“Hello? You have reached 769-6667…”
The only time I hear my father’s voice is when he’s pretending to answer the phone. (You remember those early 2000s voicemail greetings? He still has one.) I don’t know how his workweek was or if he even went to work. I don’t know what he had for dinner or if he’s eating at all for that matter.
I wish I could tell people that we got in a disagreement that resulted in us not speaking. That would be a lot easier than saying he just stopped picking me up every other weekend. My reality is that I don’t know who my father is—even though he was a part of the first 16 of my 22 years of life.
It’s taken me years to acknowledge it, but I have “daddy issues.”
Why has it taken me so long to come to terms with this? Mainly fear of contributing to stereotypes. Let’s face it, no one wants to be “that (Black) girl who can’t get or keep a man,” or “the girl with trust issues”—and no one wants to have to tell the school to stop addressing letters to their mother as “Mrs. Johnson” because they don’t share the same last name.
I would be lying if I said those things don’t still cross my mind. I could have allowed not having my daddy around to negatively affect my life; but in his absence at graduations, award ceremonies and during heartbreaks, God was planting a seed that would eventually blossom into resilience. Not having him in my life has ultimately shaped me; it didn’t break me.
Here are the most important things I have learned from confronting my “daddy issues”:
1. It’s OK to be vulnerable
You don’t have to put up a front 24/7. You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to, especially when that lovely gentleman on the street tells you that you should. Journal your hurt, cry about it, scream, or do whatever that works within your level of comfort (even if it’s FaceTiming your bestie while eating ice cream).
Your being, alone, is your right to express yourself unapologetically.
2. Relationship problems will exist with or without daddy
Society often uses “there’s just something that only a father can teach his girl about the world” as a crutch for determining success in relationships. While this may be true for some, the reality is that it’s not the law of the land. That’s not to say that your two-parent/perfect co-parented household is not special; it’s definitely a blessing and an inexplicable bond. But it also doesn’t mean that we daddy-less gals can’t learn the ropes through family, friends, mentors or father-like figures.
We are validated by our own self-love, regardless of where we learn it.
3. Do not long for success as proof that “you made it without him”
You may have graduated, gotten that promotion, built an empire or even a family without him being there, but those successes are for you and to share with those invested in your well-being. Having the desire to defy the odds should not be used in spite of others.
Why exalt energy in proving him wrong when you can channel it into the next big thing?
4. My mother is the light in my soul personified
Transitioning into adulthood has revealed that I am, indeed, my mother. Even when my teenage self wanted to kick mama’s words of wisdom to the curb, she was always right (and still is). She has taught me selflessness, kindness and strength through harsh realities.
This bond is unique and unbreakable.
5. Parents are people, too
It’s easy for us to put our parents on a pedestal, but the truth is they are human. They will make mistakes. We must forgive our parents the same way they forgave us when we missed curfew, scratched up the car or dropped the house phone in the sink.
Once you stop viewing them as perfection, it becomes easier to empathize when they screw up.
6. At the end of the day, daddy is going to have to live with his actions (or lack thereof)
He chose to not be a part of your life for whatever reason you may or may not know. That is a decision he will have to lie in bed with at night. You will continue to hurt by beating yourself up for something you don’t understand and can’t control.
Let go and let God.
I truly empathize with those who hurt from never having met their fathers; but there is equal pain in knowing exactly who he is, where he lives, how his head goes back when he laughs, and not have a relationship with him. If there is one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that your feelings are valid.
Acknowledging your issues is but a step; discovering healthy ways to cope while holding yourself accountable is a journey.
Alexis Johnson is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism. A southern Illinois native, she currently works in sports and entertainment public relations in Los Angeles.