The trouble with a great father
London - When I was 16 and had my first proper boyfriend, Derek, my dad drove me to a weekend sleepover party out in the Australian countryside, some 200 miles away. The other girls were out walking when we arrived, so we sat in the twilight under the gum trees and he built a fire while we waited.
Dad kept prodding the flames and I could see he had something on his mind - probably the enormous love bites Derek had branded on my neck. When he finally spoke, it was to dole out the best advice I ever received.
He said I had to make my own decisions, but that my body was precious and should not be handed over casually. He told me that unless a girl respected herself, no boy or man would ever respect her.
I told him that lots of the girls were sleeping with their boyfriends and he replied: ‘Mandy Jane Platell, you are not just any girl.’
That was pretty much his mantra.
He told me I was beautiful, when a blind man could see I wasn’t.
He told me I was clever and could do anything if I set my mind to it, even though there were far smarter girls than me at school. He told me I was equal to any person, boy or girl, rich or poor, and the only limits in my life would be the ones I set myself.
I believed him, and his words moulded my character and changed the course of my life - for there is no more formative relationship for a woman than the one she has with her father. It defines our view of men, and of ourselves.
I couldn’t help but remember Dad’s inspirational pep talks this week, as I read news of psychologist Steve Biddulph’s new book, Raising Girls.
He argues that a father’s love will set up his daughter for life, and claims that if fathers fail to raise their daughters properly, they will be cast adrift in the modern world - a world where girls are vulnerable to unhappiness, stress, abusive relationships, drugs and teenage pregnancy.
My own dad somehow instinctively knew all this. He knew that a girl’s self-respect and self-esteem comes from her father’s love.
He showered me with affection, taught me to be independent and encouraged me to be as boisterous as my brothers, Cameron and Michael. In short, he was the perfect father.
Yet, while Biddulph was correct to point out the terrible effects of bad fathers on girls, he neglected to mention the downside of having a wonderful dad - that a girl can spend the rest of her life searching in vain for a man who measures up to him.
I, 55 years old and single (but dating) should know.
The man I married (and then divorced), and the two men I was engaged to, all disappointed me: by not treating me as well as my dad treats my mom, and has always treated me.
Steve Biddulph says that if a father asks for and listens to his daughter’s views and opinions from an early age, she’ll develop the sense that she’s both intelligent and worthwhile.
Dad always asked me what I thought about things.
If I ever gave the grumpy teenage response ‘who cares?’ he would tell me to use my brain, not to be lazy. That was a sin in our house.
It was also my dad who gave me the self-confidence not to settle for second best when it came to men.
So when I found my husband was cheating on me, just a few years after our wedding, I had no qualms about divorcing him.
I was a self-reliant, successful journalist by this point - another thing which can be traced back to my dad. When I was about ten, Mom went back to work to help with our school fees. It was clear we were struggling financially.
Squeezed between my two burly brothers in the back of the car, I said I could move to the local school as it didn’t matter what education I got, I’d just get married and some man would look after me.
I’ve never seen my father so angry. He slammed the brakes and said: ‘Never, ever say that again. You are equal to the boys in every way.’
Those words were seared on to my conscience and I remembered them many times as I carved out a career on male-dominated Fleet Street in the Eighties.
Yet while I love my career, earning my own living and being independent, I’m sure this has made some men I’ve dated feel insecure. It wasn’t that I didn’t need them, it’s just that they didn’t feel I did.
Add to this the financial security a career has given me, and it’s little wonder that I’ve left relationships when the men I was involved with didn’t treat me as well as my father did - with constant courtesy, love, respect and playfulness.
My dad taught me that romance is important and costs nothing.
He would often arrive home with a bunch of roses for Mom that he’d picked from our neighbour’s gardens on his way back from the bus stop.
He’ll turn 87 this year, and Mom 85 - yet he still says she’s the most wonderful and beautiful woman in the world. He doesn’t see the wrinkles, just laughter lines.
‘It’s in her eyes,’ he still says, ‘that’s where beauty lies.’
When I was growing up, my dad always insisted that the way a boy dresses is a sign of his respect for you. Pity the poor hapless chap who turned up at our front door in surf shorts and a vest to take me out and was told to come back when he was dressed properly.
My father never raised his hand to my mother, nor his voice, and thereby set a standard by which I would judge other men. About a year into a relationship at university, a boyfriend of mine got drunk, became abusive and called me a ‘f***ing bitch’, among other things.
Of course, he was sorry afterwards, but I knew from what Dad had taught me that it was wrong and that the relationship had to end. If he didn’t respect me, how could I respect myself?
This was a message Dad had hammered home to me frequently during my teenage years.
On one memorable trip, he got hold of a campervan and the two of us travelled south to beautiful beaches, listening to Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, chatting away in the car about everything and nothing - but mostly about boys.
It was on one of these trips, sitting outside in the campsite heating up a tin of braised steak and onions over an open fire, that I told him my boyfriend, Craig, was going to dump me if I didn’t have sex with him. I was 17.
I told him I didn’t feel ready and we talked about that.
Dad reminded me again that my body was precious. He told me that if Craig really loved me he would wait. He didn’t.
I thought of Dad’s wise advice again when I read Steve Biddulph warning that many fathers distance themselves from their daughters when they reach puberty, handing responsibility for girls’ emotional well-being to their mothers. That’s a mistake my dad never made and they were the years that truly cemented our relationship.
While he was open with his emotions when I was growing up, my dad is a real man’s man. I have only ever seen him cry three times: when his mother died, when my brother died, and in the car on the way to my wedding.
On that day, they were not tears of sadness but of passage.
He knew he was handing over his beloved daughter to another man and an uncertain future.
Even when my marriage failed, my father was a constant source of comfort. He never lectured me - he only offered words of consolation.
As an adult, I’ve stayed incredibly close to Dad, despite living on the other side of the world.
Some men I’ve been with - mostly the insecure ones - resent the closeness we still have, as if they must be the only man in my life.
Having such a great dad may have been a hindrance to my romantic happiness - but the other thing Dad taught me is optimism.
That the glass isn’t just half full, it’s overflowing.
And that’s how I see the future.
I haven’t found Mr Right yet, and am reluctant to settle for Mr Right Now, but I’m still looking and hoping. Thanks Dad. - Daily Mail