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Wherefore Art Thou Daddy Dearest

There’s nothing in the world quite like it – that undeniable bond a little girl shares with her father.  In order for most young women to develop a positive and strong sense of self, a healthy father-daughter relationship is key. Young girls with opposite sex parents aspire to be “daddy’s little girl” or his “little princess” and they need their father to affirm them with powerful phrases such as “I love you” and “you’re beautiful.” These words will show that young girl that she is special and worthy.

Unfortunately, I have no recollection of my father ever saying these magical words to me and I never had the chance to be that kind of little girl.  My father wasn’t my hero, my everything, my protector, or my first love – he broke my heart way before any boy had the chance to.

My father never introduced me to my paternal grandparents or showed me off to anyone in this world. I was not his pride and joy, I was his worst kept secret. He hid me in fear that his African-American parents, who were anti-white, would not approve of him having a child with a white woman. So he sacrificed me, his flesh and blood, and left my mother to do all the work in raising me. My father denied me the opportunity to know the people who represented half of me which ultimately led me to struggle with my racial identity as a child. I told that story already – this is the story of how that little brown girl’s father abandoned her and created a void in her heart which inevitably left her feeling unwanted, inadequate, and unloved.

I vaguely remember my father visiting me until I was about nine years old. Then one day, he moved an hour and a half away and he virtually vanished from my life. Nine years later, he attended my high school graduation, and that was it – I have not seen or spoken to that man since. That was almost twenty years ago. The fact that he even showed up to my graduation was just a slap in the face, “Congratulations, you missed out on all of your daughter’s childhood!” I don’t know whether or not my father is alive today, but ever since that rainy day in June, he has been dead to me.

He hid me in fear that his African-American parents, who were anti-white, would not approve of him having a child with a white woman.

My father may have done his due diligence by paying his child support on time and making a cameo at my high school graduation, but he willingly and intentionally remained absent for the majority of my childhood – he was the poster-boy for absent fathers everywhere.  The second I turned eighteen years old, he treated me like yesterday’s trash. He wasn’t present when I graduated from college. He didn’t congratulate me when I landed my first real job. He wasn’t the one to walk me down the aisle and give me away on my wedding day.  He wasn’t there when I welcomed my children into this world. Twenty years later, he still has no idea who I’ve become: a teacher, a wife, and the mother of his two amazing grandchildren.

My mother did not prevent my father from having a relationship with me; rather,  it was my father’s choice to walk out of my life and never look back. My mother left the door open and kept him updated on my life, and up until I reached eighteen, consistently sent photographs of me along with birthday cards, Christmas cards, and even Father’s Day cards. I reluctantly signed those cards when she requested, but I always made sure that they were signed in my absolute worst handwriting with a big, fat “FROM” and included my first, middle, and last name – a last name that was not his. He didn’t deserve my best or an affectionate closing. I had to, in my own passive aggressive way, let him know that he was just a stranger to me – unworthy of the love I had to give.

The second I turned eighteen years old, he treated me like yesterday’s trash.

My mother always showered me with affection and love while giving her all to make sure that I never went without – I would often forget that I even had a father until my peers would ask about him. My mother played both roles and I could not be more proud to be her daughter. I have such respect for her; I realize the struggles that she faced as a single mother.  I learned so much from witnessing her sacrifice everything just to make sure that I turned out OK. Single mothers are truly the superheroes of this world.

Because of my mother’s unyielding love and strength I was able to avoid the classic pitfalls of being the girl with “daddy issues.” I wasn’t a promiscuous teenager acting out for attention. I didn’t start working the pole, seeking the validation from adult men. I didn’t develop a drug addiction and I didn’t try marrying some 50 year old geezer so I could have a “daddy” that loved me. I was not measured by my circumstance, I overcame it.

However, all of this doesn’t mean that I reached my adulthood completely unscathed – the effects of a negligent father simply weren’t that apparent on the surface. I silently suffered from abandonment issues, anxiety, insecurity, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth. Since my father wasn’t there to show me that I could be happy on my own — that I was enough by myself, I had this yearning to always be in a relationship. I also experienced an increased need for approval and validation, not just from males, but from my female counterparts as well.

I probably would have acted out more as a child and developed deeper “daddy issues” as a teen and young adult if it weren’t for the key adults in my life who went above and beyond to try to fill the gap for me. My mother, my beloved aunt, and my best friend’s parents all helped me recognize that I was worthy and deserving of being loved. But despite their unrelenting efforts to restore balance in my life, it could not equate to having an actual, physical father present.

My father’s absence only intensified my fear of being abandoned again and led me to have mounting anxiety about my mother’s safety. From fourth grade all the way through college, I was so terrified that something tragic would happen to my mother. I would have these panic attacks if she was more than five minutes late picking me up or if I couldn’t reach her on the phone after the fourth ring. Anytime there was an announcement made from the school building’s intercom, my heart would begin palpating in fear that the message was intended for me. Once I reported to the office, I would hear these dreaded words: “I’m sorry, but something has happened to your mother.” Every night, I would fervently pray for my mother’s safety and beg God not to take her away from me. I had already experienced the loss of my father, so I could not bear the thought of living without my mother – she was my everything. When my anxiety began to spiral, my mother arranged for me to start counseling once again.

I naively believed that the consequences of my father abandoning me would disappear once I entered adulthood. I thought that getting married young and having children right away would fill the hole that my father left.  When I married my husband at the ripe age of twenty-four years old, I was incredibly clingy and dependent on him.  I held onto him for dear life in fear that he would neglect me like my father. I also had these unrealistic expectations that my husband was supposed to love me more than I loved myself and that it was his job to complete me.  Although my husband and children brought me happiness, they did not provide me with the happy ending that I had always dreamed of. In fact, my anxiety became even more debilitating once I became a mother, and I was still searching for something to fill that father-sized void.

It wasn’t until I reached my thirties that I came to realize that I could no longer silently endure the psychological, emotional, and physical effects of my childhood. For the first time in my life, it wasn’t my mother who initiated therapy for me. It was all on my ownI was ready to put in the work to heal from the crippling effects of my past.

As a child, Father’s Day was always just another day on the calendar. Although it used to bother me when my mother would send my father a card on my behalf, I can see it through a different lens as an adult. She has always been the bigger person and I can’t help to think that’s where I get my empathy and compassion from. Now that I am a mother, Father’s Day takes on a whole new meaning for me. Thirteen years ago, it finally became a joyous occasion – I have the privilege of honoring my husband through the eyes of my children.

My experience growing up without a father has allowed me to appreciate the irreplaceable role that my husband has in our children’s lives. He is actively teaching them important life skills as well as modeling how a woman should be treated. My son adores his daddy and tries to emulate everything that my husband does. Often, I find myself living vicariously through the relationship my daughter has with my husband – she is so fortunate to know the comfort of his embrace and the soothing sound of his voice. God willing, she will never have to experience aching for her first love or have feelings of emptiness like I did growing up.

Occasionally, I do think about my father, and wonder what my life would have been had he stuck around. Do I have any half siblings somewhere in this world? Am I still my father’s biggest kept secret or did he finally tell his family the truth? Does he have any remorse or ever wish he could go back in time? Sometimes, I have the urge to reach out to him and ask these questions, but something always stops me. Perhaps, it’s the fear of being rejected again or maybe it’s that I know in my heart that my father will never be able make up for lost time or give me the closure I never received as a child. The day I graduated from high school was when I came to terms with the situation and gave myself permission to move forward. To this day, I still have not shed a tear over my father, so if I were to find out that he is no longer living, I honestly don’t know if I would feel a thing.

The emptiness is hard to put into words, and though it will always be a part of me, I have forgiven my father for the damage he has caused. I am grateful for the one gift that he has given me – wisdom. I have armed myself with awareness, character, and a discernible wit.  There is no stage in life that one can completely “get over” not having a father. For me, it’s like loving the shadow of a person who never existed. But I have no more expectations and have released the hope that the past could have been any different. I have created my own family and a future filled with love and certainty – my husband is the father to my children that I never had as a little girl. I know that I am worthy of love and acceptance, even if my past experience contradicts that truth. I can say, without a doubt, that I’m proud of who I am today because I went through one hell of a time becoming her.

If my father only knew, I am pretty sure that he would be proud, too.

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