- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

"Bring the big car, Daddy." I giggled into the telephone. The big car was the Detroit definition of Big Car, a maroon Cadillac with lush white sidewalls and creamy white carpets, with seats so thick and soft that a little girl could get lost in them, snuggled down deep in the leather next to her Daddy. I was waiting to be picked up at Ginger's birthday party, and I wanted to show off the maroon Cadillac. Most of all, I wanted to show off Daddy. I was 5 years old.

Those were the opening lines of a memoir of my father and me, "Like Father, Like Daughter," published by Little, Brown in 1982, and the words are the root, branch and flower of my Father's Day recollections. Daddy was Mr. Magic, a big man with a big car. When I grew up I knew I had to write about him to recall the happy memories of being "Daddy's little girl" as well as growing up to be Daddy's special friend.

When I was small he was always larger than life even though he wasn't tall. He was the handsomest man in the whole wide world. I teased him that his wavy black hair looked as though it was colored with shoe polish because it had such a glistening sheen. I loved to dance on his shoe tops, knowing exactly what it meant to be walking on air.

When I was 5 years old I "married" my Daddy. My mother was my matron of honor. My brother conducted the ceremony. My father bought me a corsage with tiny pink roses. At the end of the ceremony my brother put a jigger in a handkerchief and asked my father to step on it, as a groom must do at the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony. My father missed and the jigger rolled across the floor to settle under the sideboard.

"Maybe the glass isn't supposed to break when you marry your father," Daddy said.

Such innocent times. You could spin all kinds of Oedipal theories around "the wedding," but as I look back I was extremely fortunate. I had a father I loved and who loved me. For the memoir I wrote of growing up with my father, I talked to lots of women who enjoyed similar experiences. The happiest women were those who grew up in intact families where mom and dad had a loving relationship like my parents did.

The kind of man our mother marries sets an example, for better or for worse, in what their daughter will expect of men when she grows up. From hundreds of interviews I found that a woman who grew up in a close-knit family such as mine experienced a powerful imprint from the first man in her life. Quite simply, he became a strong influence on her sense of self, her femininity and competency.

When Diane Sawyer interviewed me on the inevitable book tour, she balked at the mention of femininity. "Isn't femininity what feminists want to leave behind?" she asked, flashing her eyes and eyelashes with feminine ferocity. That was at the height of the women's movement when the governing clich was that women could be men.

But I wasn't talking about fake femininity. My father was quick to compliment me when I wore a new dress or changed my hairstyle and I basked in his praise. He also expected me to get good grades and to study hard. He started saving for my college education when I was young. We hear a lot today about low self-esteem. Women who lack attentive fathers can be especially vulnerable to ambivalent feelings of femininity and competency.

We've always known the importance of fathers for boys as role models, but it's still more difficult to talk about fathers and daughters. Several feminist leaders, including Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Kate Millet, had terrible relationships with their fathers and this fueled their political attacks on the nuclear family.

There are lots of reasons for fatherless families today, but only the goofiest goddess-loving radical feminists defend this as "good." A child feels the loss and fears the abandonment of both father and mother. That's elementary.

My father died suddenly 12 years ago, when I was driving home to Washington from the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. I had talked to him the night before, playing the pundit and telling him why Mike Dukakis, who had just won the Democratic nomination, wouldn't be elected president. He agreed, but he was more concerned with telling me how much he liked the new photograph in my newspaper column. "You look darlin', Sue," he said. Those were the last words he said to me. I play them over and over in my head on Father's Day. And on every other day, too.

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