My young adult son has always been thoughtful and sensitive. He is kind, consistent, and gentle. Combined with his rocker looks (yes, he’s in a band), he attracts quite a bit of attention from young women. I asked him recently what these women are like and what they seem to want from him. He said that the ones who want to spend time and talk with him often seem needy. He asked me why he attracts girls with “daddy issues.” I pointed out that it is because he is a good man who is kind, consistent, and gentle–unlike the fathers these particular young women experienced. Their fathers were absent, or alcoholic, or neglectful. He has been in a relationship with one young woman for several months now. It is painful to watch as she begins to grow closer and then panics. It is so hard for her to trust a man, even one who is as trustworthy as my son.
Our childhoods shape our core views of the world and the reality that we perceive and take for granted. My dad has been a decent father. When I was young, he was angry a lot. Memories from early childhood never quite go away. I always saw my mom as a martyr who caved in to everything my dad wanted. My dad did best when he had a predictable routine, and anything that stepped outside that routine could easily be forgotten—even if that meant forgetting to pick his daughter up at church or school. I remember many hours, just sitting outside school or at a park and waiting for him to get home and then be sent back to pick me up. At a young age, I vowed to never let a man have any control over my life and never to rely on any man for anything.
It has been a struggle for me to step outside the template of my childhood and be able to see my husband as his own man, as someone I can rely on. At times, even now, I have to ask myself, “What am I afraid will happen? Why is it that I don’t want to pick up his medication/watch his favorite TV show with him/go to a new restaurant with him?” I’ve come to realize that I have resisted becoming dependent on him. I promised my child-self that I would never let a man control me or rely on a man for anything. Therefore, many of the things that are part of marriage (helping each other, doing things with each other, sex, depending on each other) were a huge emotional hurdle for me.
Once I recognized what it was that I was afraid of happening–losing myself and being forgotten–I was finally able to pay attention to the script in my head and begin to work on it. I’ve had to be intentional about getting to this point. Mostly, this has meant learning to pay attention to my own responses. When he says or does something and I start to react without thinking, I’ve had to literally stop myself and take a deep breath and ask myself, “What do I truly fear? What is the worst that can happen if I do this thing?”
Women with wonderful daddies also face challenges. My friend is the widow of a man who was respected and loved by his family and his community. Her daughter’s expectations and standards for a man were so high that they were impossible for her husband to meet. They, too, have struggled.
So many women bring their daddy issues to their marriages as a template for what they expect from a man. I do better when I’m mindful that I am married to the man God has given me as my husband, not to a template laid down in my childhood. Daddy issues can lead to disappointment and distrust.
It is so liberating to break free of those templates. My husband is human, with flaws and sins. He is no more perfect than I am. I married a man who is consistent and trustworthy–just like the young man we raised together.