Monday, July 18, 2011

Absentee Dads: How Women Are Affected, 4 Tips to Cope

I tried to think of a way to make this topic funny, but it's so deeply personal to me that even I failed to find the humor. From Evelyn on Basketball Wives, to Jennifer Aniston, to little unknown me, relationship patterns among women with without strong fathers has one undeniable trend--they're unsuccessful. My father and I couldn't be closer today, but for the first 18 years of my life, he was missing in action. And his absence has had a profound impact on my relationships with men. By no small coincidence, it's also among the subject matter covered in the upcoming sequel to The Bum Magnet, Got a Right to Be Wrong, when Charisse's absentee father reappears for her pending nuptials. Of course, like many women, dad's reappearance can often go over like a lead balloon--as does his.

If you think growing up without a father in your life isn't one of the most significant factors that impact your relationships with men, you really need to take a deeper look inside your feelings. As girls, we need affirmation and appreciation from our father's and male role models. We need to hear we're beautiful, smart...worthy of the best a man has to offer. We need to feel safe and protected. Boys need to observe the way "good men" behave, carry themselves, communicate...and most importantly, how they treat the women in their lives. Unfortunately that role is lost when Daddy's gone and women, no matter how hard they try, women cannot fill that role, especially when the man was missing from our own lives.

Society always places so much emphasis on ensuring boys have strong male role models that women are often forgotten in that equation, but think about this for one second. In 2006, 12.9 million families in the United States were headed by a single parent, 80 percent of those female. 80 friggin' percent! That means we as women, and our dysfunctional relationships with men, will impact not only our own lives, but the quality of relationships that our children and our children's children will have in their lifetimes. If we can't get it right, then with 80 percent of us heading households, our kids probably won't either.

Studies show that teenage girls without fathers in the home engage in sexual activity earlier, have higher rates of teenage pregnancy, and some even enter puberty sooner. Not to mention behavioral and academic problems.

As grown women, those issues manifest themselves in a number of different ways, including:
  1. Low-self esteem, skewed senses of self-worth. After all, the man who was supposed to be genetically disposed to love us and keep us safe has rejected us (or so many of us believe). In our minds, we weren't worthy enough for him to step up to plate and meet his responsibility. Of course common sense says he had issues that had nothing to do with us, but our hearts haven't quite learned to translate his absence in that way.
  2. Fear of commitment. Many of us become serial daters or monogamists because we don't want to place full faith and confidence in any man.
  3. Trust issues. Even in committed seemingly healthy relationships with with good men, we live with the expectation that someday, their going to leave us or let us down. So, we're constantly looking over our shoulders...and theirs.
  4. Attraction to emotionally unavailable men...just like daddy. Many of us will unconsciously replicate the relationship with our absentee dads. Seem crazy doesn't it? To chase men for a love we know they aren't capable of giving? That's because we're experienced at it. For our entire lives we've craved a love from our fathers that they weren't capable or willing to provide. So looking for love from an unwilling partner becomes the norm and we don't know the feeling of acceptance because we've never received willing love from a man.
  5. Fear of abandonment. Always afraid someone's going to leave us, we cling to relationships with a Kung Fu death grip. We almost refuse release painful or hurtful relationships because we're so scared we may not find anyone else to love us. It's better to keep a sorry piece of man than to experience the pain of him leaving.
  6. Promiscuity. Some women seek love through sex because they have no sense of self-worth. Never had a man to say they are precious, beautiful, and important. Never felt protected. We need to feel safe and wanted, even if that only occurs during a brief moment of intercourse. We don't believe we are smart, worthy, or valuable enough to attract love any other way.
These issues are serious, deeply rooted, and can't be fixed in a day or month. For many, it may take years. As with any road to healing, it all begins with one step at a time. One day at a time. Here are four steps to begin on the road to coping with the pain of our past and focusing on our futures.
  1. Admit that your father's absence has negative affected your life. Pray to God. Talk to your pastor. Go to therapy. Hell, talk to yourself if that helps. So many of us put up fronts and say, "I'm doing just fine without my daddy in my life." You've achieved some level of success without him. But there's a hole in your emotional well-being, and always will be, until you face the fact two simple facts: You needed him, and he wasn't there for you.
  2. Write a letter. Tell your father how much his absence hurt you. Tell him what he missed and tell him what happened to you because he wasn't there to protect you. Tell him you're angry. Tell him you hate how he behaved. Let it all out. If you're in contact with your father, you may want to give the letter to him. If not, then put the letter away until you're ready to throw it away.
  3. Forgive him. Yes, at some point, you have to let go of your pain and move on with the rest of your life with the understanding that your life is bigger than your father's mistakes. Who you are, the woman you're destined to become, is greater than your past. You can grow from your pain and you can have healthy happy relationships despite the way your father treated you (or didn't treat you). Forgiveness frees you to let go and focus on your future.
  4. Ensure your children have strong male role models. Don't repeat the pattern. You're an adult so you may feel it's too late for you...but it's not too late for your children. Eighty percent! You have a responsibility to your kids to keep them from becoming statistics. Ensure your kids have mentors and role models, inside of the family and out.
Absentee fathers, whether they are in the home or outside of it, leave holes in their daughters' emotional development that women don't understand how to fill. And if we haven't had positive male role models, we'll likely seek to fill it with something emotionally and/or physically dysfunctional. The fact of the matter is, nothing and no one could fill the void left by a father's absence. But you can move on and, with a little forgiveness and healing, you can still become the best version of yourself and embrace positive relationships with men.

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  1. this is by far one of the most valuable posts I've read from any blog. thank you for putting this together. I plan to share it.

  2. Thank you Alma! So glad to hear it. Please feel free to share.

  3. I grew up without my father around also, and it's hard on us men too. We grow up trying to be a man and don't have a clue on what we are doing. That's why most young black men are so lost. So please don't think it's just a female thing..Love the post also!