“I am not my void”

Daddy Issues. It’s the label our society attaches to young ladies who don’t have the paternal influence in their lives – and, consequently the self-worth – required to lead a life anchored with self-respect and dignity. We make assumptions about the girls with Daddy Issues. They might have an eating disorder. They are the women who date men old enough to be their grandfathers. They’re more likely to be promiscuous.

While some girls who have weak, unhealthy, or nonexistent relationships with their dads might fall into these circumstances, these stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. I had a decently happy, uneventful childhood. I have plenty of wonderful friends, I graduated from college, I have a successful, enjoyable career. I didn’t grow up without a father. My parents weren’t divorced. As a matter of fact, they’re still married to one another. My dad wasn’t constantly away on business trips. He was there, every day. He wasn’t physically abusive to me, or any member of our family. He was just emotionally unavailable. And I’ve spent my lifetime yearning for him.

My dad is an enigmatic man. Talented but self-deprecating. Spends a lot of time by himself. Communication has never been his strong suit, and, for as long as I can remember, he’s never seemed truly happy. Feelings like embarrassment, confusion, or sadness are often manifested in his anger, and it puts a divide between him and the rest of the world. I always wondered: why can’t I reach him? What is it about me that isn’t good enough to melt his heart? I just wanted him to hold my hand, or give me a hug, or tell me that he thinks I’m smart, or funny, or pretty. Family milestones that most girls look forward to, like the father-daughter dance at a wedding, only gave me anxiety.
I have one memory of being alone with my father as a child, when I was in the 3rd grade and had chicken pox, and he stayed home with me. I remember floating down the Savannah River in a john boat, as he quietly pointed out turtles basking in the sun on the riverbank. It was a pleasant but peculiar feeling, being alone all day with someone I had known my whole life who still felt like a stranger.

I’ve learned that comparisons to other father-daughter relationships – both good and bad – never get you anywhere. I had friends who were incredibly close to their dads, and it made me envious. I had friends who had NO father in their lives, which made my sadness seem whiny and self-absorbed. Everything is relative; my perspective is my reality. Neither comparison made me feel better about my own life, or brought me any closer to having what I wanted. Even now, at 34 years of age, when I hear a woman talk about being close with her father, or being a “daddy’s girl,” I still feel a twinge of envy – and then a wave of embarrassment.

But it has gotten better. I’ve learned that there is a silver lining in all of this, and it came about 3 years ago when I had a child of my own. Something changed in my father when he met my son. He softened some, became gentler and not so afraid to love. It was an unexpected and wonderful thing to witness.
Today I see my dad with my young son, giving him the love and attention I had always wanted from him… and peace and gratitude has slowly begun to fill the void in my heart.