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Monday, July 22, 2013

On Being a Fatherless Daughter

Last night I watched "Oprah's Lifeclass" on Daddyless Daughters. As I watched and listened to these women talk about what it was like for them to grow up without a father I realized I have never had a friend who had the same experience I did. I've had friends whose dad's died when they were kids, but it's different when your dad leaves and has little to nothing to do with you for your entire life.

My father left when I was in second grade. No one said anything, he was just gone. My mother, brother and I moved, she went back to teaching and no one talked about it. I thought he was on a long business trip until one day I heard the word "divorce" when my mom was talking on the phone.


For a while he came to visit, but after a while it stopped. In high school I began to visit him once in a while, but it was never good. He'd drink too much. and he was so critical it was hardly satisfying. My father, in his brief forays into my life was obsessed with what I looked like. As long as I was thin and pretty I was lovable.
When daughters don't have a father they don't have a man who has set the standard for how they should be treated and what to expect from a man. We don't have a yardstick and inner confidence to know what we deserve so we don't always make good choices.

Girls like me who grew up without a father often either build walls and not let anyone in, or so desperate to be loved we settle for much less than we deserve. I have done both.

I married very young because I desperately wanted to create the safety of the family I never had. I worried my husband would leave and held on so tight he had no choice but to leave. And that was when I began to grow up and heal.

When the worst thing you think could happen to you - again - happens and you survive, it is empowering. When I was married I suffered from a debilitating panic disorder, when my marriage ended I got better. I think I thought if I was helpless he wouldn't leave, but he did. I let go of that because I no longer needed it.

I can't say I've been stellar in all my choices in relationships since my divorce. I am a natural born fixer, and a pleaser. It's easy for women like me to tolerate behaviors we shouldn't because it's hard to ask for what we need, because if you're not perfect they will leave. That's hard to say. So I will say it again. I have spent my life worrying that if I'm not perfect I will be left.

But the great thing is, you can heal, you can change, and you can make better choices. After years of not speaking up, of being treated in ways that were not worthy of just how wonderful I am, I made a conscious decision to choose differently. And when I redefined what I wanted and needed, I changed, and I chose differently.

When my father died almost six years ago I had not seen him in 30 years. We exchanged some letters and phone calls in his later years, and I was able to forgive him. That said, I didn't want to see him, and I am at peace with my choice.

I debated long and hard about whether to post this, almost deleted it, but in the end decided that it's important for woman, especially mid-lifers like me, who maybe grew up feeling like alone in this to know, you're not alone. And just because you didn't have a dad doesn't mean you're not lovable or worthy. As soon as you can really get that, and love yourself you will be able to let a man (or woman) get close to you and really love you and not build walls or worry all the time that they're going to leave too, because you will know that you are whole and wonderful. No matter who comes or goes, you are perfectly perfect, just as you are.



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