Fathers' Daughters:
Breaking the Ties That Bind

by Maureen Murdock

Spring Journal Bks, 1994. Rev. ed. 2005. ISBN 1882670310.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 04/19/2006

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

When Maureen Murdock asked me to review her revised Fathers' Daughters, I was delighted. I had formed a friendship with her before and during a Story Circle Network retreat which featured Maureen as the facilitator. In the past, I have regretted being hasty in my response to author friends about reviewing their books. There have been times when not writing the review was the most diplomatic approach. This time, I have no regrets. Murdock's book is thoughtful, informative and personal. The cover blurb says, "Through myth, story, and Jungian psychology, an exploration of the shadow side of father love."

In an e-mail, Murdock wrote that in addition to adding material, she softened her tone. She also feels that "women are readier and more willing to look at their relationship with their fathers and how it has impacted their relationship to love, work, creativity, and spirituality." Murdock, who is a depth psychotherapist, teacher and author of The Heroine's Journey and Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory as well as other books, teaches at Sonoma State University in California.

I began the book with some doubts, not about the writing but about how I would be able to relate to the topic. I was not a Father's Daughter. My father was emotionally absent in my life. But I certainly strived to become a Father's Daughter. I found example after example, description after description of who I wanted to be. Yet, when I had finished the book, I realized that the goal of any child is to grow beyond a childish/childlike relationship with one's parents. Even in the [rare] ideal family buoyed by love and support for all in the family, a child must become independent.

Murdock writes that a daughter who identifies with her father often concludes that the way to be valued is in the world of work and intellect. A father's daughter rejects her mother, often emulating her father's scorn/pity/disregard for her mother. And, Murdock says, "in rejecting her mother, she rejects herself as a woman." She rejects her emotional side, often burying it deep inside. Where it sits and simmers.

The father's daughter invents her father as the archetypal hero who can not possibly live up to her exaggerations. It is not only the daughter who suffers but the father as well. As she matures, she finds that separating, even expressing opinions that differ from those of her father, causes emotional pain and sometimes even permanent breaches. Because she regards her father as the ideal rather than the imperfect human he is, a father's daughters often has difficulty either entering a binding relationship or maintaining one.

Relationships are not the only difficulties encountered by a father's daughter who does not separate. In work situations, she often cannot trust herself, as she had looked to her father for approval and guidance. "Pursuing external power entails risks, and most daughters are taught to play it safe." In the chapter "Women and Power" is a section on The Phantom Father or the absent father. The message she often gets from him is that the father's world is superior to the world of the daughter. This segment especially spoke to me. My quest was to find a way to please my father, to get his attention.

Murdock's three sections, "Personal Context," "Father's Daughters in the World," and "Reconciliation of the Two", are so rich, so full of mythology and literature, as well as stories of her own and her clients, that this review could go on for pages. Although addressed to any daughter or any therapist, Father's Daughters would be enlightening to any father of any daughter. The epilogue, "To the Fathers of the Future," is written directly to fathers and ends with a page-long list of splendid advice. Even fathers with adult daughters would benefit.

Check out our interview with the author of Fathers' Daughters.

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