Jealous fathers can help each other

Click to follow
The Independent Online
'THERE'S a highly sexual phase in most father-daughter relationships,' says Jane Hawksley, a sex therapist with Birmingham Relate. 'The daughter tests out her sexuality on her father, flirts with him even - and of course he loves it. Then, as her breasts begin to grow and her periods start, she draws back and becomes extremely private. Her father feels abandoned.'

A daughter's burgeoning sexuality also emphasises to a father in the cruellest possible way that his own sexuality is on the wane. Could this be the root of his anguish?

'A lot depends on a man's maturity,' says Dr Colin Wilson, consultant psychiatrist at St Andrew's Hospital, Northampton. 'If he's comfortable with himself, the less likely he is to feel jealous. Of course fathers have ferocious, even incestuous, feelings about their daughters. But this whole subject is such a hot potato. How can a father admit to jealousy? He's ashamed. This is a feeling he shouldn't be having. It's far too close for comfort.'

Sue Sharpe, whose book Fathers and Daughters has just been published (Routledge, pounds 11.99), says: 'There's a whole feeling of threat and loss for fathers when their daughters reach adolescence. One father felt he had lost his daughter when she went to university. She would no longer be his little girl. She was out of his control.

'I only came across one man who made a special effort to make it easy for his daughter, and, as a result, she felt very warm towards him. For her, sex wasn't something you didn't talk about with Dad because it would upset him.'

And at this fraught time, the last thing a daughter wants to know is that her father, who, until now, has been the most important man in her life, is facing rejection and separation. If she does stop to think, her attitude is likely to be: 'tough' '.

So what should grieving fathers do? 'Talk to other fathers of teenage daughters,' says Jane Hawksley. 'Compare notes on what their daughters are getting up to. Men have a pretty good support system, I find.

'The really important thing, though, is to realise what's happening. Middle age is about coming to terms with loss. A man may feel his daughter no longer wants him, but part of his underlying misery could be that his wife doesn't want him either - in a long-term marriage, sex is probably on the back burner. He feels he's no longer attractive . . .'

This father should be aware how vulnerable he is. He should know that his daughter's sexuality may well trigger his own. He should know that his insecurity, desperation even, is the reason he's ripe for an affair. The father who prompted this whole page has - to his cost - discovered just this.