sensitive to his daughter’s emotional and physical wellbeing, aware of her particular needs, and respectful of her agency is perhaps the final decisive step that the society needs to become one where men and women are truly considered equal.