When I was young, the role of a “father” was much different than it is nowadays. With industrialization, men started working long hours away from home and became nearly invisible to their children. Success outside of the home became the primary goal for men and women had the sole responsibility for child-rearing. If we dare to look closely, we can begin to see the truth in this and how much the limited role of our father may have affected our emotional development in ways we never even realized.

When “dad” was/is either emotionally or physically absent from a young girl’s life, she finds herself “hungering” for a relationship with a father figure. Dad is the first significant adult male in a young girl’s life, and every little girl longs to be delighted in. She needs to be assured, accepted and loved by her daddy. When these essential elements are missing, a young girl may experience self-doubt, fear, anxiety and sadness. She may spend her whole life seeking out that attention, approval and love from other men. Living in a society that places much emphasis on female beauty, she may believe that sculpting the perfect body is the only way to do this. There may be an “unmet” desire to be daddy’s little beauty swirling around in her princess skirt within the spirit of this young girl and that need, can only be satisfied, she feels, by her dad.

Our society was, and maybe still is to some degree, organized around assumptions and practices that allow most children to grow up not really knowing their fathers. Cultural dictates and myths have limited men’s roles, suggesting that mothers are important but fathers are expendable. Men were assigned the role of “provider” and women the “nurturer”. This myth not only limits the father’s role to providing economically but it also doesn’t reflect the lives of many families today where parents share these responsibilities. The fact that men are not biologically able to give birth and to lactate does not mean that fathers are unimportant.

When a man becomes a father, the experience is one of the most profound in his life. Parenting presents many issues for men. It forces them to confront feelings and situations for which they feel totally unprepared. Fatherhood implies instant adulthood and responsibility. All of a sudden they are responsible for a baby and a whole family. While the new father is trying to cope with this, the infant completely dominates his wife’s attention. He often feels inept and abdicates much of the care giving to his wife. These dynamics often cause a father to feel ignored, lonely, inadequate and unimportant. Although dad may desperately want to be involved, he may not know how. To further complicate his emotions, the transition to fatherhood brings up unfinished business left over from past experiences with his own father.

The pattern of years of socialization teaches men not to feel or cry but to go out into the world and conquer it. Many men grow up not knowing how to recognize, accept and sort out their emotions and their need to play a less limited role. Maybe many of us can remember a time seeing tears in our father’s eyes, but the tears froze there because men were taught never to show them.

Fathers, who have been limited to the economic provider role, may be less proficient at personal communication. When even the basic message of acceptance was/is absent, the result is daughters who grow up wondering how their dads feel about them. They have no way of knowing since they never receive any feedback. Daughters are quick to conclude that they have not “measured up” in some basic ways.

When you reflect on the kind of person you have become, the things that hurt you, the defenses you use, and the things you value in life, would you say your father was inconsequential in your development?

Daughters have a deep need for connection with a father figure. Beginning very early in her development and continuing throughout her life, her sense of self, identity and satisfaction are derived from relationships. When a girl doesn’t know her dad or doesn’t feel valued by him, she hungers for his emotional support. Left unsatisfied, father hunger becomes converted into problems with food, body image, self-esteem and relationships.

If we keep telling ourselves that our fathers are inconsequential, this helps us avoid the pain, the disappointment and the longing that we harbor for them. But if we allow ourselves to feel that pain – our father hunger – we may be able to get closer to the truth of our emotional lives and to our fathers.

There is no substitute for a father’s love, attention and acknowledgement. There is, however, always room for exploring your family-of-origin experience. Recognize how you have needed your father and how he was or was not able to meet your needs.
After you face your own wounds from your relationship with your dad, you’ll be able to help the men in your life have fuller, more emotionally-connected lives as well as integral relationships with their daughters. Imagine adolescent females feeling welcomed into the adult world and no longer having to prove their worth through their appearance or weight. Imagine fathers feeling satisfied, included and connected…..

I was just like so many other women suffering from father hunger where conflicts with my body and food became my protective cocoon; coping with an inner emptiness by filling up the void with food. But just as a caterpillar breaks out of the cocoon as a butterfly, I was fortunate to have been transformed by the experience. This metamorphosis resulted in a heightened awareness of my dad’s influence in my life. I’ve come to realize over the many years of working through my father hunger that dad was not the villain. He was the victim of family structures, and social patterns that kept him outside the emotional life of our family and precluded a close relationship with me, his daughter.

But that relationship blossomed and grew and grew and grew into something amazing…..and just in time!

“In Loving memory of my hero, my mentor, my dad”
Moodie A Fraser
August 10, 1923 – March 1, 2008

Author's Bio: 

Jen Charbonneau is a spiritual transition coach, specializing in food and body conflict. She believes there is a missing link. Her own story of struggle and triumph over a life threatening eating disorder led Jen to the far reaches of her own soul; only to discover the answers were inside all along.

Jen believes the quality of a woman’s life depends far more on the shape of her spirit, wisdom and emotions than it does on the shape of her body.

She currently coaches women & girls of all ages. Jen created “So Glad 2 Be Me” a program that promotes self esteem and healthy body image for young girls. She guides individuals in spiritual meditation and visualization and has recorded 2 meditation CD’s. Jen is a motivational speaker who’s passion, enthusiasm and honesty will leave you informed and inspired.
Her new program “How to Love Your Body and Live Your Life” promises to help others find the missing link and feed the hungry soul.