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I Didn't Have A Close Relationship With My Father But I Don't Claim 'Daddy Issues'

How we can learn to ditch the "daddy issues" label and call it what it really is.

Her Voice

I've never accepted the term "daddy issues". It has always rubbed me the wrong way because it automatically puts a permanent stain on a woman's forehead. It seems to provide a convenient excuse for any failed relationship where there's no apparent wrong-doing on the man's part, whether it's really the woman's fault or not.

In the past, I also wasn't into applauding men who were present for their children, either. It seemed weird to clap for fathers who did what they were supposed to do, after all, we don't do this for mothers. But I realize that part of my thinking could come from a place of mild resentment considering I didn't have the most ideal relationship with my father.

I must say that I'm now in awe of those same fathers. It's that fascination that made me tune into the OWN special They Call Me Dad earlier this month. The show put a spotlight on male celebrities who play an active role in their children's lives. Men like author and filmmaker, Bishop T.D. Jakes, gospel artist Kirk Franklin and musical entertainer and renowned DJ, Derrick "D-Nice" Jones, talked about their journeys from youth to fatherhood and demonstrated how they show up for their kids.

The men also made the distinction between father and dad––the latter being more than biological.

And their children, particularly their daughters, explained how they viewed their dads in their lives. Third-year law student Ashli Jones sees D-Nice as her advocate and real-life superhero while Woman Evolve founder Sarah Jakes Roberts sees Bishop Jakes as Liam Neeson's character in the movie Taken, traveling across the world battling bad men to save his baby if he had to. Both the dads and their children describe the paternal role as protector, guide, and provider.

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I grew up in a single-family home with my mom and I saw my father usually on Friday nights. He was my board game partner, popping the plastic bubble on hours of Trouble, and my card game teacher, showing me strategy on everything but Spades.

It took a few years to learn that this wasn't exactly normal and I'm not just referring to youth who live in two-parent households as normalcy. In fact, this was complicated. My father was actually married and lived a few miles from the home where I lived with my mom. Truthfully, I didn't really know him, know him because there was a huge part of his life that I was excluded from. This fact became more evident after my mom passed away and I moved to my grandparents' home two backyards, a road, and a front yard away from my father's house.

It's when I had to acknowledge that that's not a world I was part of. I wasn't exactly welcomed in his house, at least in the beginning. I didn't get to meet paternal family members when they came to town. I attended the same school as my cousins and we knew each other but the kinship was unspoken.

While I was born out of a less than ideal union, I don't accept fault but I still can't help but feel that some parts of me are incomplete and not accepted.

I'd never use the words "superhero", "protector", "guide" or "advocate" as the young ladies in the OWN special did. And while "provider" would be a fair descriptor, what does that really mean? As Bishop Jakes said, it's about the presence, not the presents. I couldn't even say I felt defended. That was another thing that became quite clear and turned an amicable relationship into a deteriorating one near and at his death. Many times I question why I even bothered to show up at all.

I'm not trying to judge, express guilt, or point any blame, though. I get that parents do the best they can at the moment. But the actions or inactions of absent parents do inadvertently put us in precarious positions and get used against us daughters in a demeaning way during adulthood, particularly in intimate relationships.

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I repeatedly made poor decisions in men, specifically choosing those who were emotionally unavailable, which I talk about in a separate article. And I also had the habit of staying in those "situationships" long beyond their expiration dates. It's like I was determined to make them choose me back.

Hearing Kirk Franklin say that dads are the first men to teach women love and self-worth last week prompted me to just Google "daddy issues". It wasn't that I was owning the label or anything. But I was owning my failure in relationships. I'm at a place where I can write all day about them. I'm just leery of blanket diagnoses.

I already knew society would say, "Yep, sis, you have classic 'daddy issues'." Society would also assume that I'm attracted to older men, I call my partner 'daddy,' I'm clingy and jealous, I crave attention from men and I need reassurance of love and affection. It's the standard answer, more so than "mama's boy", which doesn't carry the same stigma. A quick Google search of "mama's boy" required me to scroll and click around before I found articles.

However, for my search, it really wasn't about the men. Ultimately, I still attracted and tolerated the wrong ones. Now I only wanted to dissect the term for my own benefit because I was curious and I want to open myself up to a healthy relationship.

I knew my intuition was on point––when I chose to listen to it, that is. What I found is that this so-called "daddy issues" rhetoric is stereotypical and sexist and it doesn't only apply to women.

Here's what I learned about it specifically:

1. The Term "Daddy Issues" Isn't A Disorder, It's Disrespectful

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"Daddy issues" isn't even a condition or disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). In fact, Houston-based psychotherapist Amy Rollo told Healthline that she and many other experts don't even believe in daddy issues and that they see the phrase as a way to minimize women's attachment needs. An article in MindBodyGreen goes a step further to say that it belittles a woman's relationship struggles. Quite frankly, it's lowkey disrespectful and the more appropriate way to tackle it is to recognize and understand one's attachment style, which is explained here and discussed here.

2. Daddy Issues Aren't Gender-Specific

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The first "daddy issue" originated between father and son. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud came up with the "father complex", which described "someone who has unconscious associations and impulses resulting from an individual's poor relationship with their father." Freud initially believed this father complex only affected men. The term didn't apply to women until later and then it stuck. And while modern-day attachment issues are almost always directed to father and daughter, they could actually be son and mother issues and grandparents can be added to the mix as well.

I can admit that I needed to do some internal work before I even considered entering a relationship. I would've repeated a toxic cycle indefinitely. I also can't argue that my relationship with my father didn't play a significant part in who I was attracted to. I gravitated towards whatever was familiar or whatever was wounded. That's also our way of changing the plots or endings to our ongoing narratives.

But misused and misunderstood labels like "daddy issues" are harmful. Women aren't the only gender trying to reconcile what we didn't get from absent parents to what we can't give or don't receive from our partners. Men do, too, all the time. A more helpful approach is to drop the "daddy issues" label and call it what it is.

Many of us, men and women alike, have difficulty forming healthy bonds with potential significant others. But with a little reflection and a whole lot of healing, we can all learn to form secure attachment styles, and perhaps then we'll finally find a true protector, defender, and real-life superhero in our partners.

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Featured image by Shutterstock.

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