Coming to Terms With a Very Complex Daddy Complex


Image source: Monica Bielanko
Image source: Monica Bielanko

Careful observance of the human penchant for blaming unfortunate adulthoods on bad childhoods has kept me running from my own bad childhood. Turns out, pretending like it never happened is as damaging as using it as an excuse.

Nothing will force you into take a good, hard look at yourself and why you do the things you do like divorce. Now that shock over the traumatic events of the past two years is wearing off and my ex-husband and I are living separate lives, I’ve been able to conduct a fairly unbiased autopsy on the bloated corpse that is my dead marriage. Slicing open my chest, laying my organs on the table and examining them to determine the cause of death. There are no easy answers. With the exception of situations involving abuse and cheating, most marriages die slow, nearly imperceptible deaths. Like a terminal cancer, little things multiply into big things and those involved may not discover the malignancy until it’s too late.

I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m defensive, aggressive, judgmental; a mistreated, emotionally traumatized pit bull who lashes out when experiencing anger, sadness or insecurity. I can intellectually write these truths about myself here and even discuss them with anyone I’m in a relationship with but in the heat of the moment I default to anger and judgment. Trying to call me on it in that moment, attempting any sort of rationalizing, is tantamount to blaming a woman’s emotions on her period. Not advisable if you enjoy things like breathing and living.

I’m stuck at 5: yelling at people when I feel sad instead of articulating what’s really happening in my head and heart.

In a not altogether surprising coincidence, my parents divorced and my dad left when I was 5 years old. Gone. Out of state. I saw him maybe two or three times a year. He wasn’t ever around. An abstract entity whose existence was confirmed via sporadic phone calls and birthday cards. Once or twice a year he’d drive to Utah and visit for a couple days or mom would drive us to his place for a week.

We developed a relationship of sorts in my 20s mostly based on phone calls during which I gave him relationship advice as he struggled with various women and blamed my mom for everything wrong in his life. He never came to graduations, never visited when my children were born. I’ve spent my life telling myself I don’t care, that I didn’t need anyone, that I raised myself — so whatever, man.

Look at me, I’m a news producer in New York City! I didn’t need you, anyway!

Who wants to bitch about run-of-the-mill daddy issues, I thought. Yet another wimp boohooing about her crappy childhood when there are people out there dealing with much worse. Also, acknowledging what I missed out on would mean accepting that I’m flawed, somehow, and I was determined to do as good or better than anyone from a two-parent home. And yet — here I find that despite a lifetime of intense effort to do it better than my parents, my kids are now also children of divorce because I don’t know how to be married.

I guess the jig is up. I’ve been faking it. I suck at relationships. Witnessing the intense almost magical bond between my ex-husband and our 6-year-old daughter, I’m finally able to comprehend the tremendous amount I missed out on while growing up and the jagged hole fatherlessness tore in my personality. Hell, it didn’t just rip a hole in my personality — in many ways, my personality formed around his early departure from my world.

At an early age, I learned to comfort myself, taught myself to withdraw emotionally, not rely on anyone. But not really, I realize now. It’s all been a protective front. I’ve spent my adult life pretending to be a tough girl who doesn’t need anyone while subconsciously desperate to find a stable, solid guy to take care of me like my dad never did. Typical daddy complex. I even dated older dudes who offered a (false) sense of stability I could never manage to find within myself. My Mormon upbringing was based around the notion that men take care of women, so even though I worked hard to get to a place where I could take care of myself, I was subconsciously waiting for Prince Charming to roll up; the guy who works hard during the day and moonlights as a handyman, fighting off potential burglars on the home front, keeping the house in good repair and safe from the bad guys because that’s what the dad I never had was supposed to do and if I didn’t get that when I was young then, by God, I was going to marry into it.

It’s time to let all that go.

I’m 38 and have been taking care of myself for a long time now. I have the power to stitch the shotgun blast not having a stable, present dad blew into my chest. It ain’t easy though. A lifetime spent building a personality based on insecurity, confusion and sadness is no picnic to untangle. I’ll spend the rest of my life sorting it out; were my expectations from a husband too high because I was always secretly searching for someone to save me? Have I been setting up every man I’ve been with for failure? Maybe. All I can do now is remain mindful and carefully carry this knowledge into future relationships where I can try to be different.

Heavy sigh. I’m attempting to sort it all out. Now that I’m a parent who cannot fathom being apart from my children, I have even less compassion for my dad. How could he do that? Just leave us? It doesn’t really matter now. That’s his situation to untangle. What I’ve realized is that I’ll be okay on my own. That I don’t need anyone to take care of me. Yes, I can choose someone to spend time and perhaps my life with, but I don’t need them to fill all the scary spaces growing up without a dad left in my personality. I can do that on my own through understanding the origins of how and why I react to certain situations the way I do. I want to make myself whole and decide to share myself with someone special, not search for someone to complete me or save me.

I can be the tough girl I’ve always pretended to be, but for real this time.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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