We’ve all heard the term “daddy issues” and likely joked a lot about it but I’ve come to realize how wildly damaging this phrase is. Let’s unpack it, shall we?
Our relationship with our dads is another one of those foundational relationships that shape how we see ourselves and the world around us. It also has a big impact on how we navigate relationships later in life. And, just like we talked about healing the mother wound, today I want to acknowledge that our relationships with our dads aren’t always easy either. So, we may have grief to process here too for lots of different reasons.
One piece of this that’s come up lately and I’ve been reading more about is the idea of fatherless daughters. It acknowledges the profound impact that dads have on their daughters. If you grew up without a strong, positive emotional bond with your father you might be a fatherless daughter.
1 in 4 children live in homes without their biological father present (National Fatherhood Initiative). Fatherless daughters can include those who grew up without their dads physically present due to divorce, death, abandonment, incarceration, or because they worked away from home for long periods (think military families).
It can also include fathers who were abusive or who were physically present but unable to emotionally connect due to mental illness, addiction, workaholism, etc.
Daddy issues aren’t about you, but they deeply affect you
Ohhh, how I despise that term. “Daddy issues” has become this trope for women (men too, but it’s mainly aimed at women) who end up in unhealthy relationships. It perpetuates the idea that fatherless daughters are “damaged goods” and that it’s their fault that they struggle. When really, it’s not ‘daddy issues’ it’s that your ‘dad had issues’ (more on that in a bit). There’s a lack of empathy. It’s said with judgment or to shame her into doing better. Even at its most benign, it’s dismissive of the complexity and real wounds left by these relationships. So let’s agree to scratch it from our collective vocabulary, shall we?
Because from the research I did the fallout from this missing emotional bond can impact every area of our lives.
“Mothers have a profound impact on your emotional life but fathers have the deepest impact on your identity.” ~
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, Clinical Psychologist
We can suffer from low self-esteem or not feeling worthy of love. We can fear abandonment or rejection which naturally goes hand in hand with trust issues.
We may have difficulty, especially in our relationships with other men. Because fathers often set the standards. Fathers say, “You deserve better. I won’t accept less for you.” So when our fathers are absent we end up setting the bar so low that just about anyone can walk through.
“Fathers provide their daughters with a masculine example. They teach their children about respect and boundaries and help put daughters at ease with other men throughout their lives.”
Caitlin Marvaso Grief Counsellor and Therapist.
And we may unknowingly end up repeating the same patterns, gravitating toward emotionally unavailable men.
Dr, Fran Walfish agrees that the way a daughter is treated by her father predicts how she’ll accept treatment from men in her romantic relationships.
The research also indicated that we’re more likely to struggle with eating disorders, depression, addiction, promiscuity, obesity, and suicide. And that seems to agree with the research Brené Brown shared in her TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” where she said, “We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history.”
Phew! These wounds and this grief can run deep!
So how do we heal?
There is no one-size-fixes-all formula but as with anything we need to heal it’s important to take action. And yes, baby steps count.
“A woman must learn how to father herself, hold herself and receive the type of love a father provides. It’s a lifelong process but with the proper support, tools, and patience it’s totally possible.”
Caitlin Marvaso Grief Counsellor and Therapist
Healing can include…
Learning to set healthy boundaries with the men in your life
Writing your story
Nurturing your inner child by asking what they needed and honouring those needs now
Enlisting extra support from loved ones around milestones and holidays
Looking at your relationships with your dad from an adult perspective to understand that you did nothing wrong and it wasn’t your fault
Accepting him for who he is and recognizing that his limits have nothing to do with your value
I love the advice Iyanla Vanzant gives on Oprah’s Lifeclass. It goes like this…
Tell a radical truth. For example, “I never felt loved by my dad.”
What is the story that you’ve created around that truth? Then reduce that story to 10 words or less. For example, “I’m unloveable.” or “I’m unworthy of love.”
Next, forgive yourself for the story you said about yourself that really wasn’t true.
Then reclaim your “self”. Without those untrue stories about yourself who are you? Who are you now as a grown woman (no longer a little girl missing daddy)?
And finally, recreate your life based on who you are now. Someone worthy of love, someone confident and resilient with healthy boundaries and high standards.
“From that day forward I practiced radical acceptance about my Dad. I stopped thinking about the way I wished things had been. I stopped wishing that they could have been different. I ended a lifetime of suffering by saying the painful truth – I had never had a warm, loving father and I never would.”
Only by being deeply honest and compassionate with ourselves can we begin to heal.
Just like with the mother wound I think it’s important to zoom out and consider the cultural and societal influences on men. After all, no one becomes a parent hoping to mess it up.
The strong and silent type needs to go too. We’ve already talked about toxic masculinity but I think it’s worth repeating that for many generations masculinity was synonymous with being strong and unemotional.
They had the role of disciplinarian (“just wait until your father gets home”) and inspired respect which was often mingled with fear. To show vulnerability, express emotions, or ask for help was seen as weak or shameful. Our partners, fathers, and grandfathers grew up with such a narrow definition of masculinity. One that didn’t acknowledge their full humanity.
If men can’t express their emotions they certainly can’t talk about them which means therapy is off-limits (and just for women right ????). Instead, acceptable coping mechanisms included a beer after work or throwing yourself more into work as a distraction. But it’s very hard to grow, evolve, or let go of old beliefs if it’s not okay to see the support you need.
Let’s create something better together
Blame and shame help no one. It doesn’t help us move forward to blame our dads for something they were likely never taught how to provide. Blame and shame don’t help us build healthy relationships with our male friends and partners. And they don’t help us create a better future for the next generation of men that we’re raising. So let’s shift the focus and ask ourselves what we want to create together.
What shifts need to happen first within ourselves, then in our families and our communities?
How can we nurture a more positive masculinity?
How can we model something different for the kids in our lives?
In praise of the vulnerable man
“You are the greatest man I’ve ever met. You, the stealth setter of new precedents.”
Okay, a little nod to Alanis Morissette and her song “In Praise of the Vulnerable Man” because we need to celebrate the shift that IS slowly happening and the men who are showing up and recognizing that toxic masculine culture serves no one. These men are doing the work to unlearn unhealthy patterns so they can be better friends, lovers, and fathers. I’ve seen a rise in support groups for men like Evolving Man and The Depth Council which I think is amazing because it shows they want to be good partners and are willing to do the work. And if you want to hear examples of positive masculinity (don’t we all?) check out the Man Enough podcast because they share wonderful stories every Friday.
As women, we need to celebrate the fact that men are different, they may never want to grab an ice cream and Kleenex and dish about all their emotions as we do with our girlfriends and that’s okay. We need to appreciate and acknowledge the men in our lives. Learn to celebrate the small steps and the moments they do open up (positive reinforcement baby!). To shout out when we see them trying and thank them when they get it right. Rather than only highlighting what they’re doing wrong.
The relationships with the men in our lives are complex and nuanced. And there may be grief around that absent emotional connection that needs to be healed so that our inner child can feel safe and loved.
Because when we take action to heal we can finally move forward. We can break old patterns, take responsibility for where we are now, and choose to create a future that looks different from our past.