At times I think on the greatest betrayal of my life… a familiar pain emerges.… sadness mixed with confusion mixed with questions mixed with…
I’m often reminded of it when a woman is talking about a natural interaction with her Dad and I’m struck with the reality that I don’t understand the dynamic of such a relationship. Or I’ll catch a glimpse of a daddy-daughter moment at a mall or public setting and gaze in wonderment at how beautiful the relationship is. I sometimes wonder, what life would have been like if my father were present, protective and loving? Did he know his violence was a deep seeded need for control? Or how his constant abuse toward my mother and I would scar us for life? Was his perversion so wild, he never considered the implications in taking away the innocence of his own child? These being only a few questions I ponder in the depths of my heart, knowing and at peace, I may never know the answer to these.
One night as my husband and I were catching up on Parks and Rec episodes, I commented on Ron Swanson’s character and declared, “Ron is the father I never had!!!” To which my husband responded, “You say that about everyone!”
It’s partially true.
When I took some time to reason with myself on the why’s and the wherefores, I realized that though I am an adult, married, and ready to start a family, my heart still secretly interviewed for a father.
It has been 15 years since my father left our family destitute. Our lives before then were filled with constant fear, as my mother and I lived under traumatic, abusive, and stressful conditions. Since then, however, God had done a wonderful and powerful work of healing and wholeness in my life. Why then, was there still a longing and deep desire for affirmation? Where do these desires come from? What are the effects of having a physical or emotionally absent father? And how on earth do I move past that?
A Picture of the Past
I knew something was wrong. I had hounded my husband like this before, but this time I wouldn’t give in. Despite asking my questions as patiently as possible, I was frantic inside.
“How did I do?? Did you understand the points I was trying to make? And what did you think about that one part?”
No matter how encouraging my husband answered concerning my speaking engagement, it wasn’t enough. He was starting to get annoyed.
“Why can’t you believe what I am telling you?!” he said. “You do this every time!”
We finished getting ready for church (cause there is no better time for an argument) and left the house. All was silent in the car as worship music played low in the background. We came to a stoplight and then it hit me. In a split second, a memory flooded my thoughts and I was carried back to the summer of 1997. I was running on Lakeshore Drive next to my father and it was the first time I had ran beside him, while keeping up the whole time. My father, who normally would never compliment or approve of anything, said, “Wow, you ran with me the whole time. Good job.” It was the first and only time I remember my father acknowledging I had done something well. Most of the time, his standard was set too high for me to reach.
The silence in the car broke as I began to weep, not cry, or tear, but blubbering, slobbering, weeping. My husband slowly looked over to me completely in shock, as I began to explain the memory and how through the midst of the recollection, God provided me with some personal insight.
We know that no family is perfect, and my belief is that every family has some level of dysfunction whether intact, traditional or progressive. Though they are not provided with a handbook, parents are expected to produce a certain environment for their children. Mother’s are to provide us with love, nurture, safety and belonging, while father’s have equally, if not more, impact on their children.
In her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician, reveals facts to make the case that few things matter more to a girl’s mental, physical and social development than her relationship with her father. According to Dr. Meeker, “to have a strong father with conservative values is the best protection against eating disorders, failure in school, STDs, unwed pregnancy, and drug or alcohol abuse—and the best predictor of academic achievement, successful marriage, and a satisfying emotional life. Her theory, which is well founded on clinical experience, is also backed by numerous case studies throughout decades that examine the impact of father involvement on child development.
If you take a look at the Father Involvement Research Alliances’ (FIRA) last summary research of May 2007, you will find some interesting findings:
- Babies as young as six months whose fathers are present and active score higher on mental development tests than babies whose fathers are not present and active.
- Children of present and active fathers are more likely to enjoy school, have positive attitudes toward school, participate in extracurricular activities, and graduate.
- They are also less likely to fail a grade, have poor attendance, be suspended or expelled, or have behavior problems at school.
Emotions and Psychological Well being
- Father’s that are present and active are shown to positively effect children’s overall life satisfaction and their experience of less depression, less conduct problems, and fewer anxiety symptoms.
- Daughters of involved fathers are more willing to try new things, keep busier, and are happier.
- Young adults who had nurturing and available fathers while growing up are more likely to experience higher levels of self-acceptance.
Social and Physical Development
- Children of involved fathers are more likely to have positive peer relations.
- Obese children are more likely to live in father-absent homes than are non-obese children.
There is no question that the father-daughter experience infiltrates and affects every area of our life. But for many of us, including myself, the chance of restoring a father-daughter relationship is little to none, and the more I think on this, the more I am confident in saying, that fatherlessness is a handicap; an emotional and psychological disadvantage that follows us into our adulthood. Many studies have concluded the following effects of fatherlessness or the lack of a present and active father:
- Girls who live without their fathers are more likely to cheat, lie, and not feel sorry after misbehaving (Sarah Allen, PhD and Kerry Daly, PhD).
- Both boys and girls are more likely to have poor impulse control over anger and sexual gratification (Sarah Allen, PhD and Kerry Daly, PhD).
- Girls who grow up in father-absent homes are, on average, more likely to become overly dependent and have problems such as anxiety and depression (Sarah Allen, PhD and Kerry Daly, PhD).
- Women whose parents separated between birth and six years old experienced twice the risk of early menstruation, the risk of early sexual intercourse, and a higher risk of early pregnancy (Sarah Allen, PhD and Kerry Daly, PhD).
Fatherlessness is a handicap; an emotional and psychological disadvantage that follows us into our adulthood.
You may be wondering how fatherlessness is connected to a risk of early menstruation and I have to admit, this research not only stunned me, but also caused me to mourn. “When a father is absent, distant or the relationship is unsupportive, a daughter is much more likely to experience an early onset of menstruation. Why? Because when a girl is not getting the attention and affirmation she so desperately needs from her father, puberty is triggered prematurely in an unconscious – and heartbreaking – attempt to attract the attention of other men, instead” (Sarah Best).
In my own counseling practice, I find that women who did not have at least one trusted male figure in their early developmental years find it hard to maintain a committed relationship, difficulty trusting their husbands and in turn find it hard to trust God. Oftentimes, the handicap of fatherlessness has an opposite effect, and causes women to become overly dependent on the opinion of the lead male in their life, which is what I was experiencing in the story I shared earlier. That “frantic” feeling I was experiencing, was anxiety for the need to feel approved and affirmed; something we not only need, but are designed to receive from our fathers.
The dad is really the daughter’s first love.
He is the most important man in her life.
His interactions with her set her up for how
she’s going to relate to all other men and to God.
That’s a heavy load, but a wonderful truth.
-Dr. Meg Meeker
God allowed me to revisit that scene from my past, to show me that I had been attempting to draw and earn from my husband, what can now only be given to me by God. A lack of fatherly love, affirmation, and attention can leave us crippled and leave us no choice but to create “crutches.” Your crutches may seem innocent, or you might sense that something is wrong and question why you make certain decisions. These crutches are how you cope, and they help, though ineffectively, they allow you to stand. Driven by an innate desire we all have to feel worthy, wanted, and accepted you can live your entire life moving from crutch to crutch until you end up in a wheel chair, allowing your crutches, to control you.
Here are a few ways your crutches may play out in your life:
The Over Achiever.
It typically starts in your childhood and works it’s way into every area of your life. The lack of attention you didn’t receive as a child may have translated to you as something you were doing wrong, or your parent may have actually communicated disparaging remarks to you like, “You can’t do nothing right.” Either way, this type of communication produces thoughts and behavior that lead you to feel their lack of approval and love is based on your performance to do right and wrong according to their standard. Without knowing, you are living to please others, in order to feel accepted and approved. This type of thinking can pour over into your relationships, marriage, career, and relationship with God.
The Tolerant One.
A sensitive but significant topic, the child without an active and present father has a higher tolerance for domestically violent relationships. Whether physically or emotionally abusive, the abuser’s goal is to control you which can translate differently to a fatherless victim. In most cases, instead of abuse, the victim see’s an abuser’s struggle and is more likely to make allowances for their behavior because at the end of the day, the abuser want’s them, and that’s more than they can say for their parent or parents. In her paper, “Fatherless Women: What Happens to the Adult Woman who was Raised Without her Father,” Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D. writes, “Girls looking for male attention may inappropriately over-value the attention of men. We sometimes call them “fast” or promiscuous because they are looking for love in “all the wrong places.” Sometimes, these girls are especially prone to abuse or victimization because they are so “love starved” that they tolerate relationships with poor boundaries.”
“Daughters see their self-worth in their fathers’ eyes” – Anonymous.
It is my belief that the strong link between father’s and self worth not only lie in a father’s outward expression of love, but in his unconditional affirmation and acceptance for who she is. Without this, the child is forced to grow up doubting her potential and capability, leaving her floundering and gasping for stability and direction in life. In a sensitive bit of self- disclosure, my father called me stupid my whole life, especially in the area of math. Growing up I truly believed I wasn’t bright or intelligent. It wasn’t until my 1st year in college, after receiving a progress report, that I had the weight of reality hit me, and said to myself, “ I am actually smart.” Unless you have been affirmed in your identity, talents and gifts, you may be minimizing, or worse, discarding altogether, the person God created you to be, finding self-worth in what others say about you. According to a study from Forsman, research found that women’s perception of their father’s unconditional regard was significantly related to self-esteem, whereas their perception of their mother’s unconditional regard was only weakly related to self-esteem.
All these crutches have one thing in common, man’s search for significance. The good news is no matter your age, gender or culture, there is hope for healing in every area of your life that was not touched with love, affirmation, acceptance, belonging and safety. We have hope in knowing that brokenness within family is not a new thing, but a sin thing and our God came down to earth, not only to conquer sin, but it’s effects on our life. Through Jesus, we are provided with every answer to the human experience; as he is complete, he makes those who are in Him, complete. Take courage and stand on the promise that is clear:
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” Colossians 2:9
Please share this blog with fathers and friends in your life that you feel would benefit from it!
BRAVADA GARRETT-AKINSANYA, ,”Growing Up Without a Father: The Impact on Girls and Women” InsightNew.com, November 3, 2011
Forsman, L. (1989). Parent-child gender interaction in the relation between retrospective self- reports on parental love and current self-esteem.
Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 30, 275-283.
Sarah Allen, PhD and Kerry Daly, PhD , The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence, May 2007 http://www.fira.ca/cms/document /29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf
Sarah Best, Healing the Father-Daughter relationship,