For as long as I can remember it was always my mom and me. From a young age when people would ask “where’s your dad, sweetheart,” I would say, “not here”, without indulging them in any further details about the whereabouts of the other 50% of my DNA. He didn’t abandon me or anything — I was luckily not one of the many other young black girls left without a father because of jail or drugs, it was just that my dad was not apt at being a dad in the way my brother and I needed. He wasn’t openly affectionate nor encouraging and had the old-fashioned “my way or the highway” parenting style. I spent summers with him until I was old enough to say otherwise and after those years, he would send birthday cards and Christmas money with a simple “Love, Dad” at the bottom and nothing else, never pressing me to visit or asking why I stopped coming. The truth was that he didn’t ask because then he would have to acknowledge the why of it all — that it was just too hard for him to connect with me and before he knew it he had missed the boat to being apart of my life at all.
I use to envy my friends who were daddy’s little girl. No one ever took me to a father-daughter dances or pretended to be all scary and foreboding with my boyfriends when I started dating. I never got to resent that. My mother filled most of that role where she could, but even with all her efforts, there were many things she couldn’t be in his absence. It embarrassed me to think that I’d be labeled one of the girls with “daddy issues,” as if growing up without a father figure made me less than and unfamiliar with my own self-worth. I would often lie and say that my dad and I were close but that I didn’t see him much because he traveled for business, and one year when I was 8, I made up a tragic story that he had died in a boating accident off the shore of Africa just so I didn’t have to explain why I didn’t observe Father’s Day. Anything was better than the truth — that he was always just a car ride or phone call away but that he chose not to interact with me because he wasn’t interested or capable in being that type of dad to me.
After I left home for college, our relationship became even more strained. Sometime before my sophomore year, he stopped calling altogether, the birthday cards never made it, the Christmas money became just another empty memory like the summers we use to spend at the state fair or the winters spent shopping together at the mall. I didn’t hear from him between the ages of 19 and 23, those formative years when your relationship with the opposite sex is modeled off of the experience you’ve had with men from your past, mainly your dad. I didn’t want it to affect me but it did, creeping into my psyche and labeling me a girl with daddy issues before I even knew what was happening.
It wasn’t apparent at first. I had always had a high self-esteem and a healthy attitude towards sex and relationships, something I have my mom to thank for, but in other ways it made itself known. I was always craving reassurance that men were interested in me and yet all to accepting of guys who couldn’t show their affection with me or were emotional withdrawn. For a long time I had a problem with male authority figures and even now become entirely too defensive when I feel like a man is trying to control me in anyway. Yet this stigma that comes from growing up without a dad in the familial sense of the word made me uncomfortable and damaged by my friends and society as a whole. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that many of my friends with completely healthy relationships with their fathers suffer from the same inability that I have and then some — there was nothing wrong with me.
What we have to realize is that the bond between a father and daughter isn’t a one-size fits all type of relationship. Additionally, our definition of what a “dad” is has changed over the decades to include step-fathers, uncles, grandfathers, mentors, pastors, and anyone who helps to raise and guide our values and views on life. I am blessed to have such men in my life who have shown me that and have helped to work with me on many of the issues that plague me from childhood. And now at 24 I realize the importance of fixing that relationship with my dad so that I can better foster healthy relationships with my potential husband and hopefully, one day, father of my children — one of which could be a little girl just like me, whose only daddy issue is, I hope, that she loves him too much.