You are the Weight of Her World

I never thought I went out into the dating world looking for a father figure, a common thing for girls with absentee fathers. I was drawn to men who made me feel taken care off, protected, beautiful and capable, intelligent and resourceful. Little did I understand that these are all the things your father is supposed to provide for you. I didn't have this, how would I know? What were the feelings I had with my own father?

The biggest one was probably exclusion. When my father remarried and had his own family(see even in the way the words come out, ugh, as if they are other people unconnected to me), I felt pushed to the side, the product of an accidental teen pregnancy rather than the planned family he had now. I felt the weight of his shame, his feelings that his life might have been different, no better, had I not 'happened'.
I found my father figure in other places. Mostly my grandfather Henry, who died of pancreatic cancer this year. He would pick me up from school dances, talk to me about my plans for the future, never wavering in his confidence in me. “Chrissy, you're the one we never worry about,” he'd tell me and just him saying it I believed it. It's also no surprise that I turned to men as a way to fill the deep and unfillable chasm my dad left in his wake. Like I said, I never thought I went out into the dating world looking for a father figure but looking back on it as a thirty five year old, the evidence is there.
At 22 there was Jake, seventeen years my senior. He was recently divorced with a daughter of his own. He was the first man I really loved. He made me laugh, he made me feel beautiful, he praised me for my intelligence, my wit. Jake changed me in a ways that remained long after we were not together, good ways that remain even now. He also broke my heart. Though his intentions were good, his reticence to make me a part of all the parts of his life, after more than a year, once again reminded me that I came in a very distant second to other more important people. I'd played that record before. The other men that came after were less important but more of the same. I did a great deal of work cleaning up the mess someone else made. My husband has done his share too. He traverses my whims and perceived slights and insecurities like a pro but these are gaps in me that were there long before him, none of them his making. I remember in the early days of our relationship when my insecurities had gotten the better of me. Fears of abandonment welled up until I broke and let the crazy come flooding out. He reassured me and I apologized for being the way I was being, maybe for being the way I was. This isn't your fault I told him, it's my own insecurities and I do my best to manage them. The truth was, it wasn't my fault either. My husband taught me to trust him, but it was a near Herculean effort. He showed me, through actions and words that even though I am at times difficult, moody, even petulant, he is not going anywhere.
I am envious of my daughters some days when I see my husband with them. I wish so much that I had had that. How different or easier would I have traversed the world, how much less complicated would my teens and twenties have been, how much sooner would I have made peace with my body and sense of self. How much less of me would I have given away looking for someone to love me? I am proud that I found a man who does and will continue to give our daughters what every girl deserves to have in a father but too few of us really had. I watch him with them and it is redemptive, I get to feel for a moment what it would have been like to have that for myself. I have healed many of my own wounds by finding a man whose love for me never wavers, who makes me feel both capable and protected, a man who has taken the time and made the investment in getting to know me inside and out.
My point? I don't know but maybe it's this, fathers be vigilant. Don't ever be fooled into thinking Mom is the only one who really matters. I can't speak for sons but only as a daughter. You are the weight of her world. You are the yardstick by which she will measure men later. You are the mirror that casts how she will in part see herself. You are the soft place to fall. You will be the first man to teach her what men value by the way you love her. You will influence so many parts of her future that it would probably scare you if you added it all up.

You also have the power to keep her safe, long after she leaves your side.

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Rassles said... December 12, 2008 at 11:30 AM  

Now see, I love this post, but I disagree with some of it.

I love my dad. Love. Never trade him for anything. But protected? Beautiful? Capable? Intelligent? Honestly? I don't think I've ever used those words in a self-description.

You found that within yourself. Hearing it from someone who's job it is to say those things (as you pointed out) hasn't made me believe it yet. There is still intense doubt and heavy insecurities lurking around the bushes. With binoculars.

I don't know. I guess...I'm glad you found what you were looking for, and I love how much you love and respect your husband. It's pretty.

Anonymous said... December 12, 2008 at 12:22 PM  

Chris...what a post. Read it right through my chest wall. Thank you.
A mother? Probably has the job of teaching a girl how to live in the world.
A father? Probably has the job of teaching a girl she BELONGS in the world.
Maybe, eh?

MJ said... December 12, 2008 at 12:44 PM  

So true. I had a gaping hole left from my father that I tried to fill with a number of things.

I am finally marrying a man who I know will be 100 times the man my father ever was.

Demonica said... December 12, 2008 at 2:08 PM  

Mmmm, I love me some older men, so I guess I have some daddy issues too. But that's ok, I like a good spanking.

Spatula said... December 12, 2008 at 5:36 PM  

Yeah... Daddy issues... I has them. :-D

Mucho true what you said, Chris. My bio-dad abandoned me when I was 2, and I never heard from him until *I* looked him up when I was 16. My former step-dad, who I grew up with, was an abusive alcoholic and I spent most of my early life hiding from him and dodging his hate. Those two people left a HUGE dent in me that I am only now learning to fill by treating myself with love and respect no matter how others try to treat me, and I am freaking 34.

What I did learn is that ultimately, I have the means and the responsibility to protect and nurture myself. But had my dads, either one, protected and nurtured me when I was young, I would have learned that much sooner.

Anonymous said... December 13, 2008 at 11:30 AM  

I just found your blog via "So It Goes" and this post made me cry! My relationship with my father is very similar to yours (minus the unplanned pregnancy - I always wondered how my dad could try to have me and then care about his other family so much more). My fiance, and how he treats our children, has redefined how I think of fathers. We don't have daughters (so I can say it is just as important for boys!) but if we ever do I know that they will have something that I didn't , and I think their lives will be so much better for it.

Love the blog :)

formerly fun said... December 13, 2008 at 1:10 PM  

Rassles- I agree that dads,even good dads, don't magically make you feel 6 feet tall and bullet proof. Even dads who show up every day don't get it all right. My point in part is that even though your parents might not have been 100% supportive , etc. just being there they probably helped prime you to get the rest on your own. An absent parent,especially one who is absent by choice(versus death, military service etc.)creates in most children a sense of 'something is fundamentally wrong with me if the person who is suppossed to love me doesn't want or need to be a part of my life. Then many of these kids go out in to the world and have trouble with trust, attachment, anger, you name it. Sure many of us also get these same hangups from bad boyfriends and the like but it's so much more fundamental when a parent fucks you over because their one of two people you should be able to rely on being on your side.

I love that, beautiful way of putting it.

many of the ones of us that don't figure it out probably end up with men that mirror their absent or abusive dads or find men to treat them poorly in other ways. Then I think there are those of us that recognize the impact. I vowed to myself never to have children with a man I wasn't absolutely sure would be there for them, no matter what happened with us. Now that I know the collateral damage, it would pain me to see my own children go through it.

Demonica- well, we all need a good spanking once in awhile, daddy issues aside.

are you speaking lolcats, love it, addyissues, I has them. You're right spatula, even a cranky, unsupportive dad who shows up is better than no dad or an abusive fther/stepfather which is probably worse than no dad at all. I'm only a little older than you and I think something happened to that generation of dads because I know so many women my age who have had a similar experience.

thanks for finding me, I admit it, I really like it when I get a new reader. My therapist told me that a lot of dads post divorce have so much anger at the ex and so much frustration, lack of control and even pain that they detach. Personally, I think anyone going through a divorce or breakup with children should go through family counseling. I think a little help dealing with his own feelings might have made a real difference in the way my dad handled things. He's not an awful person just very, very unaware.

A Free Man said... December 14, 2008 at 8:46 PM  

Well frickin' done, Chris. Fantastic post. I'm not a woman nor do I have an absentee dad, but it's only been in the last few years that I realized just how important he was in my growing up and who I am today, as a Dad. You're right that it's different for Dads and boys, but it's still a critical relationship and one that I relish.

Anonymous said... December 15, 2008 at 1:21 AM  

very good post. And good comments.
I think that without a dad we can put too much emphasis sometimes on what we missed, ie our vision of an ideal father is not always equal to our father who is not present. But I think I can see a lot of myself in your post. i know I am freaking insecure and I have some complex about people leaving. My dad left when i was really young, and in some ways I am glad he did, cos he was a jerk, but it did fuck a lot of things up, both him being there and him not being there. But I realise often as a child i missed A dad, not my dad. I wanted this great father and he wasn't it. I didn't have any real male figures when i was growing up, all women in my family, so I think i missed that too. I wish I wasn't so scared or expected men to leave so much, but like you, and some readers, it will take a while. Well done to all the good fathers out there. I guess I'm still waiting for you all to pack up your bags and leave.

Gypsy said... December 15, 2008 at 11:45 AM  

That was beautiful. And kudos to you for growing through that, finding out what you're worth, and finding a man who recognizes it, too.

I think in some ways we're always looking for our fathers, even if they were good fathers. Maybe especially if they were good fathers, you know?

My dad was very far from perfect. He wasn't all that involved, but he was loving, supportive, and protective. Still is. But he was also selfish, childish, and in need of ego-boosting. Still is.

Anonymous said... December 16, 2008 at 9:37 AM  

Ugh. I can't think of anything to say, except, sheepishly, that I miss my daddy. Your girls are damned lucky.

Arizaphale said... December 26, 2008 at 6:33 AM  

Doing a bit of back reading here and loved this post. Just wanted to add in; as a girl with a great dad whom she loves, that doesn't always make it all work either. My lovely dad was pretty useless when it came to getting the emotional balance right (even though I can see now that he loved us very much) and that left all of us girls with complex issues which, for me anyway, weren't resolved until I was in my mid thirties. Having an emotionally unavailable father, or one who seems to love you 'conditionally' ,(ie, if you get good grades, if you fit a particular mold etc)can be just as damaging as not having one at all or having to deal with abandonment.
On the positive side, just as we can sort out our emotional messes, dads improve with age too. In fact, they probably learn as much from us as we do from them. I think my dad is a much better dad and grandfather now than he ever was when we were kids.
So glad your girls are getting the right stuff the first time around :-)

Bluestreak said... January 6, 2009 at 8:17 AM  

Beautiful post.

I didn't have your classic case of absentee father. My mother left my father and he initially had us kids. But then several years later he met a widow with three small children and they married and that became, what I've always felt was his "real" family. Back I went to mom. He always tried to be there, but I know inside he felt like round two was allowing him a clean slate.

I don't know if I'd been looking for a father-ish figure, but, yeah, I can kind of see it. I know if I had not had my step dad in my life I would have probably fallen off the deep end, cause sometimes I've felt I could barely stay afloat with men with all of the support I DID have.

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