I’ve heard the term many times in my life. I’ve even used it a couple of hundred times or so. I have generally understood this stereotype to encompass women or teenage girls that are seeking out attention through sexual activity or behaving sexually inappropriately. Daddy issues are more complex than the name indicates. Shaming a woman who has been ignored, rejected, abandoned, abused or unloved by a father is shoving them into a category that nobody wants to deal with. The amount of women in our world that have been damaged by men is enormous, but one of the most important men in a girl’s life is her father.
From the beginning of life we look to our parents to let us know we are alright, we are good, we are loved. When even one parent neglects this duty in parenting, the child will grow up with damage. The damage starts with the inner voice of that child telling themselves they aren’t ok, they aren’t worthy and they aren’t loveable. Even if the other parent is telling them all of these things, the absence of it coming from both parents will be a critical assault against their self-esteem. I’m not picking on fathers, mothers do this too, but for today I want to address just the male role in a daughter’s life.
According to Urban Dictionary, you can see a woman/girl with daddy issues a mile away and they even share a list. Eight ways to identify daddy issues:
- She dresses way sluttier than her friends
- She is an attention whore
- She sleeps with anyone who owns a bed
- She is hostile and loud
- She has multiple tattoos
- She has more guy than girl friends
- She uses profanity to construct 90% of everyday conversation
- She talks about her daddy issues
My gut instincts were angry when I read this list. I want to scream out to stop stereotyping women who are more sexually active than others or who like to dress in ways they consider sexy or appealing. My mind comes unraveled at thinking about what these women/girls have gone through and continue to go through in their lives. I don’t use or like the words that accompany the behavior and resent that they are not given to men with the same behavior, but in this society, we have miles to walk before the two will ever be seen in the same light.
I was raised in a “normal” family in Middle America. I had both parents at home, my dad was in the Air Force, and my mom stayed at home with her four kids until we were going in to high school. I’ve never been promiscuous, never dressed overtly sexy and never considered myself as someone who has daddy issues. By the age of 50, I had been married twice and had two daughters that were now adults. I was attending a family get together at my dad’s house one evening, and my family was all there. The subject of daddy issues came up whilst my father was talking about one of our relatives. His wife joined in to agree with him about the girl’s behavior and how inappropriate it was. Mind you, this was all done out of concern for the girl’s wellbeing but was quickly turning into a slam session detailing her behavior. My youngest daughter, in an attempt to defend her, said: “she’s got daddy issues and who could blame her for having them?”
My father is a psychologist, and his wife is a social worker, both well versed in mental disorders and psychological problems. They took center stage and started questioning exactly what my daughter meant, and the conversation was off and running. I sat passively listening, interested in seeing my 20-year-old daughter take on two strongly opinionated adults and intrigued by what the outcome might be. Surprisingly enough it was absolutely nothing that I would have ever expected. By the time things were winding down, I had looked my dad straight in the face and said, “Oh my God, do you think I have daddy issues?”
The room was immediately shrouded in silence, and all eyes were on me. Unfortunately, something inside split open when those words came out of my mouth and tears had started pouring down my cheeks. Nobody was more surprised by this than I was. Daddy issues? Me? I didn’t fit all of the generalized profile manifestations, nor had I ever been told this before, but my daughter was the one to answer my question, and she had no hesitation at all.
“Fuck yes you have daddy issues mom!”
Dead silence. The group chat started to become uncomfortable, there was a nervous energy hovering over us all now, and nobody had anything to say except let’s have another glass of wine! I didn’t want any more wine; I wanted answers that nobody wanted to give me. I set out on a mind expedition that would continue for years. I needed to examine my behavior and the reasons behind it. This is where I landed.
As a child, I remember always missing my dad. I was one of four children, but I was the only girl. My dad traveled out of the country frequently for his Air Force work, and my best guess would be he was gone about 50% of the time. When he wasn’t on a 9-5 schedule on base, he was out of town for sometimes up to 3 months at a time. When my father came home, he would initially greet us all and then dote on my mother mostly. During the time that he was home, he liked to play and do family things that we all really loved. I remember doing most of the fun things with my dad and not my mom. The problem that ensued was I was segregated simply due to being female. My mom didn’t participate which left me with three brothers and my dad. Going to the local swimming pool, I went alone to the girl’s locker room while the rest went to the boy’s. My dad liked to plan boy activities and didn’t think I should be allowed to go. They went camping, golfing, hiking, and all just for boys, their weekend with dad. I told my dad that in making it just for boys, it excluded me and hurt my feelings. I told him that until I was blue in the face, but my opinion or hurt feelings didn’t change him from organizing these activities. As an adult, they continued trips and weekends that were just for the brothers, and I was still saying it hurt, and nobody listened.
Though I don’t have some of the more overt signs of daddy issues, I still have the rest of them. I have had a string of violently abusive relationships with men. The first started when I was only eighteen. I remember when I had first met this young man that I kept telling people how much he reminded me of my dad. My father refuted this and said there was nothing common between them. Within just a few short months, I was living with this young man. Slowly but surely, I became dependent on him for various things, the most of which was his attention. We got married, and within a few days, the physical abuse began. He was brutal, and I reached out and told people what was happening, but to my surprise, this news wasn’t received well. The most common question people asked me was what I had done to make him beat me up?
Ten years later and I finally had enough money and strength to leave him for good. He told me after I moved out that he had plans of killing me. Still, nobody took this abuse seriously. My father and his wife reached out to him when I left. They wanted to express how sorry they were that I had hurt him and told him that they’d always be there for him for support.
My next relationship was similar in many ways. I thought this man was a lot like my father and I was in love. I took it slower this time, dated for 4 years before getting married. His abuse was mental and not physical. I don’t know which one was worse. I remained with him for 22 years.
My last relationship was with the granddaddy of all abusers. He launched missiles at me from every direction and was beating me to the point of permanent physical damage. Physically and mentally I had become dependent completely on him. He moved me across the country away from everyone I knew and what could I do now? Ironically enough, he too reminded me of my father. He even was gone half the time traveling out of town on business.
Many of my father’s friends have come to me with pity in their eyes to tell me that they’d be there for me if I ever needed it. I asked them each what had prompted them to tell me this; they all said the same thing, “Your father told me that he doesn’t really like you or want anything to do with you.”
The feelings of rejection had been real. My daddy issues landed me in abusive relationships one after the next. Numbers 1-3 weren’t the way my issues showed up, it was 4-8. I have now accepted and been dealing emotionally with what I have tried denying my entire life. I’m in a new relationship now, and it is beautiful. The biggest difference I can tell you about is that for the first time ever, I’m in a relationship with a man that reminds me nothing of my father at all.