Fathers, Daughters, and Careers

I suppose this would be the perfect time to write a “year in review” post but, instead, I’m going to elaborate on my thoughts about Kathy Caprino’s post “7 Ways Your Father Affected Your Career.”

I read Kathy’s post back on December 23, when it was published by Forbes, Inc. I made a hasty comment at the time but knew I wanted to come back to it. The post had seven points. I’ve included each one here (in bold) along with a concise paraphrase (unbolded) and my thoughts (in italics).

1. Who You Associate With ( “girls with uninvolved dads tend to go through puberty at least five months earlier than other girls“) For my experience, this doesn’t correlate. My dad was overseas a good bit due to being in the Navy, but he wasn’t uninvolved. The fact that I went through puberty very early probably is purely biological. The people I associated with could hardly be deemed “rebellious, acting older than they were” or anything else destructive. This one didn’t seem to mirror my experience.

2. Speaking Your Opinion (“when a father encouraged his daughter to express her opinions growing up, she would generally become more confident at expressing her opinions in school and throughout her life”) I wouldn’t necessarily attribute issues I have as an adult expressing my opinion solely to my father. At 49, it doesn’t really matter (ultimately) why I have had challenges with this and hopefully a round of therapy in my early 20s helped me make peace with my childhood influences. On the other hand, I have been compulsively telling people that my “Word of the Year” for 2014 is “freedom” as in “freedom from being so #*$&#)*@# deferential to everyone.” It’s easier for me to write my opinion than to say it. I can’t blame my dad for that. I can work on improving.

3. The Career You Choose My dad was in the Navy; my mom was a housewife who spoke nostalgically of her working days. I don’t think my dad’s choices directly influenced mine. I sure did want to be Mary Tyler Moore tossing that hat in the intersection, though. When I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom. I think I am destined to discover that career choices can change and evolve even as you approach 50.

4. Your Ambition and Competitiveness (“are fathers at least partially responsible as key influencers re: women’s ambition and competitiveness”?) Hmmmm……I think about this a lot and have never given voice to it in my blog (or, really, much of anywhere!). I am ambitious and competitive BUT my concern is that as an only child who got a LOT of praise for pretty much anything, I have an overinflated sense of my “specialness.” I’m not saying this to be amusing …. I like nothing more than a good competition and earning rewards fair and square. Having entered kindergarten at 4 and always been told “aw so smart for so young” it became easy to crave being the exception rather than the “hard worker.”

5. How You Interact With Men (“Without an involved father, the challenge of interacting with men, particularly in the workplace, can be challenging at best (and debilitating at worst) for some women.”) Cue ominous portentious music here. This doesn’t have to do so much with my father’s involvement or lack thereof. Maybe more of the only child thing or maybe just because I am wired the way I am. I’ll never be “one of the boys” but that’s exactly what I craved sometimes (when I didn’t want to be the treasured princess (hey no one said this had to make sense!). I do love love love having men for friends. But that’s different than being able to shoot the sh*t around the water cooler (thereby gaining an “in” into office hierarchies). On the other hand, for the past 19 years I’ve worked in an office that is about 90% female so maybe I am in an unusual environment to start with.

6. How You Are Mentored By Men (nurturing by a dad of a daughter (vs a son) is much easier because of the lack of testosterone) This one I struggle with — but to be fair I have struggled with very authoritative women too. I also can’t name many true mentors, especially male mentors, in my professional history. Maybe this is a gap I need to fill.

7. Your Leadership Style (“How your father interacted, particularly with you, and also with your mother and other authority figures in your family life set an example for how leadership works or doesn’t.”) This one is a tougher nut to crack. Did my parents influence my leadership style? Was I always meant to be the way I am regardless? If anything, a southern childhood of “be polite” messages probably didn’t help in any way but again I am captain of my own destiny, right?

Having worked through all of the questions, in a way I think my original response to Kathy, hastily tapped out, still encapsulates the core of my response:

It is thought provoking; I don’t think I am going to be able to dash a quick comment off in the comment box on your blog! You can never change the pros and cons of your parents’ styles (in this case, father …) as I’m sure my own children will prove on their own therapists’ couches someday. If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing retrospectively, though, I think I would wish for a bit more messaging along the lines of “sometimes you have to push back, often you can do that diplomatically but there are some times that won’t be possible. Have courage in those times and don’t back down.”



What are your thoughts on the topic? Share them here or directly on Kathy’s blog.


7 thoughts on “Fathers, Daughters, and Careers

  1. My father was military and very involved with each of his children. But I think our mothers are the ones who shape us. They can hold us back by keeping us in stereo typical relationships or they can be progressive and encouraging to stand out, to be our own person no matter what we do in life. And then having a father who agreed with my mom. Sons, the same. I saw a strong mother who was stay at home but loved it. She later worked outside the home, not because she had to but because she wanted to. I had a father who recognized that she was capable of anything and wanted his daughters to be like her. My mom and dad raised 4 children. All are strong, compassionate, competitive, individualistic, successful at whatever they set out to do or be. Our children were taught the same.

    • Thank you for your comment, Debby. I think you make some really good points. I suppose it’s actually a whole different topic, but for me the absence of handling conflict constructively … i.e., not talking things out (at least not in front of me) probably influenced a lot of my adult patterns and resulted in me having to figure a lot out as a grownup. That’s probably true for a lot of us.

  2. I have not read Caprino’s original post (despite your helpful link), and I agree with much of what you have to say. My father was very involved in my life, but it was watching my mother speak up/out against injustice and sexism and seeing how they interacted as partners heavily influenced by gender stereotypes (as we all are) that had much greater influences in my career.

    • Colleen, thanks for your comment. I definitely encourage you to read Kathy’s original article — it goes into greater detail and the comments by others are interesting. I think it is almost impossible to isolate father influence without bringing in moms. I think I have struggled to overcome a general tone of “be cautious” which came from both of them in different ways. That said, they loved me unconditionally and did the best they could. From the vantage point of raising a 17 year old and 14 year old, I can certainly say that even when you feel like you’re doing your best you may be unintentionally sowing some seeds that the child will have to undo someday!

  3. Very interesting take, Paula, on my Forbes post. Thanks for sharing your candid thoughts. My sincerest hope is that in covering topics like these, people will gain greater awareness of their own unique situations, so they can have greater choice in their lives. To me, it’s less about whether folks fit the generalizations I’ve shared in the post, and more about how they perceive themselves and their life influences. Personally speaking, my father was incredibly influential in my life and career trajectory, from what I chose to do, what I left behind, how confident I felt, how strongly I used my “voice,” how much I trusted my intellect, and so much more. My mother, too, shaped me in countless ways. What’s key, I think, is that we fully understand who we are and what matters most to us now, and to do that, it’s important to understand what shaped us. Thanks again for sharing your personal experiences.

  4. Pingback: Lead Change Group | Carnival of HR – April 22, 2015 Edition

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