*Disclaimer: This post is painfully honest.*
I was sitting in the forum at Christian camp surrounded by a couple hundred other people in my age group: high schoolers. We were listening to our speaker, whose name escapes me now, because what happened in the next few moments was more memorable than anything else that happened that week.
He was talking about God as our ideal father. God was a father who would never abandon you, hurt you, leave you, or betray you. And then he paused. Tears welled in his eyes and he looked at us all and, voice hitching with tears, said to us, “and to those who have a father who has not done his job, and who has abandoned you….I am so sorry.”
I do my best not to be a sobbing mess in public. But those words coming from someone who knew my pain without knowing anything about me, or even who I was in a crowd, struck me. And I cried. But that isn’t what was memorable. What floored me was that I was not the only one. Upwards of twenty people simply lost it. Tears, screaming, complete breakdowns, and I realized it wasn’t just me.
My father died when I was twelve. That’s simple information. It’s a matter of public record, and that isn’t what this article is about. This is not a sob story. But I had never noticed, until that moment, how much the absence of a father had affected me, and how much it affected others who experienced that absence as well.
It’s a running pun. You think daddy issues and you think strippers. Girls run around calling guys “daddy” as a joke, or seriously (God forbid), without realizing that to some of us that is such a foreign word because we never got to say it or we stopped saying it at a young age because, well, there was no daddy.
But I never realized how insanely detrimental and life-changing this absence would be. When it happened, I missed one day of school, and never looked back. I had learned from a young age that the world doesn’t stop just because you’re hurting. But I’ve learned daddy issues are some serious sh*t. And here’s why:
- A father teaches a woman how to interact with a man. An article by Huffington Post says, and I quote, “the role of a father is to teach his daughter how to be in a nonsexual, intimate relationship with a man.” What happens when this teaching is absent is a settling. Girls become so ready to fill that void left by their father that they’ll fill it with anything they can.
- A father teaches a woman that sex is not love. In early adolescence, hormones ablaze, is the worst time to lose a father because this is when you are truly learning the difference between lust and love, and a father acts a guideline for that. He is the ultimate: a man you adore, depend on, and worship but are not sexually attracted to or physically intimate with. Without this, the two get muddled together, and what happens is either a dependent attitude toward sex, or a completely cavalier one. Psychology Professor, Ned Schultz Ph.D, explains “Girls who miss some of this contact are sometimes found to have difficulties with romance and sexual behavior in adolescence and early adulthood. They may enter intimacy a little too quickly.”
- A father teaches a woman how to love fearlessly. Because a father is never supposed to hurt you or leave you, when he does, he instills that fear of abandonment in all relationships with men because the one man who wasn’t ever supposed to hurt you, did. Professor Schultz continues, “[The daughters] sometimes show “counter-phobic” behavior: while anxious about relationships, they move into them eagerly, as if that will decrease their anxiety. They may have some difficulty establishing boundaries or taking their time with intimate relationships. Some show ambivalence — a “hot/cold” or roller-coaster approach to intimacy where one feels simultaneous strong positive and negative feelings about a relationship.
This makes love for a daddyless daughter look hopeless. Because who would love someone who doesn’t know how to interact with men, or thinks of sex so cavalierly, or is terrified of love? Aha, but someone has, and someone will.
An interview with Joseph Roias, love-interest of a ‘daddyless daughter’ explains the difficulties of dating such a person (WHO EVER COULD IT BE?):
Me: Was it obvious in your relationship that a father was missing from your girlfriend’s life?
Not at first. For the first little stretch of our relationship, I couldn’t tell, but as you get to know someone over time, it’s the little things that can trigger something in her head…whether it’s a memory or particular surrounding. It led to some tears, but I’d say it was most apparent at prom. Women without fathers don’t break down often, but when they do, it’s a lot all at once.
Me: What behaviors and tendencies, if any, did your girlfriend exhibit that you think were a result of this absence?
The only behavior I noticed early on was this lack of patience for those who depended heavily on others. The fuse was short with this one, and sometimes explosions of brutal truth would surface. She’s an independent woman, yet I found out later that she depends on loved ones just as much as the rest of us…even if she doesn’t show that side to the public.
Me: Was it more difficult to date/be intimate with a girl who had “absent father syndrome” than it was to date/be intimate with girls who did not?
I found it to be just as hard to be intimate with a woman with a father than without. It’s nerve racking for me no matter what, but women without fathers have a lot more walls and defense mechanisms to withdraw themselves from intimacy and passionate emotions. If you put in the work to gain their trust, and trust me it takes time, it’s worth it.
So we aren’t the easiest people to love, okay. But it’s possible. But when the subject of daddy issues comes about, one group always seems to get ignored: the future fathers. Yes, boys can have daddy issues, too. But they handle them differently than women.
With men, it is less about promiscuity and more about anger. However, the absence of trust is still the same. On Oprah’s show Lifeclass, they did a segment on Fatherless Sons. The commentator, Iyanla Vanzant said, “many men get stuck in the anger rather than acknowledge the hurt, because that makes them vulnerable again.” It is not worse for one gender or the other, because while a father might teach a woman to love a man, a father teaches a son how to be a man. This is especially true when the father has died, instead of just being absent such as in a divorce.
In a PsychCentral article outlining her study done Dr. Mary Shenk or the University of Missouri said, “Certain negative effects of a father’s death can’t be compensated for by the mother or other relatives.” Her study also found that a father’s death is most likely to affect a child’s successfulness if it occurs between ages 11-15.
Carmelo Castro-Netsky relates how having an absent father has affected his relationships. His parents divorced when he was young, and his dad returned to Chile while he and his mother, Debra, moved to Miami. Castro-Netsky states, “I’m still not sure how the absence of my father has affected my relationships with others. I like to think that it hasn’t negatively affected me, [but] the “unquestionable” sentiment of ‘respecting one’s elders’ has been tarnished, and I am more inclined to ‘talk back’ and speak my mind when I feel I am being mistreated or held to an unfair expectation. I believe I have become more guarded, and am less inclined to be open with everyone.”
So what does one take away from this?
For the daddyless daughters and sons out there: we are not impossible to love. Although this absence may shape us, it does not have to define us. And while this absence may explain some of our…less than desirable actions, it does not justify or excuse them. You can either choose to let this create you or destroy you, but it does affect you, and accepting that and acknowledging it is key.
For the rest of you: Hug your dad. Be grateful he’s there, because he won’t always be. And while I love a good daddy-issues-stripper joke as much as the next person (my sense of humor is twisted), just be aware that the punchline of your joke (or your sh*t talking, she sub-blogs once again) is someone’s very real life. Just because you haven’t experienced it doesn’t make it any less real to those of us who have.