A few months ago, while waiting in line for coffee, I overheard the two men behind me discussing a recent break-up one of them had gone through. It sounded like a typical case of one person being more “in” the relationship than the other. There was no bad guy and no one to blame; the feelings just weren’t there and the guy was obviously torn up about his decision to call it quits. He mentioned that compounding his guilt was the fact that he felt terrible about adding to his ex-girlfriend’s abandonment fears because “you know, she already has daddy issues.” Ah yes, those poor women with their daddy issues. This opinion is such a readily accepted theory that it wasn’t until later, after I had quit eavesdropping and finished off my hazelnut latte, that I started to think about my own relationship history. Was it possible that I had daddy issues or is it insulting to think that a woman’s relationships must be dictated by her relationship with her father?
In looking at my female friends’ romantic lives I have noticed a common trend: those who have good relationships with their fathers have all had long courtships leading to seemingly solid marriages. Those who have more complicated relationships with their fathers either have many failed romances, cling to bad ones, or run from commitment altogether. This gives weight to the “daddy issue” argument. From my own experience, to say that my dad and I have a complicated relationship is an understatement. I can’t help feeling we just didn’t gel from day one. All through my childhood I felt his lack of interest as he skipped out on birthday parties to go fishing and barely took his eyes off his computer screen long enough to be a parent (which is especially odd considering there was no internet to be addicted to in the 80s!).
Throughout my teens my father and I attempted to have some kind of relationship, but for me it always felt false. By that time my parents had divorced and I was left feeling like my court-appointed weekend presence was more of an inconvenience to him than anything else. The atmosphere at his house was never as relaxed as it was at my mother’s and eventually I just wanted to do with my weekends what all teenage girls want to do: hang out with my friends. There might be those who argue that perhaps it is my fault that the detachment grew, that I was the one that pulled away, but the truth is that I was a typical teenager. He never tried to pull me back.
Then came my first big relationship blunder: at the tender age of 18 I got married after less than a year of dating. To this day my mother will tell you that as a child of divorce I rushed into marriage because I was scared a man would leave me if I didn’t tie him down. I can see where she might have gotten this idea: I had seen my father leave the family home at a young age. But, to poke holes in her theory, I’d point out that although I watched my father leave, it was my mother who had called it a day and asked him to go, not the other way around. To attribute any part of my decision to my relationship with my father seems ridiculous to me. If anything, my actions seemed more connected to my mother’s influence because at 22 I followed her lead and ended a marriage; another decision that was not influenced by the lack of a relationship with my dad.
If I had abandonment issues would I just walk away from a sweet, likable man who wanted to be a good husband? Wouldn’t daddy issues force me to cling to this type of stability? No, my choice came because the connection wasn’t right. Just like the stranger in the coffee line, I wasn’t “in” the relationship as much as my ex-husband was. I too felt guilty about passing on abandonment issues to another human being, but of course no one would suggest that my ex-husband is prone to these because of a relationship, or lack of one, with his own father. That is a fate society believes only women can suffer.
What happened to me next could be considered almost cliché: rather than embrace my single life I remarried a year and a half later. Two marriages before the age of 24? Surely a classic symptom of daddy issues.
In reality it was simply circumstance that led to everything in my romantic history. After getting divorced I met the love of my life and we got married. No part of me felt like I had to rush into the marriage with him because I was terrified he would disappear and more than 7 years later we’re still happily married. I’d like to say that the last few years (as I passed through my late twenties and have enjoyed my happiest times) brought me closer to my father, but somehow things have gotten to the point where we no longer speak. We are, and probably always will be, at odds about why this is, but our ludicrously eye-opening final conversation made me realize that my life is better off without having to chase after a parent who is not interested in being one.
I’ve always believed that an absent father is better than an indifferent one. At least there is some honesty in just not showing up at all. At the same time I will always (somewhat foolishly) wait for the day when my father wakes up and realize that he should want to be part of my life. Does this constitute daddy issues that have an effect on my relationships with other men? The sad truth is that my father has had no impact on my life because he chose not to be a part of it. Rather than having an influence on my decisions, he hasn’t been there to earn that right. While some will say our relationship has affected my decisions from an unconscious psychological place, I can’t agree. My life is my own responsibility, just as my father’s life is his own responsibility. Blurring the lines of parental relationships and romantic ones are only an excuse to avoid this reality.
Ani Kronenberg ditched the corporate life to move with her husband from England to America in search of inspiration. When she isn’t getting distracted by the latest blockbuster at the movie theater, she eventually writes something. She has a great love of travelling and once combined this with her great love of writing to create the blog www.fiftyfirststates.com. She has also just launched her new blog www.succeedingatmediocrity.com
Photo credit Ed Yourdon/Flickr