Sports, shared activities are 'game changers' for dad/daughter relationships, study finds

February 19, 2013, Baylor University

The most frequent turning point in father-daughter relationships is shared activity—especially sports—ahead of such pivotal events as when a daughter marries or leaves home, according to a study by Baylor University researchers.

"This is the masculine style of building closeness—called 'closeness in the doing' – whereas the feminine orientation is talking, 'closeness in the dialogue,'" said Mark T. Morman, Ph.D., a professor of communication in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. An article about the findings by Morman and former Baylor graduate student Elizabeth Barrett is published in the Journal of Human Communication.

When asked what key experiences changed closeness in their relationships, fathers and who were study participants mentioned events typical of those that help cement masculine friendships. Morman noted that the study is qualitative – based on written responses by participants rather than by a statistical analysis. But it reveals meaningful markers of when relationships changed, regardless of whether they became closer or more distant, he said.

The 43 fathers and 43 daughters in the study were not related to one another but were asked to pinpoint in writing a crucial moment of change in their own father-daughter relationships. Daughters in the study were required to be at least age 22, while fathers ranged from 45 to 70. Adoptive and step-family relationships were among those included.

"These (turning points) . . . were independent of some type of family history," Morman said.

Most frequently mentioned of 14 relationship changes by daughters were engaging activities with their fathers, their marriages and physical distance from their fathers. Fathers most frequently mentioned joint activities, a daughter's marriage and the beginning of a daughter's dating.

Other pivotal times noted by both fathers and/or daughters in the study were adolescence, a family crisis, parents' divorce, a daughter's financial independence, giving birth, entering elementary school, high school graduation, a daughter's developing outside friendships, a daughter's maturation/beginning a friendship with her father and poor decisions on a daughter's part.

Daughters weigh in on turning points

• Shared Activities:

Sports, working together and vacationing together were the shared activities most frequently mentioned.

Many daughters said they became closer to their fathers when they began to play a sport, an intimacy in which the father is the "primary playmate" as daughters learn to compete, take risks and stand up for themselves.

Sports gave daughters a chance to be the center of their dad's attention. "It made me feel really important," one woman wrote. Another said that "I used to love it when my dad would take off work to come coach my softball team."

Working together was another life-changing shared activity.

"Growing up, I didn't see much of my dad because he was at the office," one daughter wrote. But through working together, "now I know him on so many different levels."

A third shared activity was vacationing, several daughters said. "The first time I really talked with my dad, I was 6 years old. We took a road trip together and talked about everything," one woman wrote.

• Marriage:

A daughter's marriage was the second most frequently reported turning point—sometimes bringing them closer together, usually due to gaining a father's approval of their husbands—but many reported the marriage distanced them somewhat because the father was no longer the protector and provider.

• Leaving Home:

The third most mentioned shift for daughters was when they left home for the first time, often to attend college. Some felt they lost touch; others felt a strain was lifted as they had their own space and developed a friendship with their dad rather them viewing him as a provider, adviser and disciplinarian.

From the fathers' perspectives

• Shared Activities:

Sports was the most frequently mentioned activity by fathers, with some saying it gave them a bond their daughter did not have with her mother or siblings. Others said it opened the lines of communication to talk about other subjects. Additional activities fathers mentioned were church functions, household projects and teaching their daughters to drive.

One father even learned how to sing so he could be in a school talent show with his daughter.

• Marriage:

Marriage, the second most frequent turning point mentioned by fathers, was crucial, regardless of whether it strengthened or weakened the relationship. Said one father: "She became dependent on her husband instead of me, and I determined not to interfere to the point of driving a wedge between her husband and me."

On the flip side, one father said that being involved in her daughter's wedding plans gave him a reason to talk regularly to her.

• Daughter Begins Dating:

Fathers attempted to fiercely protect their daughters during this time, worrying constantly about them, and as a whole, their closeness lessened.

"She communicated more with her mother about personal matters and less with me," one man reported.

As their "little girls" grew into young women, realized they could not shelter them forever and were forced to begin "letting go."

Explore further: Note to dads: Good parenting makes a difference

More information: www.uab.edu/communicationstudi … on/04_02_barrett.pdf

Related Stories

Note to dads: Good parenting makes a difference

June 14, 2011
Father's Day this Sunday is a chance to recognize dads for putting up with all manner of nonsense that kids manage to cook up on the way to adulthood.

Mothers are the most responsible in transferring of sexist attitudes

September 30, 2011
A study at the University of the Basque Country reveals a link between the sexist attitudes of mothers and that of her sons and daughters. Published this month in the magazine Psicothema, the results also link gender and ...

Recommended for you

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.