How ‘daddy issues’ have impacted my relationships

WORDS BY Siobhan Higgins

“It occurred to me that I’d spent most of my childhood feeling like my dad had forgotten about me.”

There’s a really inappropriate joke that I love telling but I almost never do because I don’t want people to think I’m a freak. It goes something like: “I don’t know if I’ve mostly dated tall White guys because I’m a self-hating brown woman, or if it’s because I subconsciously want to fuck my dad?”. After all, society says that women are often doomed to marry men who remind them of their fathers, stemming a lot from the findings of Freud, aka the daddy of psychoanalytic theory. 

I’ve always believed that the concept of ‘daddy issues’ belonged somewhere deep in the past, alongside hysteria and the belief that anything remotely column-shaped is trying to emulate a penis. Blaming my never-ending parade of dysfunctional relationships with emotionally unavailable men on ‘daddy issues’ felt lazy, and honestly, deeply sexist. Do we diagnose longtime bachelors with having ‘mummy issues’? No, we simply call them players and we move on. 

Interested to hear how others navigate the world? Head to our Life section.

So, why, pray tell, am I referring to an idea as outdated as ‘daddy issues’ in 2022? It started a few months ago, when I found myself sobbing at my psychologist’s office. It wasn’t over a romantic relationship – god knows I haven’t had one of those for a very long time – but an insecurity that had popped up with regard to one of my platonic friends. In my phone note, under the heading ‘What I want to talk about this week’, I had written the following: ‘I’m scared that if I don’t proactively keep in touch with my friends, then they’re going to forget about me’.  

Having been raised by an overbearing single mother, I couldn’t understand what possible childhood trauma might have made me worry that somebody might forget me. In fact, my mum’s expression of love is so suffocating that I often wish that she would forget about me and leave me alone. In a sort of fake ponder, my psychologist said, “Did you ever think it might have something to do with your dad?”.

I was speechless and, quite honestly, a bit dumbfounded. It had truly never occurred to me that my dad had affected my life in any tangible way because he’d never been there to do anything wrong. As I told my psychologist the last part, I went “Ohhh…”. How could I not have seen something so obvious? 

You see, my dad and I aren’t close. It’s not through any fault of his or mine, it just is. He was in his late teens when I was born and presumably not ready for a kid (hell, I’m 29 and I’m still not ready) and by the time we got to know each other, it all felt a little bit too late. I was a teenager who longed for a father figure but didn’t know how to reconcile the idea of a dad that I’d seen on network TV and my real dad, the well-meaning stranger. I felt like a lot of my growing up had been done and I wasn’t sure what role he was supposed to play in my life.

As I continued talking to my psychologist, it occurred to me that I’d spent most of my childhood feeling like my dad had forgotten about me. Whether that’s something I’d imagined or something that had been actively told to me, I can’t remember – but that feeling is there. I worry all the time that my closest friends are just going to forget I exist, then it’ll be too late and we won’t know how to be around each other anymore.

After I left my psychologist’s office, I sent my friend a voice memo and burst out in laughter. I said something like, “I just told my psychologist I was worried that my friends would forget about me, and it turns out it’s pretty much because of daddy issues” and she wrote back “Same, lol”. Obviously, blaming my anxious attachment on daddy issues is a complete oversimplification, but I think there’s a lot to be said about the impact our childhoods have on our relationships with others. We learn almost everything from our parents in the first few years of our lives, so we’re bound to be a little screwed up by them – whether they were present or not.

As for my inappropriate joke from earlier? I don’t know the answer. Truth be told, it really could be either way. Maybe I hate myself as a brown person? Or, maybe I do subconsciously want to fuck my dad, and claw my own eyes out by way of Oedipus? Who can say! Realistically, I’ve probably pushed this joke too far and I don’t know if my reputation will recover from it. I think it was worth the gamble, and if not, I’ve always got therapy next week…

For advice on how to deal with ‘daddy issues’, try this.

Lazy Loading