The "new" involved father may diaper his daughter in infancy and coach her in soccer once she starts school. But when she enters puberty, he's outta there, either because he has left home or lost heart.
That, at least, is the story of many dads and daughters, according to counselors, fathering experts and young women themselves.
"Girls go from being Daddy's little girl to not a part of Daddy anymore," said 19-year-old Sara Shandler. At 17, Shandler read more than 800 letters from girls for her book "Ophelia Speaks" (HarperPerennial). She was surprised by the number of writers who were angry at or depressed by their fathers' inattention in their teenage years. "A lot of girls wrote about their dads leaving, but even more wrote about feeling distant from their fathers," she said.
Will Glennon, publisher of Conari Press, interviewed hundreds of dads for his book "Fathering" and found that early adolescence is "exactly the moment when girls need Dad the most. And it's exactly the moment when Dad steps back. Even the good dads, who were there when she was little, do this. Girls are being severely and unnecessarily handicapped."
Girls who enjoy loving relationships with their fathers through adolescence show more confidence in themselves and achieve more in school, particularly in the sciences, said Heather Johnston Nicholson, research director of Girls Inc. Studies show they also are more likely to go to college and more likely to establish successful careers.
Involved dads help adolescent daughters accept their body changes proudly, said Joe Kelly, father of 19-year-old twin daughters and founder of the organization Dads and Daughters. They teach her not to be afraid of the outside world and to take risks in a calculated way. They show daughters how to pay bills. They talk to their daughters about negotiating the world of men and pay attention to the young men in whom they are interested.
Absent, disinterested or abusive dads can seriously damage girls' psyche, said Janice Hutchinson, medical director of the child and adolescent units at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington. Most of the girls she has counseled in detention centers, like most incarcerated boys, suffered from father absence or abuse.
"The bitterness that flows toward fathers is astonishing," she said.
A girl who feels abandoned by her dad as her sexuality begins to emerge can become confused sexually, said Jonetta Rose Barras, author of "Whatever Happened to Daddy's Little Girl?" (One World).
"She may look for the cuddling, holding and kissing she enjoyed when she was little, in inappropriate places," Barras said. "She may become promiscuous and afraid of commitment, a substance abuser or a workaholic. . . . These are such critical years because she is beginning to interact with the external world."
Fathers' confusion over how to act with their daughters often starts when daughters are filling out, Kelly said.
"Other males begin looking at our daughters the same way we looked at girls when we were their age, or maybe still do. To see our daughters treated as objects is frightening and appalling. We're afraid our daughters are going to be harmed or violated in a way we can't fix. We kick into this overprotective mode, not trusting their choice of friends, afraid that they won't stay out of trouble or know how to get out of trouble."
Fathers also may feel a discomfiting sexual energy between themselves and their daughters, Kelly said, and not know how to express affection. Their daughters may share the same uneasiness. Sam Barrett, a printer in western Massachusetts who has a 14-year-old daughter, explained:
"My daughter is turning into a shapely woman, and I don't want to be accused of molestation. It used to be at breakfast, when she was eating her cereal, I would kiss her on top of her head. I don't think she likes that anymore, so I limit the physical contact now to a hug, hello and goodbye."
Physical contact with his daughter isn't the only thing that is changing, Barrett said. Since Emma turned 12, she hasn't wanted to spend time with him as frequently as she once did. He knows that separation is a normal step in her development, but it still hurts, especially because Emma lives with his ex-wife. From the time of the divorce, when Emma was 2, until recently, she visited him every other weekend.
"Now she has friends and things to do, and every other week has dwindled to two or three weeks a year, which is nowhere near enough for me," he said.
Psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, longtime researcher on adolescents and families, has found that fathers and daughters do less together than fathers and sons, mothers and sons or mothers and daughters.
When that's because the daughters are abandoning their dads, it's up to the dads to "suck it up and keep reaching out," said author Shandler. "The biggest thing they can do is say, 'If you need me, I would really love to be there for you.' "