Some of my earliest memories of my dad include him at our family parties.
I see him hunched over his DJ set with his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. He spun records with one hand and tilted his head to balance chunky headphones on his ear and shoulder. A bottle of Heineken, wet and dripping from condensation would be placed on a table nearby. The amber-colored liquid inside sloshing along to vibrations of the dancehall basslines.
The bleary-eyed and younger version of myself who was allowed to stay up past her bedtime on nights like this, would see him on the turntable and feel proud. He was the coolest dude in the room and he was my dad.
For my childhood self, it was a kind of adoration and hero worship. My dad and I are a lot alike. We both find it easier to connect with music than with people and we both experience intense anxiety on a regular basis. I saw pieces of myself in my dad in a way that did not exist within my mom. But even back then, my relationship with my dad was noticeably distant.
We saw each other every other week or two.
He never went to any of my performances or recitals during high school and I cannot remember the last time gave me a holiday or birthday gift. Hell, he didn’t even attend my college graduation.
I’ve always hated the term daddy issues. It implies that a woman is completely incapable of living a fulfilling and happy life without a father. It also erases and ignores the generations of strong women who were raised by other strong women.
While I do think that our society tends to romanticize father/daughter relationships to an almost creepy extent, the term “daddy issues” is a callous term used to wave away the very real feelings of abandonment that a child experiences when they don’t receive love from that specific parent. While I don’t believe that a two-parent household is a requirement for a successful life, I do think that it’s important to acknowledge those feelings.
I have unresolved issues with my dad. As much as I hate to say it, I have “daddy issues.”
I’ve always been reluctant to examine the emotions I experience while watching a television show that features scenes of touching father-daughter moments. I tend to get a pit in my stomach and a knot at the back of my throat.
It always feels like a loss.
I never understood where these feelings came from, and if I’m being honest they’ve always made me feel extremely guilty. I have friends who have absentee fathers or fathers who have passed away far too soon. My dad was only a phone call away. It’s just that many of those phone calls led to answering machines and voicemails.
It took ages for me to realize the reason I got so choked up during those TV scenes was that I wanted to be the fictional daughter. I wanted my dad to have made a laughable attempt at doing my hair for school. And I wanted my dad to dance in the living room with me to pop music.
I sought out fictional dads like Sandy Cohen and Coach Taylor for this missing element. They were both well-rounded, three-dimensional men who managed to be a winning mix of strict, gentle, goofy, and approachable. The perfectly written fathers I never had. Then, of course, everyone’s perfect in the world of a television series script.
As an adult, I had to recognize that it isn’t enough to sit around binge-watching shows and moping for a relationship you want but don’t have. If I wanted a close relationship with my dad, I would have to forge it myself.
All relationships, whether they be familial, platonic, or romantic are a two-way street. Both parties have to be willing to make an effort.
I began calling and texting him a few times a week just to check in. Eventually, that led to stopping off at his house on my way home from work. Then making appearances at family dinners and holidays I had spent my teenage years avoiding like the plague. Now, I’ve lost count of the lazy Sundays spent with him on his backyard deck drinking Coronas and sharing and swapping playlists.
I love my dad and am so grateful to have him in my life.
But I can also acknowledge that I still have daddy issues. I’m glad that by working through my own feelings, I am also strengthening our relationship and forging a connection with him that did not exist when we were both younger.