June 17, 2012 will mark the seventh year I’ll spend without my father on Father’s Day. He succumbed to cancer all those years ago and left behind two daddy’s girls that will miss him, always, terribly. Pops, imperfect and a certain shade of beautiful even in those imperfections, was a man’s man- the son of sharecroppers, a hunter and fisherman, a bit of a self taught genius with gadgets and such, a provider, and a source of laughter and love throughout my life.
My ex-husband is a lot like my father. They shared their work and work ethic, a certain disdain for fanciness, and a kind of callousness. When I chose him, I saw all of the wonderful qualities that my father possessed. He is, to this day, one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known, a protector, and an awesome dad to our daughter. It was difficult to admit that as wonderful as he is, and my father was, many of the things I desire in a mate they do not possess. I want a certain gentleness and bareness; an ability to express love- or any emotion; a heart slow to anger; someone to read books with who enjoys vacations and beaches and foreign foods; a mate capable of aligning with my feminist views.
Like most women who spend their lives with their fathers, I naturally chose a husband who was like him. It was a mistake. I’ve come to realize that first and foremost, my views of my father are exactly that, of him as a father. I imagine if I really, really focused on him as a husband, as my mother’s husband of almost forty years, I would have realized that I didn’t want that kind of partner. After all, as much as I am very much like my mother, I am not her. Even women who grow up with their fathers have daddy issues.
Recently I watched an episode of TV One’s Love Intervention with a couple named Gayin and Sheldon. Gayin’s friends and family staged an intervention for her because she was involved in a relationship with a man who never gave, even a smidgen, what she did in their relationship. What time with a therapist uncovered was that Gayin worked hard to please Sheldon because she had a very difficult and mostly absent relationship with her father. Turns out, after her parents divorced, Gayin, as a child, found herself being responsible for contacting her father and arranging their time together. At some point she stopped putting forth that effort and her father became distant and essentially exited her life. She carried that fear of abandonment and need to please into her romantic relationships. The more Sheldon proved that he was unworthy of her love, that he had no desire to reciprocate it, the harder she worked to please him and show him love. I know many Gayins- women still trying, even as adults, to work out their daddy issues, with many of them never realizing that the source of their issues with men centers around their own unresolved issues with their fathers. Gayin was lucky to have a therapist help her discover her triggers, others like her continue these types of cycles throughout their lives.
Spending time at a friends salon one day, I brought up to the women there my intent to write about how our relationships with our fathers affect our relationships men overall. One woman said, quite straightforwardly, “but what if a father wasn’t there at all.” Her father died when she was very young, after a troubled life. We hear, often, about how Black boys are affected by absent fathers, but rarely focus on how that same absence affects Black girls. Beyond the commonly quoted statistics that say children without father’s in their lives suffer lower self- esteem, lower academic achievement, and higher rates of divorce (and teen pregnancies for girls), women who grow up completely without their fathers lack a certain kind of choice and example. Bonding, intimacy and vulnerability with boys and men can prove difficult. There is also much to be said about the absent of a father’s model and example, and the surety of a father’s love that makes romantic relationships very difficult. We are affirmed by all men when our fathers affirm us, tell us that we are strong and beautiful- even if silently- and make us feel worthy of love.
Essentially, I suppose, and especially in our community, we all have daddy issues. Love for ourselves coupled with counseling and support can help us through- but we have to acknowledge those issues first.
How do you feel your father’s presence or absence has affected your life?